4 Advent 2019: A Dirty Sermon – as in earthen

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This sermon is kind of dirty.
I don’t mean obscene,
I mean muddy – as in, earthen.
You will be happy to know
it is kind of short too’

I am looking forward to Christmas Eve this year,
when I can just kind embrace the readings
instead of feeling as though
I need to reach in and unpack them.
But then, that is the difference
between Advent and Christmas.

What we just heard from Isaiah
is not about a virgin
nor is it about Jesus.
On the other hand,
we do not know exactly what it is all about.

Here is the historical context
down and dirty.

After King Solomon there was a civil war
in which Israel went one way
and Judah another.
Israel was the northern section of what we
think of as Israel today,
and it had all the good stuff:
farm land,
and a fairly strong military.

Judah was the southern end
and it had Jerusalem,
and deserts and wild places
where no one could survive,
as well as the Dead Sea
in which nothing much lives.

Israel never stopped wanting to take Judah back.

Time pressed on after the split
until Israel made a pact
with neighboring Aram,
which had its capital in Damascus.
Aram was also a vassal state
of the growing Assyrian empire.
Together Israel and Aram agreed to attack Judah
and then divide it up between themselves.

Ahaz was the king of Judah
and understandably, he was freaking out.
Isaiah was the prophet-poet
who tried to assure Ahaz
to stay the course.
Isaiah promised Ahaz
he would live to see the day
when God proved faithful to Jerusalem.

Isaiah tells the king to ask for a sign,
any sign, for God to show Ahaz
that God will protect Judah.

For some reason the king won’t do it.

So, Isaiah GIVES him a sign:
A woman, who shall remain nameless –
as most women of the bible and history have been –
will have a child, also nameless.

That child will be a peasant child
indicated by his diet of honey and curds.
By the time the child is old enough
to judge between right from wrong –
6 to 10 years old, maybe –
Ahaz will be able to see
that the kings of Israel and Aram
rule over an empty bunch of nothingness,
while Judah will be okay.

Oddly, that is a long time to wait for a sign
when you have two armies at your door.
That is what I mean that we don’t really understand
this passage –
other than its context.

Unlike scientists and engineers,
prophets and poets, like mystics,
are allowed to be cryptic
when they want to be.

But what we can be sure about,
is that this passage from Isaiah,
which was written 700 years
before Jesus was born,
is not about Jesus.

Rather, it was about something
that had to do with Ahaz
and the crisis he was facing.

Even so, Matthew comes along
almost eight centuries after the fact,
and tries to use Isaiah
as evidence or proof that Jesus is
the long-expected messiah.

Matthew constantly uses Hebrew scripture
written three-to-eight-hundred years before Jesus
as if it were written about Jesus.
It was his attempt to “prove” his Gospel claims.

I have no doubt
that Matthew believed what he was writing,
but it is also clear the vast majority
of first century Jews took no stock in it.
Especially the learned Jews
of Matthew’s generation
who understood how far-fetched
Matthew’s use of their text was.

The truth is, we get no proof for things like messiahs.

Heck, we don’t even get proof for love,
so the whole idea
that there is textual or historical evidence
or any kind of proof about things like messiahs,
is just absurd.
It is not our business anyway.
And actually, that is the larger point
of Isaiah’s big poetic prophecy to Ahaz:
trust God because you do not get to know.

Maybe D.H. Lawrence was onto something
when he wrote,
“Jesus was never Jesus
till he was born from a womb, and ate soup and bread
and grew up, and became, in the wonder of creation, Jesus, with a body and with needs,
and a lovely spirit.”

which is actually what the Christmas story is about,
has to do with body-ness.
Everything we can know
can only be known from inside a body.
No body? Then no mind –
no-thing without a body.
Even an atom has a body – an electron shell.

We are embodied creatures
and everything we know about
is embodied in some way, somehow.
And what we are really saying
with Christmas
is that God is embodied too.
God is embodied in creation.
God finds a way to be embodied, somehow,
even in human flesh.

That is a big idea
that can’t be proven, of course,
except for those
who have experienced
the embodiment of God’s presence.

But those folks can’t prove it to anyone else,
any more than you and I
can actually prove we love someone –
no matter how deeply
or passionately we love them.

But then, that is what
our hands and feet are for – for embodying love
so that others can see and feel
what is otherwise not seen.
Our love requires embodiment
in order to be experienced.
Without embodying our love
it would just be an idea,
or something we say
but which has no real-world imprint.

when we take off all the baubles and wrapping,
is earthen, simple,
and practical.
For all the religious talk
about spirit
and Pentecost
and other-worldly mystical-stuff,
our religion is really quite earthy.

It is dirt-bound
and physically embodied
in flesh and blood.
It is then delivered with hands and feet –
and occasionally
with words that make a difference.

Using our bodies to make a difference,
to literally, get down in the mud
and create a new world
that looks
and acts
and feels like one rooted in love,
is our religion.
That is what we are, or are supposed to be.

The rhetoric of creeds and hymns is,
well just rhetoric
until the moment
we embody some of it.

So, like I said, it is not too complicated
or even spooky
in any kind of religious way.
Rather, it is about what we do
with our hands and feet.

I wish I could tell you something more elegant
or spectacularly mystical
and spiritual,
but honestly,
our religion is dirty
just like our hands and feet
are supposed to be.

Christmas too,
is not all that elegant.
It has all the dirty, smelly, joyful things
that bodies do.

Thanks be to God for that!