The Savior We Needed
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
* * * * *
Waiting doesn’t come easily to most of us… waiting for a flight that’s delayed, waiting for important news, even waiting for Christmas. A friend of mine recently had a biopsy done and had to wait two weeks for the report – she’s cancer-free, thank God, but that was a long time waiting.
Advent is all about waiting. It’s an odd kind of waiting, because we know it’s good news we’re waiting for. But it’s also odd because our looking forward to something only makes sense by looking backward. We’re waiting for God to complete this creation, to make all things new and good and whole. But looking forward only makes sense by looking back – back to a time when the people of Israel were waiting for a Messiah.
In the days before Jesus, the people of God were looking backward and forward, too. They looked back to their “golden age” when King David was on the throne - a thousand years before Jesus. David had virtually created the nation. It was the highpoint in their history: the nation was united, people were prosperous, and, while they had enemies, things were remarkably stable and safe. He set the capital in Jerusalem, which became the center of religion, education and commerce. Those were the good old days, and “David” was the king against whom all others were measured.
Everything went downhill from there. After his son Solomon’s reign, there was a civil war and the nation broke apart. The North and South each had a few good kings – Hezekiah was one – but for the most part, the prophets railed against them all. People looked back and wondered if things would ever be as good as they were with David.
Eventually they came to believe that no one on earth had the power to make things right - only God could fix things, only “the zeal of the Lord” could do this. They started waiting for a Messiah to save them. They were living in a time of deep darkness, waiting for the light of God to shine upon them.
Our reading from the prophet Isaiah gives a taste of what they hoped for. They longed for a ruler with authority and power – “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” – titles the Egyptians gave their own kings when they came to the throne. They wanted a “Son of God,” which is what some of the Roman kings called themselves. What they wanted was a king like David, whose authority would grow continually, who would bring endless peace for David’s kingdom. What they wanted was a warrior-king who could establish it with justice and rule with righteousness now and forever.
That was the Messiah they wanted.
But God sent them Jesus: an infant, the child of nobodies from a backwoods town called Nazareth; a baby, born in a stable in Bethlehem. It was not exactly the grand, royal entrance they had in mind. Not exactly a Pharaoh, a Caesar, a David.
And yet, the angel told Mary, this is who they were waiting for:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
How could it be?
God gave them the Savior they needed, not the one that they wanted.
And the kingdom he established turned everything on its head.
Not a kingdom of power, not a kingdom of might, not won with swords but with sacrifice, not won with war but with words, not ruled with laws but with acts of love.
Though the Temple would fall and the nations be scattered, this kingdom would last forever. And nothing could touch it, because it was eternal; this kingdom belonged to God.
It was so unlikely, so unexpected; one could even say, preposterous. It’s no wonder so few people believed Jesus was the Messiah. The vast majority of the faithful did not see Jesus as the Son of the Most High God. There was no evidence that he was bringing in the kingdom of David. Why should they believe it? Didn’t his crucifixion prove that he was just one prophet among many?
In the oddest paradox, the church only began to grow when the Apostle Paul took the message out to non-believers, to Gentiles, to those outside the faith. That’s when the church began to grow. This Messiah wasn’t only here to save God’s chosen people; this Messiah came to save the world.
For those who believed, it changed everything. Not just the present, but the future. Not just in this life, but the life to come.
God didn’t send the Messiah they wanted; God gave us the Savior we needed.
We were talking about this in Bible study last week, and I raised the question: were there times in your own life when God gave you not what you wanted, but you needed? And the answer was, yes. Yes. There were answers to prayers – but not at all what people expected, or thought they wanted at all.
The stories came bubbling up. Bill Acklin told of how he came to Denison, a story I had never heard before. He grew up in Newark, went to OSU, and worked in Columbus in industry, in Personnel. Things were going well at the company… until they weren’t. Half the people were laid off. Then Bill was, too. He was finishing his MBA, their daughter was just six, and Connie was working as a teacher. They didn’t know what they were going to do. Bill sent out resumes like crazy. Then out of the blue, Denison University called. Denison! That school in Granville, the one he had driven by all his life. That’s what brought him to Granville, and to our church. I can tell you, our church wouldn’t be the same if that hadn’t happened.
There’s another woman I know who was on the fast track at work. Everyone assumed she would take over when the boss retired. When she was passed over for that promotion, it was devastating…. And yet… she had always dreamt of starting her own business and venturing out on her own. She didn’t want to work anywhere that expected her to compromise her values. This ‘failure’ was exactly what she needed to kick-start her dream into high gear. She has never looked back…
I think of the couple I know who always wanted to be parents. When they got married they just assumed it would happen. That was the script; that’s what they wanted. And when it didn’t happen, there was so much sadness, so much sorrow and grief. And yet… it wasn’t long before another family needed them. When crisis hit, they were there to step in, again and again and again, the “extra parents” those children needed. They wouldn’t trade that love for anything.
I’ve spent a good bit of time this week with the Murdocks. Sue has cancer, and is failing rapidly. Larry is by her bed round the clock, and so is their friend Angie. Larry and Sue were never able to have children – instead, God gave them thousands of them. 20,000, Larry jokes – the number of students he worked with at Denison when he was Registrar. That doesn’t count all the kids Sue taught at school, or who were in the Children’s choir here, or the ones she taught piano. And it doesn’t count Angie.
Angie is the daughter of their friends Cathy and Bob. When Angie was six years old, her older sister Christy got cancer. When Christy ended up at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cathy went down to be with her, 24/7. Bob changed his schedule to work four days a week, 12 hours a day, so he and Angie could go down for long weekends. Sue and Larry lived next door, and they became Angie’s “other parents.” Every morning she came to their house in her PJs, had breakfast and got ready for school. Every afternoon she came home to their house, did her homework, had supper and played. Every day until Christy died, that’s what they did.
Now Angie is here by Sue’s side, keeping vigil with Larry. The daughter they have always shared, all these years.
Now, I’ve never been one to say that everything is “God’s will.” I simply don’t believe that’s true. Only time can tell whether something works for good or for ill. It’s only in retrospect that we can see God’s hand at work, I believe.
But all we need to do is look at Jesus to see the strange ways of God. How God sends what we need instead of what we want or hope for. Or how God uses our lives to meet other people’s needs, besides our own.
Don’t hesitate to ask God for what you want. Don’t hesitate for a minute. Ask God with all your heart. But be prepared – it might not come as you expect. There might be something else all together that comes.
The way God works, who knows?
When the day comes that you look back at your life, you might just discover, it was what you needed most.
Who knows… but all we have to do is look at Jesus to know that nothing is impossible with God.
Thanks be to him.