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PSALM 27; ISAIAH 9:6-7 | “JOYFUL, ALL YE NATIONS RISE”

“JOYFUL, ALL YE NATIONS RISE”

PSALM 27; ISAIAH 9:6-7

DECEMBER 10, 2017

 

OUR TWO PASSAGES FOR THIS MORNING ARE SOMETHING OF A BEFORE AND AFTER PICTURE.

 

YOU KNOW THE KIND: THE BEFORE PICTURE SHOWING SOMETHING, SOMEONE, BEFORE CHANGES HAVE BEEN MADE; AND THE AFTER PICTURE, THE RESULTS OF SAID CHANGES, MAYBE EVEN, THE FINAL RESULTS.

 

WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS ONE OF THOSE TOTAL MAKEOVERS – OF THE WORLD!

 

PSALM 27, WHILE SPOKEN IN FIRST PERSON, DESCRIBES LIFE, THE WORLD, AS WE KNOW IT – COMPLETE WITH FEAR, EVILDOERS, ADVERSARIES, AND FOES.

 

IT DESCRIBES A WORLD FULL OF ENEMIES, AND ARMIES ENCAMPED AGAINST US, AND WAR, AND FALSE WITNESSES, AND VIOLENCE.

 

THAT’S THE BEFORE PICTURE.

 

BUT, AS IN OUR PSALM FROM LAST WEEK, THE PSALMIST IS NOT WITHOUT HOPE THAT THINGS WILL GET BETTER.  THAT IS HIS PLEA, HIS PRAYER, HIS PROMISE:

 

“I BELIEVE THAT I SHALL SEE THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING.  WAIT FOR THE LORD; BE STRONG, AND LET YOUR HEART TAKE COURAGE; WAIT FOR THE LORD.”

 

THIS IS THE AFTER PICTURE; AS IS, WHAT GOD PROMISES IN OUR PASSAGE FROM ISAIAH, AND FULFILLS IN THE COMING OF CHRIST AT CHRISTMAS.

 

“FOR UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN; UNTO US A SON GIVEN; AND THE GOVERNMENT WILL BE UPON HIS SHOULDER;

 

AND HIS NAME SHALL BE CALLED WONDERFUL COUNSELOR, THE MIGHTY GOD, THE EVERLASTING FATHER, THE PRINCE OF PEACE.

 

OF THE INCREASE OF HIS GOVERNMENT AND PEACE THERE SHALL BE NO END, UPON THE THRONE OF DAVID, AND UPON HIS KINGDOM, TO ORDER IT, TO ESTABLISH IT WITH JUDGMENT AND WITH JUSTICE FROM HENCEFORTH EVEN FOREVER.

 

THE ZEAL OF THE LORD OF HOSTS PERFORM THIS.”

 

THAT’S THE AFTER PICTURE; A TOTAL MAKEOVER;

 

AT LEAST, IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE; BUT SOMETHING HAPPENED; SOMETHING WENT WRONG; SOMETHING DIDN’T QUITE TAKE.

 

AS FREDERICK BUECHNER PUTS IT:

 

“ISRAEL DID NOT WANT TO BE A HOLY NATION.  ISRAEL WANTED TO BE A NATION LIKE ALL OTHER NATIONS, A NATION LIKE EGYPT, LIKE SYRIA.  SHE WANTED CLOUT.  SHE WANTED SECURITY.  SHE WANTED HER PLACE IN THE SUN.

 

IT WAS HER OWN WAY SHE WANTED, NOT GOD’S WAY; AND WHEN THE PROPHETS GOT AFTER HER FOR IT, SHE GOT RID OF THE PROPHETS;

 

AND WHEN GOD’S DEMANDS SEEMED TO BE TOO EXORBITANT, GOD’S PROMISES TOO REMOTE, SHE TOOK UP WITH OTHER GODS WHO STILL GET OUR VOTES AND OUR MONEY AND OUR 9 TO 5 ENERGIES;

 

BECAUSE THEY ARE GODS WHO COULD NOT CARE LESS WHETHER WE ARE HOLY OR NOT, AND PROMISE ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING WE REALLY WANT, AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WE REALLY NEED.”

