December 14, 2014 3rd Sunday of Advent
The Jewish leaders went out into the wilderness to find out just who John was. There was some confusion. I reminds me of our granddaughter Naomi, she has Julie and me confused—she calls me grandma and Julie Grandpa. When they were leaving after Thanksgiving, I was putting Naomi's coat on and Beth told her to give grandpa a hug. Naomi headed over to Julie and I pulled her back and said, “I'm Grandpa.” She looked back at me and said very businesslike, “I'm Naomi.”
This is our third Advent reading featuring John the Baptist. John was clear who he was and who he was not. Not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet; he was the voice of one calling in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. The important thing to note is that John heard God's call and acted upon it. It is also worth noting there is no record of John hearing an audible voice nor is there an account of an angel coming and telling him what he is to do
Our non-Christmas character for this Sunday is not exactly who we'd expect either. Her name is Rahab. She appears in the scriptures in the Old Testament book of Joshua. To set the scene, Moses has died, Joshua is the new leader of the Israelites and they are preparing to enter the Promised land. Joshua has sent two men to spy out the new land; they were sent to Jericho to see what kind of defenses they had. Let me share the story from Joshua 2:
Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.)
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
12 “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”
14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall.
17 Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”
21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.” So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
23 Then the two men started back. 24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”
Rahab was a prostitute who saved the spies and made it possible for Israel to claim the land promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. She recognized the hand of God in the crossing of the Red Sea and she resolved to follow the God who was indeed God of heaven and earth. She had no connection to the church, she wasn't even an Israelite, she put her life in danger to save those men, but she acted because she recognized God and chose to follow.
That is good, and it was a part of the history of Israel...but how do I connect her with Christmas? To do that, we look at the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham through Joseph. Verse 5: “Nahshon had Salmon, Salmon had Boaz (his mother was Rahab),” and so on to Joseph. But note that this woman of ill-repute is the great, great grandmother of King David. She is a direct ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is indeed beyond understanding how God works things together. And this harlot Rahab made it into what is sometimes called the scripture “Hall of Fame” listed in the book of Hebrews. The writer lists the great ones of faith, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and then we read this, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient because she had received the spies in peace.” This foreign woman, this prostitute is in faith's hall of fame and an ancestor of Jesus. Wow. And why? Because she recognized the signs of God's presence and power. Hear again why she told the spies she would save them, this time from The Message, “I know that God has given you the land. We’re all afraid. Everyone in the country feels hopeless. We heard how God dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt, and what he did to the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan, whom you destroyed. We heard it and our hearts sank.” She heard the results of God's power and acted on behalf of God because she did not feel that her life of sin and paganism ruled her out of being part of God's plan.
Do you ever feel confused by God's call on your life? Does it seem that life isn't working out the way you planned, that circumstances are keeping you out of fellowship with God and God's people? Do you have sin in your life that is too big to give to God? Well, we need to do something about it. Rahab could have turned over the spies thinking her people would protect her. John could have stayed in the wilderness, set apart and worshiping God in his own way. You can chose to ignore the call of God and stay separated and dissatisfied with your faith life. Or you can determine to respond to God's call in your life. We do a good job in this church responding to need, but I'm speaking this morning on a more individual basis. Being a church member does not make you a child of God. That is done between you and God. Your parent's faith doesn't translate into a relationship with God; God has no grandchildren. As we consider how John and Rahab heeded the call of Christ, consider how you are heeding God's call to be His child. Advent is the season to prepare for Christ's coming, not in Bethlehem but in our hearts. If you haven't opened your heart to receive the Christ into your life, today hear God's call and respond. Ask for forgiveness, thank him for his grace, live in the joy of his grace and salvation and love.
Our next hymn is one of my favorites, Joy to the World. It makes clear the point that God's call goes throughout the world. His call to joy is spread as heaven and nature sing his praises, as the fields and floods and rocks, hills and plains repeat the joy, as nations make known the wonders of his love. Today, let every one who hears God's call to relationship, prepare room for the savior of the world. The one born a baby in Bethlehem grew to be a man crucified and risen again that we all may have life and have it abundantly...not abundant things, but abundant joy, and peace, and love and grace. Joy to the world, the Lord is come and is with us today. Alleluia, amen.
Joy to the World PH 40