Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Hope of the World

Upon greeting us Pastor Brad reminded us that Christmas is not just a day, it's a season, a season in which we celebrate Jesus breaking into the world that we might experience hope.

After singing a number of Christmas songs, Brad read to us the passage in Matthew 2:13ff which has come to be known as the slaughter of the innocents. It's a dark feature of the Christmas story and a reminder that there is real darkness in the world, and real sorrow. In the midst of this darkness Christ sent His son to bring humankind a real hope.

The Hope of the World

Brad began his message by reminding us that Jesus said, "When all your hopes are disappointed, put your hope in Me." Beginning with this notion, Pastor Brad threaded a number of images together from the Old Testament to paint a picture for us of what that hope is all about.

In Genesis 1 there is an image of God at the very beginning hovering over creation, which is as yet formless and void, hovering like a dove. At the culmination of this creation account we see God breathing the breath of life into a lump of clay, breathing his spirit into something inanimate to make life, to make a man.

This man, and the woman whom God created with and for him, were designed to work in partnership with God for the purpose of tikkun olam, which means to help the world realize or achieve its full potential. The world was not "complete" when He finished creation in the sense that His design included giving Adam and Eve responsibility to help complete God's plan in partnership with God.

Brad next brought us to Genesis 3:7 where Adam and Eve have violated God's instructions regarding eating the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Brad pointed out the phrase, "and their eyes were opened." What did they see? They saw their shame and guilt. The ground itself was cursed, thorns and thistles grew and things changed. They were exiled from the Garden and lived in a condition of permanent exile, the consequence of sin.

After many generations, God found a man whose offspring would become the tribe of Israel, the people who would partner with God to fix the world. But things went wrong and ultimately even these people of the Promise were exiled from their native land. Prophets spoke of a day that would come when all would be made right again, but many centuries passed.

Brad next cited Mark 1, the account of the baptism of Jesus where it say Heaven was torn open and the Spirit descended like a dove. What did this mean? It meant that the wall of separation had been broken open, the separation between God and man.

Brad then shared texts showing how the people of Jesus' time began to get their hopes up. They had been exiled, they had been defeated, but here was a hope for Israel. Could this be the one?

There had been others. Historians and Scripture record stories of several others in whom the people of Israel had hoped. The Romans crucified each, wrecking the hopes of those who had imagined this was the time of God's breakthrough.

In this context Brad retold the story of the pair on the Emmaus road.

Jesus, like so many others, had been taken by the Romans and executed. Luke's post-resurrection account tells of two people leaving Jerusalem, their hearts having been broken by all that occurred there. They were joined by a third person as they walked along heavy with despair, telling the stranger what they had seen and heard. "We had hoped he was the one." They shared, too, how the women went to his tomb and his body wasn't there.

The stranger then recounted all the many ways that the Old Testament pointed to these exact things coming to pass. Afterwards they stopped to eat and in the breaking of bread the two recognized Jesus, their eyes being opened.

Just so we didn't miss the point, this is an echo of Adam and Eve's story when their eyes were opened, only a reverse effect.

So, too, Brad shared another parallel. When God finished the Creation, He rested. At that point His work was finished. This did not mean that there was no more work to be done. He entrusted the work to Adam and Eve, and gave them authority along with that responsibility.

And when Jesus hung on the cross, His own last words were, "It is finished." It was a different kind of work He had completed. It was the work of bringing redemption to the world. But as it was in the beginning, Jesus had done His part and entrusted the completion of the work to His disciples, not only giving them responsibility but also authority.

Before ascending Jesus breathed on them, just as God breathed into the inanimate clay bringing Adam to life. And in the same manner breathing life into Jesus as He lay in the tomb after being put to death.

Brad compressed all these anecdotes and instances into a picture that he hoped we would understand with new clarity. We are God's agents designed to partner with Him in fulfilling His purposes in the world. We are to be light-bearers and hope-bringers in a dark and hurting world.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

No comments: