This is a sermon I delivered on the 20th of December 2020, the day after Boris Johnson dropped the bombshell that our area would go into tier 4 lockdown, 1 day after we were put into tier 3 and less than a week since he mentioned Christmas restrictions would not be changed. Tier 4 meant that our church members could no longer see family and friends as they had planned. I re-wrote this talk on the afternoon of the 19th in the hope that it would help bring hope into a frustrating and for many, an upsetting and isolating time.
Disclaimer: As I write my scripts like I speak, please don't expect the best grammar and punctuation!
Sermon starts at 22:22 and we do have a bit of a funny start - for some reason the video was a bit jerky. If you prefer reading, the script is below.
Thank you for joining us this morning!
Yesterday was some tough news wasn’t it! The hope that we’d be able to have time with family and friends, a little bit of a break from a year of distancing and isolation, and the hope is taken away. Again, like the very first lockdown, the feelings felt by all of us will be varied depending on your circumstances and they will vary from a sense of deep isolation and frustration to possible relief that you can have that quiet Christmas you have always wanted without feeling guilty…for others of you, this won’t have changed anything at all as you’ve been isolating and protecting vulnerable family members since it all started.
Headlines in some newspapers and on the radio talk about Christmas being cancelled and it is being called a devastating blow to the country. People are panicking, others are protesting and confusion at ever changing guidance due to a changing virus seems to be more a part of everyday life than ever before.
So what hope is there? I assume that by watching this you are either finding your hope in Jesus or wondering a couple of questions: What difference can going to church make and what hope can Christianity offer?
Well, even in a socially distant world, we as a church can offer community. We have regular times to connect up online and catch up, we see what the bible has to say about life and we do our best to look out for those around us. If you are feeling isolated, we’d love to help in whatever ways we can.
But what can Christianity offer? I believe that it can offer so much more than community – you can find community in a club or in a hobby but I believe church and Christianity as a whole runs so much deeper than your average social club. Why is that you ask?
Well, that is where I need to open the bible, and I hope by the end of this talk that question will be answered. Church, or Christianity as a whole can offer hope that nothing else can. If you have more questions though, please don't hesitate to ask them here.
Over the last few weeks as a community we’ve been looking at a few verses in a book of the bible called Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet, not just a person who pointed to the future, but a person who would call out the nation of Israel when it broke the promise of loyal and obedient love with their creator God. This promise was called a covenant.
In the beginning of the book, Isaiah is calling out the people for failing to recognise God and the promise that they had made as a nation to be obedient and loyal. He says that the result of breaking their promise would be that another nation with a superior army would invade and take them out of the land that was promised to them. It wasn’t going to go well for Israel.
Even in their distress, Isaiah says the people won’t look to God, but they will enquire of mediums and necromancers as though the dead could speak on behalf of the living. They would curse their government and God and they would try and find their hope on the earth in natural things but
‘Behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness’ ~ Isaiah
That seems to be a fairly accurate representation of where our country is at the moment. We don’t know where to find hope, but we do know our government and usual sources of connection and hope are falling short. We aren’t in control and the future just seems gloomy with maybe a little bit of hope with a vaccine on the horizon. But what comes after that? A vaccine only puts a stopper on a virus but suffering and death still looms on every horizon! What can save us from death?
Ah well… keep reading…
Isaiah says that the best way to avoid the gloom is to hope in the Lord and engage with what he calls “the teaching and testimony” – there is something about scripture – the teaching- and about what Isaiah is sharing – his testimony – that is important enough to pull those that listen out of darkness.
As a church, we’ve been reflecting on the next chapter in Isaiah after these gloomy words. Though Israel looks everywhere except to God, there seems to be a promise in chapter 9 of someone coming. I’ll read from verse 2:
'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. '
That is an awesome name for a child…
“His name shall be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace”.
Who is this child?
Well let's go back a little through the bible. Since the beginning, back in Genesis 3, humanity have been waiting for what is known in Hebrew as a Messiah, in Greek is Kristos, in English we say Christ. In layman's terms, humanity is waiting for a saviour. There is a promise in Genesis 3 that the offspring of Eve, will defeat evil, seen in Genesis 3 as a serpent, by crushing its head but in doing so, the child would be wounded.
From Genesis 3 onwards Israel’s leaders, judges and kings seem to be the promised Messiah but repeatedly fail to be the one that is promised.
Until we get to Jesus. Jesus is the promised Messiah, it is why we call him Jesus Christ.
In Jesus we see a child who grows into a man who fulfils all the images given to us in the Hebrew bible (aka Old Testament) including the one in Genesis 3, on the cross he was wounded, he suffered and died but through his resurrection he defeated death and evil, crushing its head. Jesus has proven himself to be the promised child.
Now this might raise some questions which is fine. Please don’t hesitate to get those questions in for the end of this talk and I’ll make sure Chris Kimbangi (lead elder of Hope Church... see the video) answers the tough ones...