 

DID YOU SEE THE WAY BUECHNER SLYLY SLIPPED FROM TALKING ABOUT ISRAEL TO TALKING ABOUT US?

 

HE KNOWS WE CAN’T VERY WELL BLAME ISRAEL FOR NOT WANTING TO BE HOLY, BECAUSE, OF COURSE, WE ARE ISRAEL, AND WHO WANTS TO BE HOLY?

 

THE WORD HAS LOST ALL MEANING, EXCEPT FOR THE WAYS IN WHICH IT HAS FALLEN INTO DISREPUTE:

 

“HOLIER-THAN-THOU, A HOLY ROLLER, A HOLY MESS.” 

 

WHO WANTS TO BE HOLY ANYMORE?  AND JUST AS IN THE PSALM, WHAT IS TRUE OF US, IS TRUE OF NATIONS AS WELL.

 

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN THIS NATION WANTED TO BE A HOLY NATION; WHEN IT BELIEVED ITSELF SO.

 

THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY MEN AND WOMEN WHO FOUNDED THIS NATION DREAMED JUST SUCH A HIGH AND HOLY DREAM.

 

AND OF ALL THE WAYS WE COULD TALK ABOUT THAT, ONE OF THE SIMPLEST IS IN THE NAMES OF THE FIRST PLACES THEY SETTLED.

 

NEW HAVEN, NEW HOPE, THEY CALLED THEM.  DO YOU SEE?  THAT IS FOR WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING; HOPING; PRAYING AND WORKING; A NEW HAVEN, A NEW HOPE

 

AND THERE WERE OTHER PLACES TOO:

 

PROVIDENCE (AS IN GOD’S PROVIDENCE); AND CONCORD (NOT NAMED AFTER THE GRAPE, OF COURSE, BUT AFTER THE IDEA OF BEING IN CONCORD, IN AGREEMENT, IN HARMONY, WITH EACH OTHER.)

 

AND SALEM (WHICH IS OLD ENGLISH FOR SHALOM – THE HEBREW WORD FOR PEACE); AND WHO CAN FORGET PHILADELPHIA – FROM ONE OF THE GREEK WORDS FOR LOVE – PHILIA – THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE.)

 

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN OUR NATION THOUGHT ITSELF HOLY, OR AT LEAST, HOPED FOR IT, PRAYED FOR IT, WORKED TOWARD IT, AND THOSE DREAMS DIE HARD.

 

BUT FOR YEARS NOW, THE MEEK HAVE BEEN SCARED STIFF, AND ARE NOW SCARED AGAIN, THAT WE AND OTHERS HAVE THE POWER TO BLOW THE EARTH TO SMITHEREENS A THOUSAND TIMES OVER;

 

WHILE FAILING AGAIN AND AGAIN TO WORK OUT WITH OUR ALLIES AND OUR ENEMIES, A WAY OF SIGNIFICANTLY LIMITING THAT HIDEOUS POWER.

 

IN THE RICHEST OF NATIONS, THE POOR GO TO BED HUNGRY, IF THEY ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE A BED;

 

BECAUSE AFTER THE STAGGERING AMOUNTS WE AND OTHER NATIONS CONTINUE TO SPEND TO DEFEND OURSELVES, WE ARE TOLD THERE’S NOT ENOUGH LEFT OVER TO FEED THE ONES WE ARE DEFENDING;

 

TO HELP GIVE THEM DECENT ROOFS OVER THEIR HEADS; DECENT SCHOOLS FOR THEIR CHILDREN; DECENT CARE WHEN THEY ARE SICK AND OLD.

 

THE NATION THAT DREAMED OF BEING A NEW HOPE, A NEW HAVEN, A PLACE OF SHALOM, OF BROTHERLY LOVE, HAS DONE GREAT THINGS, YES;

 

BUT WE HAVE STUMBLED AND BUMBLED OUR WAY ALONG FOR SO LONG, THAT TO BE HOLY SEEMS LIKE A LONG-LOST DREAM, AND AN UNCERTAIN HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.

