“What Were We Expecting from Christmas?” by Doug Bennett

Excerpts from a Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 7, 2018 by Doug Bennett

This Christmas season I found myself very struck by the passages in Isaiah where the birth of the Messiah is foretold. It was all foretold by this prophet: that’s the suggestion. Says Isaiah,

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end…” and “with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.”

And then there’s this: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them…. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (from Isaiah Chapters 9 and 11).

All this sounds like the coming of a king doesn’t it, a mighty ruler who will bring peace and prosperity. My goodness, what a promise. Lie back and enjoy it because here come the good times. Those good times, those peaceful and just times have been promised to us – without our ever lifting a finger.

Is that what you got for Christmas? I didn’t.

I woke up with the same President, the same Congress, and the same war in Afghanistan. I woke up with mass shootings, rampant racism, rising inequality and falling life expectancy in the U.S.

Were we cheated on Christmas day?

Maybe Isaiah was just a fool, or maybe we’re fools because we just don’t know how to understand his prophecy. But there’s a third possibility: Maybe Isaiah is on to something. He sees the possibility and he tries to tell us about it in a prophecy, but it’s so new and so surprising that he really doesn’t quite understand it. So what he says isn’t exactly right. It’s important, and we should hear it, but what he says isn’t the whole of the matter, the last and complete word.

I want to add here that I think this is more or less what happens in our worship together. Someone rises to speak out of the silence. What they say is important and truthful, but it isn’t perfect and whole. It’s a message we all need to hear, and yet it needs something added – more to be added, or greater clarity. One message adds to another.

What happens after Christmas is the real jaw-dropping part of the story. Jesus doesn’t turn out to be what we think of when we think of all-powerful, all-just rulers. He’s a carpenter’s son, an itinerant preacher/story-teller. He hangs out with low-lifes, he enrages authorities, and he ends up crucified.

In this surprising, unexpected example of Jesus, God asks to live a completely different life than what people had previously thought proper: to be humble, not proud, to be generous, to love our neighbors and to forgive.

Isaiah didn’t quite get it right in his prophecy. It won’t just happen by itself. If we are to celebrate the Prince of Peace, we must keep His memory alive and live by His example. If we are to have righteousness and peace and justice, now and forevermore, WE will have to make it so. We will have to live by this new way of living that Jesus taught.

God has no hands but ours. That’s what Isaiah didn’t tell us.

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The entire message is on Doug Bennett’s blog, River View Friend.

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