OT Lectionary Nov 9th 3 before Advent/Remembrance Sunday Amos 5:18-24

At first sight it isn’t easy to see what this passage has to do with the ‘Remembrance’ theme which will be uppermost in everyone’s minds this week. Personally I prefer chapter 4, which I have preached on several times on Remembrance Day: ‘”I killed your young men with the sword … yet you have not returned to me”, says the Lord.’

 What we have today is something of a purple passage for the bashing of charismatics by those who think that social justice is the most important thing for Christians to be doing, and indeed that is what Amos appears to be saying, although of course in the broader sweep of the book he isn’t saying don’t worship, but rather when you worship make sure it is with integrity, holiness and concern for others.

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 So how are we to read this passage in the context of Remembrance, with all its associated and contradictory themes of courage, thankfulness, pacifism, if you’ve died in battle you get to go straight to heaven, and so on? What can we learn about the nature of God?

 The background, of course, is the Israelite belief in ‘the Day of the Lord’, that coming time when God would step in and intervene, defeat once and for all those nations who had been so nasty to the Jews, and put Israel back in their place as Top Nation. Yes, says Amos, the Day of the Lord is coming, but you lot are in for a nasty shock. If God is coming to punish and overthrow evildoers, you are at the top of his list. You’re longing for that day to come, but it will be you, not the nations around you, who will be in for a bit of divine smiting. Light won’t dawn for the nation: it’ll be pitch darkness instead. As such this oracle is a warning against presumption and comfortable neglect of God’s standards. Let those who think they stand beware lest they fall.

 

But the second part of the passage is more difficult. We know that God loves justice and righteousness more than mere music without integrity – that’s a given. So what are justice and righteousness? And in particular, what are justice and righteousness in the context of Islamic State, the Taliban, radicalisation and terrorism? Is the right thing to do to avoid violence and warfare at any cost? Or are there times when injustice and bloodshed demand a righteous response of military action? The pacifist point of view would argue that violence is never justified under any circumstances, but others would disagree. I can remember a Baptist minister who was influential in my teenage years, and who had been a forces chaplain in North Africa, on the beaches of Normandy and ultimately in Belsen, preaching on this subject. ‘When you saw what Hitler was doing’, he told us, ‘I knew that he just had to be stopped.’ So what is the just and righteous response today in 2014? I’ll let you answer that for yourself, but what we can say is that to bury our heads in heavenly worship without agonising over that question is not an option.

OT Lectionary – Christmas – Is 9:2-7

Christmas

Is 9:2-7

The Lectionary provides for several different sets of readings for Christmas midnight and morning: I’ve chosen Is 9 because it comes up so regularly and will, I bet, be the OT of choice for many people. The interesting thing about this well-know passage is the mix of tenses. The people have seen a great light; you have shattered the yoke; a child is born, a son is given; but then in the middle of the passage the boots and clothes will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. And then the coming Messiah will reign, and God’s zeal will accomplish all this.

 

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We’ve seen before the two (at least) stage fulfilment of OT prophesy: nowhere is it more clearly exhibited than here. And herein lies the eternal dilemma of Christmas: how can we preach and sing about peace on earth and goodwill when the world is clearly in such a mess. And how can the Messiah who came and went 2000 years ago have any relevance to us as we still live in great darkness. Anthropologists tell us that many cultures have some kind of a winter festival to help people through the cold and dark until spring begins to approach, and we know that the Christian church took over its Christmas celebrations from the pagan Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the birthday of the unconquered sun”). So is that all there is to it? Is Christmas simply about a chance to let our hair down a bit during the long evenings until we can back to the beach in the summer?

Christians believe that the gospel is a gospel of something that has happened, something which is happening, and something which will happen. In Jesus’ birth a light has dawned, and one day he will be recognised as the Mighty God and the Prince of Peace. But in the meantime a lot of stuff is still only destined to happen. The fact that so many places in our world – Syria, Sudan – are still in deep darkness isn’t a failure of the Christian message, according to Isaiah. It hasn’t taken God by surprise that the world is in a mess and humans choose warfare and oppression over goodness and mercy. It’s just work in progress. Our calling always has been to worship Jesus as God and then to get stuck into his world, working with him against oppression until that which is destined actually happens.

 

Now, for those missing Steve’s Random Icebreaker:

‘Two sausages, both alike in dignity.’ Discuss.

 

I’ve got a new job.

What is it?

I’m working in a clock factory, but it’s only a front for a banknote forging business.

How’s it going?

Well, the hours are good, but the money’s rubbish.