Sermons

Sun, Dec 03, 2017

Incarnation without intervention?

Series:Sermons

It used to happen every night...

we would take Liam for his daily walk...

and, almost the minute that we got home and inside the door...

he would be straight outside...

standing over his food bowl...

wanting his dinner.

I mean he was never given dinner immediately after his walk.

Wolfhounds are prone to gastric torsion--

so you don't feed them for at least half an hour either before or after exercise.

But Liam, of course, didn't know that...

and, more importantly, didn't care.

He wanted his dinner.

And, over the course of the following half an hour or so...

he would make multiple trips outside...

stand over his bowl...

stare at me through the kitchen window...

nudge his bowl with his nose...

come back inside...

stare at me again...

then go back outside to his bowl.

Of course, eventually, I would feed him--

after sufficient time had elapsed.

But I'm sure that he used to think that I did so, only because of his pleading.

 

You know...

sometimes, I think that we relate to God like that.

"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!"

About six centuries before Jesus was born, the people of Israel were in exile...

defeated, dejected, and despondent.

Then, after some thirty-five years, they were suddenly released...

and allowed to return to their homeland.

Our reading from Isaiah this morning comes from the period after Israel's return from Exile.

Despite returning home, in other respects nothing much had changed.

They still weren't a free and independent nation.

Their land was devastated and the Temple still lay in ruins.

For those who had been born during the exile--

who had never set foot in Jerusalem before--

it would have been a demoralising experience.

For those who did return...

no doubt, there would have been a mix of nostalgia and relief...

underpinning their dreams and visions for the future.

But trying to rebuild and restart would have been a huge effort.

And, it appears, there were conflicts and tensions...

different priorities and agendas.

There's so much that wouldn't have turned out as they hoped, or dreamed, or planned.

As a result, some no doubt felt like they had been abandoned--

that God was absent or indifferent.

No doubt, they would have pleaded with God to come down...

to intervene powerfully...

to put everything right.

And some were probably getting quite frustrated with God...

because that didn't seem to be happening.

They would have cried...

and pleaded...

and implored.

They would have wanted--

they would have expected-- 

God to do something.

And this prophet--

writing under the name of Isaiah--

seems to have shared that sentiment:

"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!"

And yet, he also suggests that God's coming might not be pleasant--

that it might be terrifying--

implying that God's inaction was a punishment...

because the people were still unfaithful...

and they weren't prepared to change.

 

Perhaps some of us identify with the frustrations of those ancient Israelites.

At some point or other, most of us have probably yearned for God to intervene...

to act decisively...

to sort out the mess that is our world.... 

and to make everything right.

And while, on one level, we know that the mess is our own fault--

that it's humanity's doing--

still, there are probably times when we want to blame God for it...

or, at least, blame God for not doing something about it.

And yet, if there's one thing that history, science, and experience ought to teach us...

it's that God is not an interventionist deity.

God doesn't act directly in our world.

God doesn't sort out the mess that we get ourselves and our world into.

But sometimes it's hard to let go of that.

Sometimes it's hard to let go of that way of thinking.

Sometimes it's hard to let go of that sort of conception of God--

a conception that made sense within the more primitive world-view of antiquity;

a conception of God that we have inherited from our tradition...

which we sing about in our hymns and often replicate in our prayers.

But God is not an interventionist deity.

 

And that's important to bear in mind as we begin another season of Advent...

and prepare for another Christmas--

when we pause to ponder the coming of Jesus amongst us...

and what it means for us and our world.

So often, in our Advent preparations...

and our Christmas ponderings...

we simply replicate that traditional conception of God.

Christmas, as it's come down to us, is an intervention...

perhaps the supreme intervention--

God breaking into our world;

God coming among us, God becoming one of us;

God acting dramatically, miraculously, to rescue us from ourselves.

And yet, if we really think about it...

doesn't that actually raise at least as many problems as it solves?

Doesn't that just leave us with--

at best--

a God who is largely absent and uninvolved...

but who intervenes inconsistently;

and, at worst, a God who is fickle and capricious?

 

Perhaps, Advent and Christmas are actually pointing us to a different understanding.

Rather than God's interventionist activity...

perhaps what we ought to recognise in the birth of Jesus...

is the innate human capacity to make God present.

As the theologian, Charlene Burns, puts it:

"Humanity as a whole--not just Jesus--is so constituted as to be capable of incarnating the divine".

Yes, Jesus did that to an extraordinary degree...

perhaps even in a unique way...

but "each of us in some sense possesses the capacity to incarnate the divine".

Each of us has an innate capacity to make God present.

Maybe, in the end, that's what Advent and Christmas are trying to teach us.

Rather than perpetuating the idea of an interventionist God;

rather than expecting God to "tear open the heavens and come down";

Advent is trying to point out to us that we humans are the solution to the mess of the world--

when we are willing to embrace our capacity to make God present;

when we are open to God working in and through us.

The salvation and transformation of our world do not come-- 

in a sense-- 

from without, but from within.

The hope for our world--

symbolised in the birth of the baby Jesus--

is, ultimately, a very human hope.

It's the hope that ordinary, seemingly insignificant people...

will continue to make God present;

that we will be increasingly open to God's indwelling, infusing, and inspiring...

over and over again.

It's the hope that each one of us will learn to recognise-

and rejoice in-- 

the incarnated presence of God in each other.

It's the hope that each one of us will more fully incarnate the love of God--

that each one of us will more fully be God for each other--

over and over again...

until we, and all of creation, are made new.

 
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