 

MAYBE THAT’S THE WAY IT INEVITABLY IS WITH NATIONS.  THEY ARE SO HUGE AND COMPLEX.  BY DEFINITION THEY ARE EXCLUSIVELY CONCERNED WITH THEIR OWN SELF INTEREST; “WE-FIRST” WE SAY.

 

WE HAVE NO EYE FOR HOLINESS, NO EAR FOR THE GOLDEN RULE, NO HEART TO BREAK AT THE THOUGHT OF WHAT THIS WORLD COULD BE –

 

THE FRIENDS WE COULD BE AS NATIONS, THE COMMON PROBLEMS WE COULD HELP EACH OTHER SOLVE, ALL THE HUMAN ANGUISH WE COULD JOIN TOGETHER TO HEAL.

 

BUT NATIONS ARE MADE UP OF PEOPLE.  YOU AND I ARE THE EYES, AND THE EARS, AND AS WE SAID LAST WEEK, THE HEARTS.

 

WE HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE THINGS, IF ONLY WE WILL LISTEN TO OUR BETTER ANGELS, RATHER THAN OUR LESSER SELVES.

 

WHEN HENRY JAMES, THE GREAT AMERICAN AUTHOR, WAS SAYING GOODBYE TO HIS YOUNG NEPHEW BILLY, THE SON OF HIS BROTHER WILLIAM, THE RENOWNED PHILOSOPHER AND PSYCHOLOGIST, HENRY SAID SOMETHING THE BOY NEVER FORGOT.

 

THIS IS WHAT HE SAID:

 

“BILLY, THERE ARE THREE THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT IN HUMAN LIFE.  THE FIRST IS TO BE KIND.  THE SECOND IS TO BE KIND.  THE THIRD IS TO BE KIND.”

 

I THOUGHT ABOUT THAT AS I WAS THINKING ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS FOR US, FOR OUR NATION, TO BE HOLY.

 

(AFTER THE SERMON THIS MORNING, WE’RE GOING TO LOOK AT SOME PICTURES WHICH REFLECT THE SORT OF KINDNESS OF WHICH I AM SPEAKING.)

 

KINDNESS AND HOLINESS ARE NOT EXACTLY THE SAME THING, BUT KINDNESS IS ONE OF THE DOORS THROUGH WHICH HOLINESS ENTERS THE WORLD; ENTERS THROUGH US.  SO, BE KIND.

 

NOT JUST KIND TO OTHERS, BUT KIND TO OURSELVES AS WELL.  KIND IN SPENDING OUR LIVES; IN INVESTING THEM; IN LIVING THEM TO THE FULLEST.

 

KIND TO OURSELVES IN FORGIVING OURSELVES (AND OTHERS).

 

I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW MANY TIMES I HAVE ENCOUNTERED PEOPLE WHO ARE ANGRY AND NASTY, PETTY AND PETULANT, PASSIVELY AGGRESSIVE TOWARDS OTHERS…

 

SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE TAKING OUT THE ANGER THEY FEEL TOWARD THEMSELVES, ON OTHERS.

 

THEIR SELF-LOATHING, SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, SELF-UNEASINESS GETS TAKEN OUT ON US;

 

AND WE, RIGHTFULLY SO, AT LEAST ON THE SURFACE OF THINGS, RESPOND IN KIND: RETURNING FIRE WITH FIRE;

 

WHICH SIMPLY ASSURES THEM OF WHAT THEY ALREADY SUSPECTED, THAT THEY ARE LONELY, LOATHSOME, UNHAPPY, UNLOVABLE CREATURES.

 

SO, BE KIND TO YOURSELF, LEST YOU BECOME ONE OF THESE PEOPLE;

 

IF YOU WON’T DO IT FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, DO IT FOR OURS, SO THAT WE MIGHT BETTER REACH OUT TO YOU, AND BE KIND TO YOU.

 

WHILE WERE AT IT, LET’S BE KIND TO OTHERS.  KIND ENOUGH TO LISTEN TO THEM; TO REALLY LISTEN.  KIND ENOUGH TO HEAR THE HUNGER IN THEM THAT LIES BENEATH THEIR WORDS.

