Saturday, December 21, 2019

Emmanuel, God with us. Year A, Advent 4, Isaiah 7.10-16, Matthew 1.18-25

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
First on the docket this morning is the boarded up window in my office.
On Friday morning, one of our neighbors experienced a psychotic episode, came here to the church, and proceeded to break the window of my office and then use the shards of glass in a suicide attempt.
His family and the police were able to intervene and he was taken to the hospital to receive medical attention and a psychiatric evaluation.
We pray that he will receive the help that he obviously needs and thank God that he was not successful in his attempt to end his life.
It raises a broader prayer concern at this time of year.
For the mentally ill the holiday season is too often a living hell through which they must negotiate, and many are not successful. 
We struggle as a nation to figure out how to most effectively care for the mentally ill.  There are no easy answers.  For many people the right medications can work wonders, but even that is hit and misses.  Further complicating the matter is the fact that many of the mentally ill struggle to maintain their prescribed treatment.  Sometimes they can’t afford the meds, at other times they fall prey to the belief that they don’t need them anymore. 
It’s difficult for their family members as well.
You’d like to help them.  But often we don’t know what to do, and even when we do, help is not always accepted.
Our Church helps.
Lutheran Services in America, an umbrella organization that works on behalf of both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, is by far the largest charitable organization in the country.
LSA has a total annual revenue of 22.62 billion dollars.
That’s over twice as much as the Salvation Army, United Way Worldwide, and the American Red Cross combined.
On the streets, we are known as “Lutheran”.
I make a point of sharing this because so often when we think about our Church we get caught up in all the controversies and issues that can divide us in these difficult times.  And there is a sentiment against “organized religion”.
But the reason we are part of this Church is very simple.
Christians working together can make a profound difference in the world.
Lutheran Services in America is one such example.
I hope that the individual who injured himself here on Friday receives this kind of help.

Now on to Isaiah.
Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”
These words from Isaiah were a promise and a sign that he gave to Ahaz, the King of Judah.
Ahaz was afraid, deeply concerned because King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of the northern Kingdom of Israel had plotted an attack against the southern Kingdom, Judah, and its capital in Jerusalem.
Isaiah’s message to Ahaz was a simple one.
Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint.
He promised that in a short while, these two Kingdoms that threatened Jerusalem would be gone.
The sign that he gave Ahaz was this.
A young maiden would give birth to a child and name him Emmanuel, God with us.
And prior to that child reaching the age of accountability, knowing the difference between good and evil, which in Judaism was considered to be at the age of 12, these two Kings who threatened Ahaz would be no more.
As history played out, this is exactly what transpired, with Syria and the Northern Kingdom both being destroyed while Judah, the Southern Kingdom remained.

I decided while I was preparing my sermon this last week that this is a ‘new rule’, actually and ancient rule.
We might call it the Isaiah rule, or the Emmanuel rule.  Or perhaps even the Rule of 12.
The rule is:  “Don’t get your undies in a bundle over issues that will all be water under the bridge in twelve years.”
More succinctly “This too shall pass.”
Just as a point of reference, twelve years ago the first iPhone came out.
And it was almost twelve years ago that the housing market collapsed, sending the country into the great recession of 2008.
George Bush was still president.
We were still sending more and more troops to Iraq.
In 2009 the ELCA passed the resolution of human sexuality.
The Soviet Union Collapsed. . .
Actually, that wasn’t twelve years ago, that was a whopping 28 years ago, already, in 1991.  The first George Bush was president at the time. 
We could rattle off a long list of all the issues that dominated the news and our lives over the last 12 years.
Issues flared up.
They resolved themselves.
Bush the Second was president.  Then Obama.  Now Trump.
And in twelve years we will have had other presidents.  We will have faced other issues.
I humor myself with the thought that of all the events of the last twelve years, the introduction of the iPhone may have had the most lasting impact.
Isaiah’s word to Ahaz was simple.
God is with us.
All these issues that seem so overwhelming will pass, but God will remain steadfast and true.

This promise is picked up by Matthew regarding the birth of Jesus.
Jesus was born during tumultuous times when the Roman Empire ruled Israel.
The message of Emmanuel was the same as in Isaiah’s day.
All of the issues that threaten you will pass, but God will remain with you.
It’s an invitation to faith.
I remember a person saying once that before we get too upset about all the events of our day, just think about how many paragraphs that event will be given when the history of Western Civilization is written in five hundred years.
What remains constant is that God is with us.

This last week the House voted to impeach President Trump.
In all likelihood, the Senate, controlled by the Republicans will acquit the President, and like Bill Clinton before him, he will finish his term.  Possibly even get reelected, though the jury is out on that.
But in twelve years, all this political jostling will have worked itself out, our nation will still be here, and we will be on to the next, or even the next after that, President.
The issues that dominate FOX News, or CNN, will be forgotten in large measure.
The world will not have come to an end.
Life will go on.
Change will happen.
There will be surprises.
For example, who would have guessed twelve years ago that today you would be able to get it a car and let it drive itself down the road???  Tesla cars can do that.
When we look forward to the future there are many things we simply don’t know.  Actually, we know very little.
We don’t know how long we will live.
Or what triumphs and tragedies we will face.
We don’t know whether our country will continue to drift away from the Church, or if there will be a reawakening to matters of faith.
Will Peace Lutheran be here in 12 years?
Perhaps not.  But perhaps it may have grown beyond recognition. 
Will Otis Orchards still be a sleepy semi-rural community or will the housing development finally transform it into something quite unrecognizable?
Some of us will have died by then.  Some not.
Change happens.
But what does not change is the love of God for his people and the promise that he will be with us always even to the end of the age.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen

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