View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bgwH0vOitQ.
Listen for the Word of God in…
Jeremiah 23:1-6 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
23 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall no longer fear or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Here ends the Hebrew Scripture lesson.
Listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to…
Luke 1:68-79 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his child David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness in his presence all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
This is the good news.
Our passages from the Bible this morning are mirror reflections of our world. Confusing, violent, and hopeful. All at the same time. That is still the world we live in, not so very different from the ancient world of Jeremiah’s time where chaos and calamity seemed ever present.
The verses we heard from the prophet Jeremiah this morning started with, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” Who are the shepherds that Jeremiah speaks of? The rulers – the Kings. Who are our shepherds being called out in these verses? Our leaders – our politicians, our pastors, possibly ourselves.
An excerpt of a reflection on Jeremiah that was offered this week by Rev. Maren Tirabassi paints an all too graphic picture of shepherds who destroy and scatter. She writes,
I want to say, “woe to the shepherds,” and name the ones who scatter so many lives so ruthlessly – the one who declares a new run for shepherdhood, and laughs, lips moist, at a shearing too deep, too often of those most vulnerable at the lamb-stew of so very many lives, also the one across the ocean who has invaded with massive death another sheepfold, focusing often on the ewes and lambs, trying to batter the very sunflowers down, and whose own sheep flee rather than fighting …
Woe to leaders that fail to not only prevent injustices but that commit injustices. In this passage, Jeremiah names the violence; destroying and scattering – and names the solutions; gathering and rebuilding.
Luke’s passage offers us hope. We look ahead to the coming reign of Christ and the promise of justice and inclusivity. We prepare to welcome the one that will bring peace on earth.
What is one theme that these two passages share? In Jeremiah, verse 3, I hear God’s frustration with Their people, I hear God saying, If I want it done right, I will have to do it myself. In Luke’s Gospel, God is doing just that. God is preparing the way for Godself to come to earth, “to guide our feet in the way of peace.”
The Gospel of Luke opens with the very unexpected announcement brought to each of two families of two very unlikely pregnancies. The very elderly Elizabeth and Zechariah learn through a visit from an angel of the Lord that she will birth a son and they are to name him John. Her youthful cousin Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and is told that she will bear a son by the power of the Holy Spirit and he is to be named Jesus. Both children were born as “foretold” in Luke’s gospel. The passage we heard this morning is Zechariah’s song of praise to God for the birth of their son, John the Baptist.
The prophet John preceded Jesus, in birth and in life, preparing the way.
There have always been prophets. Moses, David, Miriam, Peter and Paul, Mary Magdalene. In more recent times Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu. How about some lesser-known names? Nadia Bolz-Weber, John Pavlovitz (pastor and activist), Amanda Gorman (racial justice advocate), Sally McFague (environmental justice advocate). Prophetic voices continue to be raised to tell us to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. Do we recognize – and listen to – those walking among us as prophets?
The word prophet is from the Hebrew nabi, from a root meaning "to bubble forth, as from a fountain." Prophets are often reluctant, often viewed as eccentric or crazy. Prophets speak truth to power, often at their own peril. Prophets are messengers bringing the Word from God across the portal, the threshold, from divine to human.
We are on a threshold. The Season of Pentecost soon to be behind us. The Season of Advent ahead. This threshold is an opportunity to let go of our busy-ness and enter into a calmer, quieter place. As people of Christian faith we spend the four weeks of Advent waiting, praying, hoping, and preparing. We prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ, of God made human, by prayerfully crossing an invisible threshold.
The Jewish faith utilizes a visible reminder, the Mezuzah, to pause when passing through a doorway. (Mezuzah in hand.) They are to affix the Mezuzah to the doorpost and touch the Mezuzah when going out and when coming in.
The Hebrew word Mezuzah means doorpost – The custom of affixing a Mezuzah to the doorpost fulfills the biblical commandment: “You shall write them upon the doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9).
You are to touch the Mezuzah when going out and when coming in. Inside the Mezuzah are two prayers from the Book of Deuteronomy. The first is 6:4–9 and the second is 11:13–21.
The first prayer begins, “Hear, O Israel! The Eternal is our God, the Eternal alone. You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”
When leaving one’s home, this is a prayer for God to go with them out into the world. When returning, it is a prayer for God to re-enter with them into their home.
What if we considered all thresholds as invitations to pause… as invitations to enter into the holy? Might we be more mindful of the anticipation of Christ, the Coming of God, throughout each day of this Advent Season?
There are many thresholds that we may observe.
· We can think of moving through the day as a series of thresholds.
Sleeping to waking, to morning walk or meditation, to breakfast, to meaningful work, to play breaks, and on and on. If we are conscious of the transitions, we can be more present to ourselves and to God throughout the day.
· Seasons are a threshold. Autumn into Winter. Winter into Spring…
· When I was completing my Hospital Chaplaincy – I paused before entering – and paused after exiting rooms. I acknowledged the holy surrounding each patient.
· Of course, birth and death are thresholds.
The Mezuzah reminds observant Jews that their homes are holy places and that they should act accordingly—when they enter them and when they leave them to go out into the world.
Remember now that you too are in a holy time and place. Let us seek to acknowledge and experience God’s presence with us each day. Let us prepare the way. Let us make the way ready – for God’s peace, God’s justice, and God’s tender mercy.
Rev. TJ Mack – November 20, 2022