 

KIND ENOUGH TO GIVE A DAMN ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO THEM, BECAUSE WE UNDERSTAND, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, WHAT HAPPENS TO THEM, HAPPENS TO US;

 

AND, WELL, HOW NICE IT WAS WHEN SOMEONE WAS KIND TO US IN THOSE TIMES.

 

LET’S BE KIND TO THIS NATION OF OURS BY REMEMBERING THAT NEW HAVEN, NEW HOPE, SHALOM, AND PHILADELPHIA, ARE NOT JUST THE NAMES OF OUR OLDEST TOWNS, BUT OF OUR GREATEST DREAMS; OUR HOLIEST ENDEAVORS; OUR BETTER ANGELS.

 

LET’S BE KIND TO OUR NATION, WHICH, IS AS MUCH THREATENED BY THE MADNESS OF FORCES WITHIN, AS FORCES WITHOUT.

 

CHARLES WESLEY, THE GREAT METHODIST CIRCUIT RIDER AND PREACHER OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY WROTE OVER 6000 HYMNS IN HIS LIFETIME.

 

HIS DIARY, AND THE WRITINGS OF OTHERS FROM HIS TIME, SUGGEST THAT MANY OF THOSE HYMNS CAME TO MIND WHILE HE WAS ON HORSEBACK.

 

HE OFTEN STOPPED AT HOUSES ALONG THE WAY AND RAN IN ASKING FOR “PEN AND INK” THAT HE MIGHT GET THEM DOWN ON PAPER BEFORE THEY WERE FORGOTTEN.

 

HOWEVER, HE WAS A STICKLER ABOUT COPYWRITING, WAY BEFORE THERE WAS SUCH A THING, PLEADING WITH THOSE WHO PUBLISHED HIS HYMNS NOT TO CHANGE THE WORDS.

HOWEVER, IN ONE CASE, WE, TODAY, ARE WELL SERVED BY A CHANGE IN WORDS THAT A FRIEND AND FELLOW MINISTER OF CHARLES WESLEY, GEORGE WHITEFIELD, MADE TO THE BEGINNING OF THE BELOVED CHRISTMAS HYMN WE’LL SING AT THE CLOSE OF OUR SERVICE TODAY: HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING.

 

WESLEY HAD ORIGINALLY WRITTEN: “HARK, HOW ALL THE WELKIN RINGS…”

WELKIN BEING AN OLD ENGLISH TERM FOR “THE VAULT OF HEAVEN”.

 

WHITEFIELD CHANGED IT TO “HERALD ANGELS” – HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING…

 

BUT, AS YOU MIGHT HAVE GUESSED, GIVEN THIS MORNING’S SERMON TITLE, THE SIGN OUT FRONT, AND THE MESSAGE I’VE TRIED TO CONVEY, IT’S THE WORDS A LITTLE LATER IN THIS FIRST VERSE THAT HAVE OUR ATTENTION THIS MORNING:

 

“JOYFUL, ALL YE NATIONS RISE, JOIN THE TRIUMPH OF THE SKIES;

WITH ANGELIC HOSTS PROCLAIM, CHRIST IS BORN IN BETHLEHEM!

HARK!  THE HERALD ANGELS SING, GLORY TO OUR NEWBORN KING!”

 

IT’S THE AFTER PICTURE, THE MAKEOVER, WITH CHRIST AS KING OF THE WORLD.

 

“FOR UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN, UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN; AND THE GOVERNMENT SHALL BE UPON HIS SHOULDERS; AND HE SHALL BE CALLED WONDERFUL COUNSELOR, THE MIGHTY GOD, THE EVERLASTING FATHER, THE PRINCE OF PEACE.”

 

 

THE EXPRESSIONS OF KINDNESS AT WHICH WE ARE ABOUT TO LOOK ARE NOT OF NATIONS, BUT OF PEOPLE, WHO MAKE UP NATIONS, AND NOT JUST OURS, BUT AROUND THE WORLD.

 

THEY ARE SIMPLE EXPRESSIONS OF KINDNESS, WHICH IN AND OF THEMSELVES, EXPRESS WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE AS FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS, FELLOW CREATURES ACTUALLY; TOGETHER.

 

 

 

 

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