Surprised by new hope

A sermon for Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:27, Titus 2:1114, Luke 2:114(15-20), Psalm 96

I’m tired, are you? I’ve just flat been busy; not bad stuff just lots of stuff. Beginning on Thanksgiving, with helping to pack nearly a 1,000 Thanksgiving Day meals, I have participated in seven board or related meetings; participated in or been to four programs or parties. I’ve helped Angie host our own party, made one out of town trip to visit to grand kids and oh yea, our daughters and their spouses, we had a great, but tiring time. On top of the seasonal stuff I’ve also made regular scheduled stuff like two nights at the Great River Charitable Clinic and three all day trips to Little Rock, Jonesboro and Memphis. And oh, how can I forget I’m trying to get ready for January’s D.Min. session; I ‘m really excited about it, but it’s a lot to add to an already busy schedule. I’m tired. Are you tired?

If the calendar isn’t enough I’m tired of all the junk in the news. I’m tired of the North Korea mess. I’m tired of poorly hired, trained and resourced police getting entangled in tragic events. I’m tired of angry, emotional, disconnected, folks taking advantage of tragedies for personal privilege or gain, whose actions degrade the hard work of faithful courageous folks seeking justice and righteousness. I’m tired of people assassinating police or soldiers. I’m tired of people using guns whenever they get upset about anything, including a messed up McDonald’s order (Meyer)  I’m tired of our own inability, including my mine, to see the harm we do to others who are not like us. I’m tired of ISIS, the Taliban, and others who use gross previsions of Islam to abuse and oppress others; the same goes for abuse of Judaism or Christianity or any other faith’s holy writ. I’m tired of the endless messes in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I’m tired of Ebola, and fear driven reactions, that limit help, far more then they protect. I’m tired of Putin the Thug. I’m tired of our own political thuggery, again including mine. I’m tired of rampant sexual misconduct and poorly thought out responses driven by fear, embarrassment and, let’s be honest misogyny. I’m tired of tired of child abuse, in whatever form. I’m tired of people naming everything that’s uncomfortable and beyond our understanding as mental illness. I’m tired of entrenched endemic ignoring of what can and ought to be done for mentally ill. I’m tired of the news media drowning us in the small percentage of the tragic and the terrible that terrifies us all the while ignoring the enormity of the good that goes on simply because they know fear sells advertising. I’m tired. Are you tired?

Mary and Joseph are tried.  Mary has ridden a donkey and Joseph has walked 70 or 80 miles. Jesus has just been born, Joseph has got to be tired, I was when my girls were born, and I didn’t do anything. The bible doesn’t mention any one being around to help mid wife Mary. Mary is REALLY tired; yes giving birth is extraordinarily joyful but my observation is it’s exhausting. Mary, Joseph, and all Israel are tired.

All Israel is tired of the Roman Empire. Yes they bring the Pax Romana but it’s on their terms, and don’t try to change anything. Their Emperor dares to call himself a god. Everyone is literally tired, everyone had to walk miles to register, to pay poll taxes. Everyone is tired of justice that’s dependent on bribery. Everyone is tired of petty local Kings, backed by Roman Legions, whose job is to control local populations, by any means. All Israel is tired of Herod the brutish tyrant who rules Palestine. He’s not even Jewish! Everyone is tired of taxes they get no benefit from. There are taxes on farm produce, anything bought and sold, on houses and land; there’s even a kind of progressive income tax. To collect them all Rome make use of greedy tax collectors, locals who get rich by over collecting taxes due.

Everyone is tired of the Jewish authorities, who are always maneuvering, scrapping with each other to win favor with Herod and or Rome, imposing dubious religious obligations and/ or restraints for their own benefit; and to collect even more taxes, such as the Temple tax and a second tithe on produce of land. All Israel is tired. Are you tried?

Shepherds are tired. They are not highly regarded. They work from early morning till early morning. Sheep have to be lead to food, so shepherds walk them to pasture. Sheep have to be led to water so shepherds either lead them to a stream or dig a well. The only chance to sleep is when sheep nap after watering. Sheep easily get lost so it takes a constant watch to keep them from wandering away; and since they can’t find their way home, shepherds lead them home. And after a long hard day shepherds protect the sheep at night from wild beast and thieves. Shepherds are tired. Are you tired?

So yes, Mary & Joseph are tired, all Israel is tired, and the Shepherds are tired. Life is hard the prospect for improvement is difficult to see. [Pause] Into this cold bleak mid-winter night so long ago Angles appear singing tidings of great joy, to tired poor cold shepherds, who drew the night shift – again; for to them that night, there is good news, there is a new savior, they will find in oh that little town, who will be in bands of cloth – swaddling clothes. It must ring with surprising authenticity because they take the risk and go to see. To their surprise they find the place and just as the angle said they find Jesus in a manger, with lowing cattle all around. They tell Mary and Joseph what the angle said. It matches what Gabriel said, and Mary wholeheartedly ponders the meaning as, the only now mentioned, gathered folks are amazed. Shepherds ~ are surprised by new hope. [i] Mary & Joseph ~ are surprised new hope. All who hear ~ are surprised by a new hope. A new hope Emmanuel is right here God’s presence, in flesh and blood, that you can reach out and touch, is right here. Into this cold bleak mid-winter night there is new hope that darkness will give way to light, that the oppressive tiresome yolk will be shattered, that justice and righteousness will be established. And this new hope is not just present to Mary and Joseph, or to first century Israel, or to shepherds, or to those gathered around. This cold bleak mid-winter night’s new hope is with us, everyone. As they were surprised by new hope: Emmanuel, God’s presence, so should we be.

In the face of the cold bleak mid-winter international turmoil, national mayhem, local confusion, personal chaos, we are not alone ~ Emmanuel is right here, right now, and always will be. Surprised by new hope we need never be tired again, for we never have been, nor ever will be alone, God is with us, right here, right now.


References

Easton, Matthew George. Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp, 2008. ebook.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse , n.d.

Meyer, Holly. “Man pulls gun after wrong McDonald’s order.” Tennessean (2014). <http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2014/12/23/police-man-pulls-gun-wrong-mcdonalds-order/20797161/&gt;.

Orr, Jame, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope. 2008.


[i] Inspired by NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope

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