Friday, December 9, 2011

“How Blest Are We?”

image from Photo Bucket
Read: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 and Luke 1:46b-55 (For your convenience this readings are added at the end of the message)

“Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,” Mary sings in a psalm in today’s scripture reading.  But when we look at the facts of Mary’s life, we see troubles and pain and turmoil.  She is pregnant out of wedlock, which is punishable by being stoned to death. 
The Roman’s who have conquered and are occupying the Jewish nation require a census for taxation purposes.  This forces Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem while she is about due to deliver a baby. 
Then she gets to Bethlehem and finds they must spend the night in a stable.  And in a stable she gives birth. 
So far this doesn’t seem to fit our modern concept of be blessed, does it? 
And it gets worse.  When the king hears of the baby’s birth he sends soldiers to find and kill all the children in the area.  She has to uproot her family and go with Joseph and Jesus to a country that certainly is not a “friend to Jews”, Egypt.
Take your choice of people in the old or new testaments and you’ll find that everyone that was blessed was beset with troubles.
Abraham was blessed and the blessing required him to leave his home and security and go to an unknown land.  And if we look closely at that blessing we see that it is THROUGH him that all the world is to be blessed.
                        Kind David, after he is anointed as Israel’s true king by the prophet Samuel, has to run and hide because Saul wants to kill him.
            Moses, it is said, was a prophet like no other because he talked face to face with God.  However, there is not much in his life that could match up with our concept of being blessed.  He escaped being killed at birth only by being set adrift in the Nile (think about Nile crocodiles which still on occasion actively hunt people).  As a young man, he has to flee to the desert.  Then God blesses him and sends him back to Egypt to have a showdown with one of the most powerful and ruthless men in the world.  Even when he has won that battle, he has to lead a bunch of surly, cantankerous, whiners to a Promised Land that they refused to enter.  And then has to put up with them for another forty years.  And in the end, he doesn’t even get to enter the Promised Land himself.
            John the Baptist was blessed of God and lived in the wilderness eating locust and honey before he became a homeless, traveling preacher.  And for his faithfulness, he was beheaded by Herod as a present for his daughter.
            Jesus, the very Son of God, did not live a life of ease and free of troubles.  You may have realized when we read the Bible passage from Isaiah that this is the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue and then told the crowd that He was the person that Isaiah was prophesying about.  As a result those good, religious people took him out of the synagogue to a high hill and tried to throw him off of the cliff.  That is the way His ministry started.  And we know, that in the end, they did succeed in killing Him.
            All of this tells us that our concept of blessings is way to narrow.  When we think of blessings, we think of things like our health, our family, our jobs, our friends, our homes, or our wealth.  Amen?
            Now listen, I’m not saying that those things that I’ve listed aren’t blessings.  What I’m saying is that those blessings are given to us so that we can BE a blessing.
            If God has opened the windows of heaven and poured out for us an overflowing blessing, you can be assured that it wasn’t given to us to hoard.  We know that, right?
We remember, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. ”
            Count your blessings.  Count them one by one.  Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
            I may never sing that song with the same innocence that I’ve sung it in the past.  Amen?
            About a dozen years ago a new understanding of blessings came to me when I was reading and thinking about Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
            I had always loved this verse because it gave me comfort that God was on my side.  Anybody else love that verse and claim it as your own?
However, one day I saw it with new eyes.  I saw that it said “all things work for the good”.  It didn’t say that all things were going to be good.  It wasn’t a promise of “A cloud of pink ice cream where every star is a candy bar and the moon is a marshmallow dream.”
It said that God would take everything and everyone that I encountered in life and make it good for me.  Good for me.  You know, like this medicine is good for me.  The foul smelling, nasty tasting medicine that makes me want to vomit, is good for me.  You know what I’m talking about here.  Amen?
            I came to understand that I don’t have to like it, for it to be good for me.  We don’t have to like it for it to be good for us. We don’t have to like it for it to be a blessing for us.
What we have to do is turn it over to God and he will make it good “for” us.  Do you see?
Now we have lived long enough that we can look back on our life and see many things that came into our life that were far from pleasant.  And yet because of that unpleasant experience, our life was ‘shifted’ onto a better path.  We have been blessed.
And like all those who came before us, we are to BE blessings.
We are to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,  and to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn, to build up the ancient ruins, to raise up the former devastations, to repair the ruined cities, and the devastations of many generations.
And we do that by taking whatever comes into our life, turning it over to God.  We need to give it as an offering of our will to Him.  And He in turn gives us a peace that the world will never know and can not take away. 
I have a joy, joy, joy, joy down it my heart.  Down in my heart to stay.  Amen.

Hebrew Bible:  Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11  Pew Bible OT 691
1The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.  4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
8For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.  10I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.  

Gospel: Luke 1:46b-55  Pew Bible NT 57
46b"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." 

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