Christmas time of righteousness, justice

11/16/2005

By Lavelle Woodrick

 

Dec. 4

 

Serving Others

 

Purpose: To help us embody the vision of justice God announced through the servant.

 

Scripture: Isaiah, chapters 41 and 42

 

Key Verse:  “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you b the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” — Isaiah 42:6

 

In these two chapters God is speaking to and about God’s servant. The mission of the servant is emphasized in two words: justice and righteousness.

 

The first verse of Chapter 42 contains these words: “I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” In verse 6 we read: “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness.”

 

Dr. Stan Purdum, the writer of this quarter’s lessons in Adult Bible Studies says that the Hebrew word for justice is more like “true religion” or “righteousness.” He adds that “Righteous people work for the good of the community, showing special attention to those in need.” Justice, he says, is not “getting even” or seeing someone punished for wrongs committed. “Biblical justice is righteous living that takes seriously loving God and loving one’s neighbor.”

 

This is a needed accent for our Advent journey. Tony Campolo tells about a “special ed” student in an elementary grade who wanted to have a part in the Christmas pageant. He wanted a speaking part. So they gave him the role of the innkeeper. They thought he could handle that; he only had to say twice, “No room.” The night of the play Mary knocks on the door, and he says “No room.” Mary says, “But I’m sick and cold, and I’m going to have a baby.” The boy just stood there. The boy behind him nudged him and whispered, “No room, just say No room.” Finally the innkeeper boy turned and said, “I know what I’m supposed to say, but she can have my room.”

 

That’s Advent. That’s Christmas. That’s Isaiah. Justice and righteousness: making the community, the world, a better place.

Isaiah’s servant was a suffering servant. Serving others is often pleasant and joyful but sometimes it involves getting hurt. Dr. Elton Trueblood maintained that “it takes courage to care; for caring is dangerous. It is the opposite of security. But all the greatest things in the world come by involvement.”

 

I write this on the day after the funeral service of Rosa Parks in Detroit. In this week’s issue of a magazine we receive there is a picture of Mrs. Parks taken in 1955. The picture was made inside the Montgomery police headquarters. She is shown holding a sign on which her prisoner number is written. She was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus; she, a “colored,” was seated in the “white section!” She cared. She got involved.

 

She suffered because of it. But what she did was justice and righteousness because it made the world a better place.

 

 

Dec. 11

 

Strength from God

 

Purpose: To help us endure pain and weariness that can come from doing God’s work.

 

Scripture: Isaiah chapters 49 and 50

 

Key Verse:  “...My God has become my strength. . . (49:5c) “It is the Lord God who helps me... (50:9a)

 

Martin Niemoller was a German pastor who was imprisoned in Dachau by the Nazis in World War II. He survived that terrible ordeal and became a world-renowned preacher in the postwar years. In 1963, he delivered a sermon at Duke University on

“Human Weakness and Divine Strength.” His main idea was that we need more than a set of principles. He says, “I need Him (Jesus) not just His words and directives; but Himself, His person and His love. I need Him. “

 

This was the message of Isaiah. Israel was set apart by God to live in such a way that Israel would be a light to the nations. Israel often neglected that mission. That was the case in Isaiah’s time, and the Lord God chose Isaiah to call Israel to repentance and restoration. The people did not want to hear that message, and they persecuted the messenger. But Isaiah found the strength in God to overcome his weariness and rejection. He endured in God’s strength.

 

In the Advent (the coming) of the Son of God into the world, God shared our life, our trials, our suffering our death. The writer of the Book of Hebrews saw in Jesus this truth: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:15, 16)

Two hymns in a special way affirm the nearness of God to help.

 

One is Lift Every Voice and Sing (No. 519 in the United Methodist Hymnal). Stanza three begins this way: “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who hast brought us thus far on our way; thou who hast by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray.”

 

The other is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (No. 218 in the hymnal). Again, it is the third stanza that testifies to the Gospel’s message of God’s strength for our weakness: “And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!”

 

May Advent and Christmas revive us again with the wonderful message of the nearness of God’s upholding, sustaining love.

 

 

Dec. 18

 

Hope for Those Who Suffer

 

Purpose: To encourage us to take heart in the hope that Jesus brings to those who suffer.

