Impossible Surprises

Passage: Isaiah 5:1-8; Matthew 21:33-46
Date: December 21, 2008
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Guest Preacher:

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“Impossible Surprises”
Rev. David Hutchinson

Not preached Dec. 21, 2008 at Westminster because of snow:

Can you imagine the PAUSE - -
- - when Mary and Elisabeth - - first greeted each other - -
- - each one with an amazing piece of news?
Mary - was young - - and she was engaged - but not yet married - - and she had travelled all day to reach Elisabeth - - her aunt or older cousin - -
- - Elisabeth - who - was older - -
- - and who was married to Zachariah - -
- - with whom she had hoped for years - to have a child.
And as they met - there must have been this - amazing – pause!
Each one had news. Each one had a surprise to report.
In fact - - it was the SAME news. The SAME surprise!
They were BOTH – pregnant!!
And for each one - - that news - - was at least a – surprise!
A pastor named Lillian Daniel - as she reflected on this text - has suggested that - - the answer to the question: “Do you like surprises?” - -
- - is - - “It depends”.
Because in the moment after the question is asked - there is this PAUSE.
And in that pause - we consider all the endless possibilities.
Both good and bad.
“Do you like surprises?”
pause - -
“Well - - - it depends”
And so with that idea in mind - I imagined the pause -
- between Mary and Elisabeth.
An older woman - whose expectation of giving birth has come to an end.
And a young unmarried girl - maybe unprepared for such a thing.
And so - we feel - ANXIETY as we read these stories - -
- - and the - inscrutable - - Unpredictability - of God.
These are NOT stories - about happy - nuclear -
- June - Ward - Beaver - and Wally - Cleaver.
They run COUNTER - to that culture - OUR culture.
Counter - to the culture - of AVOIDING surprise.
Counter - to the culture - of being safe - and secure - and isolated.
Counter to the culture of Doppler 8000!!
If you like surprises, you probably liked the weather this week. I sat writing these words, wondering if I was writing what the Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” called, “the words to a sermon no one would hear”. And as I wrote, on Thursday, I occasionally listened to the TV weather report. All Wednesday night and then Thursday morning, there seemed to be almost NO connection between what was being said in the predictions on TV, and what was actually happening out the window. When they said snow and ice it was fine. And when they said it was fine, it snowed. I actually looked out on an inch of snow in my front yard Thursday morning and listened to a reporter say it was NOT snowing!
So this was a surprise.
This Biblical story is a story about surprise.
This is a story - for anyone - - - who has ever WAITED.
Anyone who has ever paused. Or longed…..
This is a story for anyone who has ever waited to receive news.
News about - - - cancer - - - or a college acceptance -
- or a job - - - or an engagement -
- or a war - - - or a pregnancy.
They are stories - for anyone who has ever wanted a child -
- or wanted to give one up.
Elisabeth - - and Mary.
Facing each other - - in that - - pause.
Anxious - - with expectation. Longing…
Waiting for God - - to finish - - what had been started in them.
And in this way - - maybe they are like Israel.
The nation of Israel - - in waiting.
Which is where Israel was - when they heard the words - of the Old Testament reading for this morning. / In the book of 2 Samuel. / The prophet Nathan - reported to David - - that God would build - - a house for David. A FAMILY would be built - - a nation. / And so - instead of David - building a house for God - - - GOD would build a FAMILY - - for David - and for Israel.
And when - that promise was - REMEMBERED - - centuries later - and the people heard about John the Baptist - - they wondered - could he be the ONE to continue to build this family ?? Because you see, a lot had happened since King David. First a huge successful empire and rich temple under Solomon, David’s father. It seemed like it had all come true. But then…a lot of unpredicted hardship occurred. The nation was conquered. They went into exile. Waiting…
Was God’s promise only good for a short time, they probably wondered?
Was it like the weather forecasts this past week, just a guess!?
Well in time - Jesus - - born in Bethlehem.
And with all of John the Baptist’s raving – some asked could he be the one to continue to build this family – and this nation?
Could Jesus be the one?
Jesus was born to this - unmarried young - poor - woman.
But wait a minute - - - John the Baptist - -
- was born in strange conditions too.
And - king David - had been the youngest brother - not the oldest.
And - so had Jacob.
And so had the Old Testament - Joseph….
And what about Abraham and Sarah - when Sarah gave birth to Isaac
- she was - - like Elisabeth - - OLD.
So the SURPRISE - - is - - - maybe NOT so surprising - - after all.
God - acts like this – all the time. Huh…
And YET - - we are STILL surprised - - that God’s wisdom is so DIFFERENT - - from the wisdom of the world.
And that - this little baby’s birth - in a barn -
- in God’s wisdom - IS the answer.
It IS the answer - to ancient longings -
- and HUGE political questions and expectations -
- about the Messiah -
- and about justice - and peace -
- and about the Kingdom of God.
But is that REALLY so strange?
Surprises are not about what is possible. They are about the IMPOSSIBLE! They are scandalous. They are downright illogical.
Verse 37 of chapter one of Luke says, “With God nothing is impossible” !
I say, OK, maybe - - but know what else - - with God
For example - think about how new parents - lives change.
The birth of a baby into a family - effects your politics - and your money.
Parents might VOTE differently.
They might seek out a church - for the first time.
They might think differently - about crime.
Choose to live in different neighborhoods.
These are choices that no king - and - no adult - could call out of them.
They are probably choices - that even
-no president - could call out of them.
As we behold - the baby - this Christmas -
- we reconnect - with what it is to be -
- vulnerable - and embodied - and in a family - and in need.
And that is so like what we do - when we gather - around the Lord’s Table.
We gather to acknowledge our HUMANITY.
Our - - BORNness. Our vulnerability…
And we encounter CHRIST – there – at the Table.
And we are offered forgiveness - and salvation - there.
And all this is surprisingly illogical.
Do you like surprises?
Well….it depends….
Some anonymous author - has suggested that if the growth process were REVERSED - - that might be more fun. / And so this little piece I’m about to refer to is a bit like the new movie due out this Christmas called, “Benjamin Button”, in which a person’s life goes in reverse. Imagine the fun if life went in reverse!
Besides being fun - - I wonder if it might be an image - for us as we come to the table – and the Baptismal font at Christmas - - in the midst of our celebration - of the birth.
So - - it would go like this - -
- - you would DIE first - - like in baptism maybe.
In baptism we die to sin as the FIRST act in the drama of our life of faith.
You would die first - get that unplesantness out of the way.
Then you would live twenty years in a retirement home.
You would get kicked out when you are too young to be there.
Then you would get a gold watch.
Then go to work - and work 40 years -
- until you’re young and enthusiastic about your career.
You go to college -
- party until you’re ready for high school -
- become a little kid -
- play - and have no responsibilities.
And then - - you become a little baby.
You return to the womb.
You spend your last nine months floating.
And you finish up - as a gleam in somebody’s eye.
Let us come to the Table of the Lord…
And to the font of our identity…
And to the stories of Christmas…
And in these holy things - may we encounter - our own humanity -
- in which Christ meets us - as a tiny child -
- and offers us the gift - of life.
Do you - like - surprises?