December 20, 2015
Signs of the Times
Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp
Passage: HEBREWS 10:5-10 AND Luke 1:39-45
With the dawn of a new century and a new millennium, it seems that we have found ourselves participants in certain events that could have drastically changed the shape of our world. Some of these events were expected to merely create chaos while others were to signal the actual end of civilization as we know it. Remember the controversy over when the new millennium started? Was it January 1, 2000 or January 1, 2001? It didn’t seem to really make a difference to many of us unless we were concerned about flying or using technology as the new millennium was also wrapped up in Y2K hysteria. You could get a great deal flying on Y2K because so many people didn’t want to take the chance. My wife was the on call person at the nursing home where she was working. And so on that night we spent New Year’s Eve on the roof of the building watching the fireworks just in case all technology failed and the world be plunged back into the so-called Dark Ages. I even remember buying extra camp fuel and stocking up on water and other foodstuffs. As it turned out, it was just a matter of the programmers changing the code from a two digit to a four digit for the years. Why didn’t they do that before throwing people into a tizzy? Then remember December 21, 2012? That was the date that the Mayan civilization had predicted would mean the end of the world. Seems a little far-fetched now but at the time there was real concern among many people. I’m glad I didn’t max out my credit card in the hope of never having to pay the bill! Of course, we know now that we have misinterpreted the calendar as we are all still here, or at least, there is an illusion that we are still here. Forgive me, that was a little existential philosophy humour creeping in there. In case you haven’t studied existential philosophy, it holds that nothing exists until you can physically prove it. Probably explains why so many existentialist philosophers are atheists. But back to signs and omens. Many well-known scholars had studied the Mayan calendar and determined that the end date of the calendar was December 21, 2012. They further believed that this was an indication of the end of the world. My theory is that they just ran out of room and didn’t want to find another stone. But seriously, there have been many cultures in the world who have firmly believed in an end to this world. Many of them have made their predictions and some of them have come true. But the ones that have come true have not always happened as they imagined or on the scale that they expected. Of course, every culture’s predictions of an end to this world must always be understood from their understanding of the world in which they lived. Without the modern inventions of the telephone, TV, radio and computers as well as the means to physically travel to other parts of the world, we might believe that the world is no bigger than the village next door. Any catastrophe to befall us could be seen as the end of the world as we know it. But what of the event of Christ’s birth that heralded a new movement in world history? The birth of the Messiah, the promised one of God who would save the people, was long predicted by many prophets over the course of many years. We find predictions in the prophet Isaiah primarily but also in prophets such as Micah. Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah as a child, a son who will govern the people. He uses such words as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He sees this child as coming from the stump of Jesse, the father of David and his descendants, a branch that will bear fruit. He predicts that this child will have the Spirit of the Lord rest on Him. He will have a spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and power, of knowledge. He sees this child as one who will grow to be a man who will not make superficial judgments of people, but with righteousness will judge the needy, and give good judgments for the poor of the earth. He will usher in a period of renewal for the people and bring a kingdom of peace. Isaiah further predicts the path that this child will walk when we read what have come to be known as the servant passages, the most famous being in Isaiah 52-53. Then we have the prophet Micah who goes so far as to predict that this child, this son, this Messiah will come from Bethlehem, the city of David. For centuries, the people of Israel were expecting God to reveal a Messiah. And so it was that, in the time chosen by God that He came into the world. God would come into the world in the same way that each of us begins our journey of life as an infant. But that coming would not be in a vacuum. It would not happen out of nothing. It would follow God’s plan. And so when God comes to us in human form, He comes through a descendant of David, Joseph of Nazareth. And He chooses Joseph’s fiancée to be the one to give birth to His Son. Jesus, which means He who saves in Aramaic, will be born to a descendant of David but to a woman who had never given birth before. And so the birth will be a fulfilment of the signs given by the prophets in times past. He will be born in Bethlehem, a town of no significance except that it is the city of David. His earthly father will be Joseph, a simple carpenter with no aspirations to greatness but a descendant of the mighty David. His mother will be a young woman, a virgin, so that there may be no doubt that the one born was indeed the Son of God. And so it comes to be, that the one known as Mary, a virgin betrothed to the carpenter, Joseph, a descendant of David, comes to Bethlehem where the child is born. The event is marked with a host of angels proclaiming the birth of the baby to shepherds in the field. It is marked by a supernova star that guides magi on a long journey that takes more than a year to complete. The conjunction of signs and omens told them that the birth of this child was unique among births and that it heralded a significant moment in the history of the world. And while many things in life seem to not have changed, we cannot escape the reality of what happened in Bethlehem so long ago. Those events continue to shape the life and destiny of the world as we know it. And while that first coming of God in Christ happened more than 2000 years ago, its message of hope is still as real. Next week we will gather with family and friends and exchange signs of love as we offer to each other gifts. Our hope is that those gifts will bring joy to the receiver. As you share that time, remember if you will the sign of love given by God to each of us. May that gift bring joy to your life and give you hope for the future!