LOVE: the Plea, the Prophecy and the Promise”
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=Today is the last Sunday in Advent. The audacity of hope is where we began our journey. Then we struggled to find our dissident voices as we proclaimed the impertinence of peace in a world increasingly committed to violence and hatred and fear. And last week, with our rose-coloured candle, we were reminded of the sheepishness of joy. Today, the prophet Micah takes us home as he stirs our senses of hope, peace, and joy and directs us toward love. Not just any love, but an active and living love. A love that encompasses everything we’ve been talking about on our Advent journey. A love who’s end goal is restoration. Advent is all about the anticipation of God’s restoration. We hope for restoration when all else tells us it’s impossible. We find peace in the promise that God is restoring us to His likeness. We sing for joy that restoration is happening all around us, in our hearts, and in creation. And today we look at how God’s love can restore even the most broken and lowly among us.
The story of God is a story of taking risks in the name of love. As we come to Christmas, we remember God’s great gift to us. We can only imagine what went on in the heavenly realm leading up to Christ entering our world. Did the Holy Trinity sit down for some risk assessment? Did they have a list of pros and cons for sending the only Son of God into the broken world? Or was it simply the overflowing of God’s love for his creation that led to this miraculous moment in history. While we can’t know the heavenly happenings, we can look at the pieces of the earthly story that lead us to the birth of our Saviour. Our passages this morning take us on a journey as we see the plea of the Psalmist, the prophecy given by Micah, and the promise being fulfilled in Jesus.
The plea is found in the Psalms, as it seems that pleas are best expressed in song. We don’t know the background of this psalm. But whatever was happening with the people of Israel, the author begins by acknowledging God as their Shepherd. We see that the people have repented. They have come to make a covenant with God. They ask him to stir up his might and to restore them and make his face shine upon them that they may be saved. This is a communal prayer, and it’s a prayer for a community in crisis.
There are times when we are faced with injustice, and we cry out with the Psalmist “restore us O Lord”. For me, one of those times was when I was in Bolivia in 2017. You’ve been hearing about Bolivia over the past few weeks as we continue our Hopeful Gifts Campaign. As a Canadian, it’s hard to understand life for the kids who are part of the programs at Casa de la Amistad. They aren’t criminals but they live in prison with their parents. Cochabamba has a men’s prison and a women’s prison, and between them, it is estimated that there are about 1000 children living with their parents in these prisons. It’s viewed as a better alternative than the streets. These children witness violence and all sorts of other atrocities on a regular basis. Some of them are born in prison and they spend their entire childhood there. They have no power to change their reality.
As I consider their reality, I cry out with the Psalmist, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock… make your face shine upon them. They need God’s light to break into their darkness. You hear this request often at the end of our service when Pastor David or I give the benediction. You hear us ask God to make his face shine upon us. We want God’s light to radiate onto us the way the sun bathes the earth in its light. We want God to turn toward us. Restore Us O Lord and make your face shine upon us that we may be saved. This is the plea of the Psalmist.
This plea lingers for centuries between heaven and earth. Israel waits and waits and waits. And as they wait, the prophet Micah is born and God speaks. And before we jump to the fulfillment of the prophecy, as we tend to do during Advent, let’s take a moment to sit with Micah in this promise he receives. We know that during this time, there is great unrest for God’s people living in Jerusalem and the Northern Kingdom. They were being oppressed by the Assyrian kingdom and there was rampant social and moral abuse. The Assyrians are great and powerful and they are dominating the smaller surrounding nations because they can. They are abusing their power. It’s important that God chooses to speak during this time of unrest. God chooses this moment to show that he cares for the “little clans of Judah”. He says that a ruler will come forth from Bethlehem. Not from a place of power, but from a small and humble town. This ruler will lead in the strength of the Lord and will be the one of peace. The people he leads will live in security. This is what Godly power looks like. Godly power is not about dominating or ruling over, but about loving the way a shepherd loves his sheep. Godly power is showing loving care. Micah’s preaching can be wrapped up in a summary found in chapter 6:8 – what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. This is the invitation and the challenge. For Micah, this is evidence that God loves his people. Micah isn’t reassured because of a future-reality, but because of a present reality; that God is here with us. Just as God is active during Micah’s time in caring for his people, he will continue to be active and will bring restoration, not just for Israel, but for the world. The prophecy affirms that God is always caring for the faithful needy ones. During times of desperation, during times of need, God is always just, always kind, and always the embodiment of humility.