 

Scripture: Isaiah 53; Luke 1

 

Key Verse:  “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

— Luke 1:50

 

It happened at Camp Lake Stephens a good many years ago. The occasion was the annual Pastors’ School for the former North Mississippi Conference. I do not remember the speaker’s name, but I shall never forget what he said and did.

 

He announced that he would read Isaiah 53. Then he added an apology in advance. He said that he found it very difficult to read this chapter without crying. He read slowly: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed by our iniquities...” and then, the reader’s eyes became visibly moist; and a little later, tears were on his cheeks as he read, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. . . yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain... out of his anguish we shall see light...” (NRSV)

 

Isaiah 53 is indeed a moving passage of scripture. It depicts the Suffering Servant clearly. It confronts us with the truth that sins like ours caused his suffering. But it also declares that by his stripes we are healed.

 

Who was Isaiah’s Suffering Servant? Most scholars believe it was an idealized Israel. However, as Christians, we look back in Isaiah and we see Jesus. I heard a speaker some years ago say: “Isaiah was saying more than he knew.” In other words, regardless of who or what was in the mind of Isaiah, the picture fits Jesus.

 

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the firm foundation of our hope, our confidence in our future. Paul was so sure of this that his pen fairly shouted as he wrote, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, 39)

 

In the Song of Mary, called the Magnificat, the first word in the Latin translation of this passage, we hear the virgin, who is already expecting the child conceived by the Holy Spirit, saying that the coming salvation will be a great reversal. God would bring down the mighty and exalt those of low degree. God will fill the hungry and send the rich away empty. The high and mighty will exchange places with the poor and powerless. She foresaw that Jesus, who suffered, brings hope to those who suffer.

 

Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915) at six weeks of age permanently lost her eyesight due to improper treatment of an eye infection. Throughout her long life she never felt handicapped. She said that spiritual blindness was more tragic than physical blindness. An incredibly gifted and prolific hymn writer, she composed songs that congregations of all denominations sing to this day.

 

In her hymn, Near the Cross, she says, “Near the cross! O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me... there the bright and morning star shed its beams around me.” She concludes with the promise to watch and wait, hope and trust forever.

She had truly found in Jesus hope for those who suffer.

 

Dec. 25

 

Be Joyful

 

Purpose: To remind us that Christmas is a mission to be lived and a joy to be shared.

 

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 2:8-20

 

Key Verse:  “To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord.” — Luke 2: 11

In one of my pastorates several years ago, a member of the church was ringing the bell at a Salvation Army contribution kettle a few days before Christmas. He and another member of the civic club which they represented were stationed in front of a grocery store.

 

They began to watch a teenage boy who was working as a delivery person carrying customers’ bags to their cars for them. With almost every delivery he received a tip. And every time he got a tip, he walked directly to the Salvation Army kettle and put the entire amount of his tip into the kettle to help needy persons.

 

Nobody had a more joyous Christmas season than that young man! The good news of great joy, which the angel announced to the shepherds, includes the joy of giving. In the Book of Acts, Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (20:35). “More blessed” could also read “more fun” to give than to receive. Isn’t it true that some of our best Christmas memories are those times when we gave a generous gift anonymously to someone in need?

 

It is also blessed to receive. More blessed to give, yes; but still blessed to receive.

 

In one of the Andy Griffith Show episodes, Sheriff Taylor, Aunt Bee, Opie, Barney and others were having a Christmas party in Andy’s office. Outside, an older man, known as a perpetual grouch, was aware of the festivities within, and, despite his reputation, he wished to be inside enjoying the holidays with them.

 

He tried several ways of getting himself arrested so he could be inside. Each time, Andy just sent him away. Finally, the man stood up on a box outside a window to look in. He fell; Andy heard the noise and investigated. It was then that Andy realized what the man was up to. With false sternness, Andy locked him in a cell located in the area of the office. The group included their “prisoner” in the merry-making. The old man received the joy for which he truly desired despite his crass exterior.

 

At Christmas we celebrate receiving the greatest gift ever given: Jesus Christ! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

 

That Gift was given for all people; however, the Gift must be accepted. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God...” (John 1:12)

 

May all of us receive the Lord Jesus more fully into our hearts and our lives this Christmas.

 

“Although you have not seen him, you love him: and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter: 8-9)

 

Woodrick is a retired clergy member of the Mississippi Conference.