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December 25, 2004 (Christmas Day)—“How Beautiful Are The Feet”

Pastor David Barber

Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior, whose birth we celebrate this day, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Several years ago when I served a congregation in Colorado, I was one of 14 or 15 pastors who served as a volunteer Police Chaplain in our community. During most months we would be on call for a 48-hour period.

Most of the time the calls we received were pretty routine. For instance, a family was passing through Loveland and needed some financial assistance.

But sometimes it was much more serious--a family disturbance or being available at the emergency room of the hospital because of an accident or a shooting.

Sometimes we were also involved in death notification. We had to go to the home of a stranger and deliver the message that a loved one had died. These were challenging situations for me for a couple of reasons.

In the first place I didn't want to deliver such a message to anyone, and secondly, I never knew how the message was going to be received--with anger, with stoic acceptance, with great grief and sorrow, or with a combination of such feelings.

In this regard, I think of military families who instantly know what the news is going to be when military messengers appear at their home. They know that the news can't be good and that a son or daughter, husband or wife has been killed in combat.

You may remember the story about Carlos Arredondo. He was celebrating his 44th birthday, waiting for a call from his son in Iraq. Instead, three Marines showed up at his door and told him that his twenty-year old son was dead from injuries he had received there.

In grief and anger and perhaps some shock, he grabbed a propane torch and a gasoline can from the garage. He yelled at the messengers of death to leave, and then smashed a van window with a hammer.

He poured gasoline in the vehicle and turned on the torch--all of which gives new meaning to the phrase "killing the messenger."

Whether it's a police chaplain or military personnel, such messengers stand in sharp contrast to the messenger who runs with the fantastic news of peace and salvation.

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace," says Isaiah. To sixth century exiles in Babylon, this messenger runs with news they can hardly believe.

What is the message that this long-distance runner breathlessly announces? Events in Babylon--the place of exile for God's people--have changed, and it's clear that God is King.

For a long time, it didn't seem that way at all. These exiles were marched off into the foreign territory of Babylon--displaced from home and forced to live under a foreign power. They're in exile because they refuse to capitulate to the dominant culture and accept Babylon as home.

Their suffering was deep and agonizing. The lives of women and children were lost. Homes were destroyed and their beloved temple and Jerusalem itself sat in ashes.

Physically and spiritually it was utter devastation. Their security and all the expectations around which their lives were centered were simply dashed to pieces. There was nothing left--absolutely nothing.

There was nothing except a hope that emerges out of nowhere:

  • a hope, which defies all reason and logic and we label as impossible
  • a hope which speaks of homecoming
  • a hope which presents a God who gathers the broken and the crushed into God's arms like a shepherd and will carry them in the bosom of love and will gently lead those that are young back home.

It is this hope which causes a messenger to run breathlessly to Jerusalem with this amazing and good news.

The Babylonian gods, which appeared to be so powerful and overwhelming, are pau. They're finished! And now the proclamation is this: "Your God is king. Your God reigns--and not the Babylonian gods of power and wealth and military might."

All of you despairing and hopeless people who sit among the ruins and waste places of Jerusalem, break into shouts of joy. All of you people who are bogged down and see no way of escape from the conditions that enslave you, break forth into singing, for the Lord will rescue the city and the people of God.

And now the Israelites in exile as well as those in Jerusalem have to choose. They have to choose which word to believe and which regime they will serve.

Will they believe and serve the empty promises of an old regime, which will keep them enslaved? Or will they choose to believe and serve the King who carries them and promises to bring them back home?

That same choice is before us on this Day of Christmas. A messenger runs breathlessly toward us, across the mountains, down the Pali Highway and delivers some unbelievable news to all those who sit in the waste places of Honolulu.

This is a day of commitment and promise. It's a day of grace and truth, or as the Old Testament says, loyalty and reliability. It's a day in which we are promised the faithfulness of God who will never betray us.

It's a day of Emmanuel--God with us and for us--in every situation of life, even unto death, to deliver us from every form of bondage and every form of exile and carry us safely back home.

Jesus our Lord is born into this world of darkness--this world of exile and death--this world where men and women and boys and girls are overpowered by drugs and alcohol and AIDS. Jesus our Lord abides with us in times of separation, divorce, and family strife.

Jesus our Savior is born in all those places where we seek to kill and destroy one another with our weapons or our apathy toward those who lack the basic necessities of life. Jesus the Christ-child enters the ruins and the waste places of our lives to bring hope and healing and to encourage us to use our resources to bring hope and healing to our worn and weary world.

There's a Christmas time cartoon about "Hagar the Horrible." Hagar, of course is a warrior, a barbarian, a glutton, a taker, and an insensitive slob--and these are his positive qualities.

This year at Christmas time, his family is startled. The first frame shows his family opening presents.

"Wow," says his son. "Dad gave me a book." His daughter exclaims, "And he gave me a mirror." And then his wife proudly declares, "And look he gave me a rose."

The second frame shows their little house. Snow is covering everything in view with a wonderful blanket of white. Hagar is sitting outside gazing at a beautiful predominant star in the dark sky. As Hagar's wife looks at him through the window she reflects, "I wonder what's gotten into him."

The runner runs breathlessly toward us this morning to tell us that Jesus has gotten into us. Because of this amazing birth, we believe that God is with us, in us, around us, and in every experience of our lives--in good times and difficult times, wherever we go, whether we recognize it or not.

I get very disturbed when I continue to read about the challenges facing our nation and our world. In fact, as I studied this text I wondered what sort of good news a messenger might have for exiles in modern-day Babylon--also known as Iraq--on both sides of the conflict.

What word of homecoming could be given to the common people of Iraq as well as our own soldiers so far away from home in a dangerous and difficult place?

Obviously we yearn, we pray, and we hope for a message that the conflict will cease and that reconciliation and reconstruction will begin in all the ruins and desolate places of Iraq. In the quagmire of the present time however, such a word perhaps is premature other than to say that maybe we are the word as the Christ-child gets inside of us and becomes flesh within us and through us.

Because of this marvelous birth, we envision and we work toward a world where all people are valued and have the freedom to live in hospitable places where there is respect, safety, equity, hope, and access to resources for a sustainable life.

Because of this marvelous birth, Christ will get into us so that we will have the courage to use our time, energy, and material gifts to join God's work in bringing the gifts of love, joy, peace, and justice to the world.

Because of this marvelous birth, we, too, will be swift and breathless messengers--announcing peace and glad tidings to all and doing God's work so that light and goodness will shine in every dark corner of the earth.


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