We heard these qualities described in Mary’s song last week. She sings of one who is just and merciful and cares for the least of these. And since we were focused on Mary last week, we’re going to spend some time looking at Joseph today. Our passage in Matthew is told from his perspective. Here we have the unfolding of the prophecy of Micah in response to the cry of the Psalmist centuries ago. Joseph discovers that his fiancé is pregnant, a crime worthy of death in that time. He knows he’s not the father and so he has a decision to make. Joseph decides to “put Mary away quietly”. She’s just going to slip away for the next 9 months. This is the compassionate response. It’s the honourable response. But then, through an angel, God speaks to Joseph. He tells him that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, that he should name the child Jesus, and that this child will save his people from their sins. So now Joseph has to make another decision. Does he listen to the angel with a clear message from God? Or does he go with his original plan? It’s a risk. But Joseph doesn’t question God. In his relationship with Mary, he is the one with the power. And we’re told that he awakes, and right away, takes Mary as his wife. He obeys quickly and trusts that God knows what he is doing. Joseph is just, kind and humble in his response. He shows us what love is, both love for God, and love for those who don’t have the power to determine their own fate. Here, God’s promise is fulfilled. Joseph’s actions create the necessary circumstances for God’s promised Son to come into the world.
This is the type of love that we are considering this morning, love that is just and kind and humble. Love means acting out of whatever power you have. Sometimes love requires us to make a difficult decision, to go to new places, and trust that God is leading us, even though we don’t know where we will end up. Sometimes love requires us to take a holy risk like Joseph does. It requires us to make a sacrifice for the good of someone else.
Our Power and God’s Power
This Advent, we are invited to recognize where and how God is calling us to take a holy risk. There are some things that only God can do, but there are things that we can do. We all have some amount of power. For some of us, that’s a little, and for others, it’s a lot. We act of out whatever power we have.
God invites us to participate in his promise of restoration. Perhaps for Joseph, he didn’t feel like he had much power. It was a small thing the angel asked him to do. And yet his obedience to God, contributed to God’s restoration of the world. His willingness to say yes, even though the risk was great, changed the course of the world. The Psalmist only had power to plead with God, and God heard his cry. The Prophet had the power to speak God’s word into his context. How can we use our power, however small it may be, to participate in God’s promise of restoration?
Going back to the children living in Bolivian prisons, we had the chance to witness God working while we were there. God is working in Cochabamba through missionaries and through local agencies to restore these children and their families. Through Casa de la Amistad, kids are getting healthy meals and tutoring and access to medical care and counselling. We have been invited this Christmas to participate in God’s restoration of these children and their families. We don’t have the power to change the prison system in Bolivia. But we do have some power. We have the power to support those who are working among them. We have the power to give what might seem like a small amount to us, but will go a long way in helping the children and their families living in prison in Cochabamba. God calls us to love him and to love one another. This love is one that works toward restoration. This love involves acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.
We’ve been talking about loving those who don’t deserve to be in prison, and I want to finish by telling you a story about someone who did deserve to be in prison. It begins with a mother who happens to be named Mary. And one night she gets the phone call that no one parent should ever get. Her son has been killed. Shot to death. His killer, a young man named Morgan Green, is caught and convicted and as she gives her victim impact statement at trial, she says she forgives him. But as the years go by, she hasn’t forgiven him. Mary says she grew bitter and that bitterness took root in her and grew for the next 12 years. And one day she realized she couldn’t go on like this. So she called on the strength of the Lord, and she went to visit her son’s killer in prison. She met with Morgan and spoke with him and told him about her son. And Morgan describes that as the moment that his victim became human to him. As Mary was about to leave, she broke down in tears. And Morgan says he couldn’t do anything but hold her as she wept. They both walked away from that meeting changed. Mary noticed that all the hate and anger she been holding was gone. And Morgan understood that he had been forgiven. More time passed, and when Morgan’s sentence had been served, he changed his name to Oshea. Oshea because it means deliverance, a new beginning. Now, Mary and Oshea are next-door neighbours, they spend holidays together, and they share their story together.
What strikes me about this story is that Mary had to figure out what power she had in this situation. She didn’t have the power to bring her son back. She didn’t have the power within herself to forgive her son’s killer. But she did have the power to visit him in prison and to share her story. And from that small act of humility, God’s love began to work and grow in her heart and in the heart of a man who seemed beyond restoration.
As you consider how God has shown you his love this Advent, ask yourself what power you have to share that love with others. Ask yourself how you can use your power to participate in God’s restoration plan. Ask yourself how you can be a light that shines in the darkness. God shares his love through those who have limited power. God shares his love through humility; the humility of a manger, the humility of a young man who chose to obey despite the risk it involved. And God will share his love through us this Advent season, as we look for ways to use our limited power to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.