Seriously though, we do believe Christianity holds up to scrutiny, especially the resurrection of Jesus, and you are more than welcome to ask us questions which is why we’re giving space after the service this morning.
For now, I’m going to assume that you agree with me about the resurrection. But what does it mean then, for this child, for Jesus to be an everlasting father? How is this part of the good news that Christianity supposedly offers?
Isaiah is talking about the qualities of this child. Just like saying the child will be called wonderful counsellor, this child will also have the qualities of an everlasting father.
Why is it important that he is a father? Isaiah is pointing you to all the best bits of what a father should be. There is a great story of a father in the bible in Luke 15, the following are the notes from my paraphrase.
There were two brothers
The younger one asks for his inheritance even while his dad is alive
He squanders it and ends up working for a pig farmer
Remembers his Dad’s servants have it quite good
Returns to his father and says, “I am not worthy…”
This father runs when he sees his son on the horizon, doesn’t let him finish the apology and clothes him, and puts on a party.
The older brother is annoyed that this has happened because he has never had the fattened calf killed for him and won’t come into the party.
The father goes to him as well and offers him the same offer – come to the party, your brother was dead but now he is alive.
Read the full story here: Luke 15:11-32
This story is a picture of God running to us by sending Jesus his son, to live amongst us, to hug us in our filth, to offer us hope in the midst of death. He could well turn his dirty son away, after all, the prodigal insulted and shamed the father. He could well ignore the older brother for insulting his invitation to come to the party but no, God comes running down the road. For those who think they are already good and not needing a saviour, the older brothers so to speak, God has come for you as well!
What does it mean to be everlasting? Isaiah is using language of divinity; he says in Isaiah 57:15 that God alone inhabits eternity – eternity being the same word that is translated as ‘everlasting’ in chapter 9. This everlasting goes beyond human ages in ways that human fatherhood cannot. To see how Jesus fulfils this, we need to go jump between a couple of books in the bible…
In Isaiah 8, Isaiah talks about “these children whom the Lord has given me”. This is important because the New Testament book called Hebrews, wants you to connect these words to Jesus as well. In the gospels, Jesus says, “let these children come to me” and John in his gospel writes that “you [God the father] gave him [Jesus] authority over all people so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him” (John 17:2). Even in the song we sang this morning – “he will lead his children on to the place where he has gone”.
All of these passages point to the child, the messiah who is Jesus, is given authority over the children of the earth to offer them eternal life. Only one who is eternal, or divine, can offer eternal life.
While the vaccine may offer some hope in this gloomy time, the ultimate hope of freedom from death is the eternal life that can only found in Jesus.
As I begin to conclude I wonder what you think I mean by eternal life? Do you think of renaissance paintings of babies with wings and harps? Do you think of perfect people floating about with halos over their heads?
The bible tells us what eternal life is and it isn’t that. It isn’t even going up to heaven!
Throughout the bible there is actually very little about ‘going to heaven’. What Christians should be hoping for is ‘new creation’. This world made new – it is why we pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. A clear example of this is in Revelation 21.
This world is going to be made new and verse 4 says there will be no more mourning, no more pain or death.
This world – the good we see in this life, the love, the joy, the happiness of friendship, the good things we are able to do with these bodies of ours – in eternal life will be made new and even better, without the corruption of death. (The video below gives a good introduction of what the bible teaches about heaven.)
We look back to the cross to give us confidence that the suffering and eventual death we face now is only temporary. The reason we believe Jesus defeated death was because there is good reason to believe the first Christians were right when they said his tomb was empty and they had seen him, touched his body and watched him ascend to heaven.
In this time of frustration and despair, isolation and loss of hope, no matter what you are feeling, there is hope in Christmas. Christmas hasn’t been cancelled and can never be cancelled. The hope of Christmas remains in the everlasting nature of the God-man Jesus, whose name is called wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, Prince of Peace.
The good news of Jesus is hope in the face of despair. Peace in the face of hardship. Joy in the face of suffering. Love in the face of hate. Life in the face of death.
Do you know this hope, peace, joy, love and life? You can start by following Jesus if you don’t already. You can pray these words with me that echo that of the younger son in the story.
“Lord I am sorry that I have lived my own way, I know I am not worthy, but I know that you offer forgiveness. Forgive me of all the things I’ve done that go against you and those around me. I want to know you as lord and saviour of my life, help me live in a way that shows others that I follow you. Please fill me with your spirit so that I can know this hope, peace, joy, love and life. In Jesus name, Amen.”
If you prayed this prayer, please do get in touch, I'd love to get to know you, pray with you and read the bible with you and help you on this journey of following Jesus.
If you are a Christian and not aware of this hope of new creation and have questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch but I’m going to pray now and you can pray with me for God’s spirit to work anew in your life today, to help you find the hope you can have in our everlasting Father.