November 30, 2014 1st Sunday of Advent
Every year Advent starts the same way for me—I look at our gospel lesson and think, this doesn't seem very joyful or hopeful for the season of Christmas. And here it is again, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” That doesn't sound very “peace on earth goodwill to men”-like.
But again every year I have to remind myself, Advent is not so much about us preparing for Christmas as it is about announcing the coming again of Jesus as our deliverer and redeemer. Advent is a preparation time, but not for buying our presents and setting up the tree and having parties—although we do those things. It is about being reminded that this world is not all there is. We are to be ready at all times for Jesus to usher in the new creation. “keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come...for you do not know when the master of the house will come, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
In some ways, today's sermon will be an extension of last week's. Our preparedness has much to do with how we treat others. You may not have had time to read my newsletter article yet, but for Advent I'm sharing a non-Christmas character each Sunday to build our message around. Today's is Mephibosheth. Not exactly a household name and I'd venture to guess almost none of us know his story. It happened in the time of King David who you are more familiar with. Jesus was born in the line of King David who was acknowledged as Israel's greatest King. David was a great warrior, he defeated Goliath and killed tens of thousands of Philistines and eventually earned the title of King of Israel.
David defeated Israel’s very first king, King Saul. Now we know how this worked, the new king defeats the old king and then wipes away any trace of that family so no one can challenge his kingship. But I want us to listen to this passage from 2nd Samuel 9 and see what happened between David and Mephibosheth:
One day David asked, “Is there anyone left of Saul’s family? If so, I’d like to show him some kindness in honor of Jonathan.”
A servant told the king, “Yes, there is Jonathan’s son, lame in both feet.”
5 King David didn’t lose a minute. He sent and got him.
6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan (who was the son of Saul), came before David, he bowed deeply, abasing himself, honoring David.
David spoke his name: “Mephibosheth.”
7 “Don’t be frightened,” said David. “I’d like to do something special for you in memory of your father Jonathan. To begin with, I’m returning to you all the properties of your grandfather Saul. Furthermore, from now on you’ll take all your meals at my table.”
8 Shuffling and stammering, not looking him in the eye, Mephibosheth said, “Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?”
9-10 David then called in Ziba, Saul’s right-hand man, and told him, “Everything that belonged to Saul and his family, I’ve handed over to your master’s grandson. Mephibosheth himself, your master’s grandson, from now on will take all his meals at my table.”
And Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, just like one of the royal family. Mephibosheth also had a small son named Mica.
13 Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king’s table. He was lame in both feet.
That's the story of Mephibosheth. Called in before the king with nothing to commend himself. Probably scared because he knew the pattern: king-dead, sons-dead, grandsons-dead. But David invited him to join him at his table as a member of his own family.
Imagine now you are in the place of Mephibosheth, being called into the presence of the king who defeated your grandfather. We would be shaking in our boots when we got to the throne room. Mephibosheth expected violence; what he got was a place at the family table. In God's economy, what we expect is not always what we get. So one thing we learn from the story of Mephibosheth is that often in this life, we expect the worse. But in God's kingdom, David's role as king, grace and mercy is available. And not because any deserve it—Mephibosheth had no claim whatsoever on the king's grace. And we will one day stand before the King and we will have no claim on God's grace except that Jesus is our Savior. The baby in the manger, the king who comes again on the clouds “he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
We look at relationships in this world and see this cycle of fear and retaliation lived out again and again. Mephibosheth feared David. The Israelis and Palestinians fear and distrust one another. The people in Ferguson fear and distrust the police. I want to pause a bit and look at that situation in Ferguson. If you are like me, you don't quite understand the bitterness and violence that is taking place in response to the grand jury results. But then we've grown up in an environment where the police are the people you go to for help, they protect and serve. But in the environment so many poor African Americans grow up in, the police are the enemy, out to punish, arrest, put you down. I'm not saying that they are, but that is what the perception, the teaching is for so many young people. When they are confronted by the police, they expect violence. Whether it is true or not, it is the perception. And then an unarmed juvenile is killed and the reaction is--”see, they are doing it to us again.” The violence is not right. But as we consider the protests and even the violence, remember that we live a world apart in many ways. Our community, the relationships are not built on violence and fear, but on help and service. So Mephibosheth with fear of violence came to David and received grace. Doesn't always happen that way. And for many of us in this world there can be fear and distrust of God. We see the violence, disease, suffering and ask why God? We don't trust that God is in control. We wonder if we can trust our lives to Him. And if we do commit our lives, we fear what may be asked of us. One lesson from King David who was so near to God's heart is that grace is there for us. And we are reminded that we are to willingly accept grace offered to us. Mephibosheth was powerless, came before the throne and was invited to the table of grace. We are powerless before the judgment of a holy God and we are invited to the table of grace as well. Accept that invitation, make Jesus the center of your life, not just as a holiday commitment but for all of life. Be awake, alert; live as if Jesus will return any moment. And when you are called before that judgment throne, you need not fear. John tells us, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3: 1) Just like Mephibosheth was invited to be part of David's family, we are invited into God's family; adopted as sons and daughters. From our epistle reading today, Paul wrote, “ He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” I said last Sunday the scripture tells us time and time again that judgment is coming. But the grace of Jesus means that we will be found blameless on the judgment day! Great is the faithfulness of our Lord and God!
Advent is a season of promise and hope. The promise is that Jesus has redeemed your life and made you part of the family. The hope in which we live is that we are to be found blameless in Jesus Christ. And live in eternity in fellowship with the Lord. And be part of the great table of fellowship in heaven; the wedding feast of the lamb which we read about in Revelation (Rev. 19: 9) This story of Mephibosheth is the story of our relationship to God through Jesus. We are helpless before the holy judgment of God but Jesus has replaced our righteousness with his perfect righteousness and so we are invited to the table.
And then we live out this grace to others, not to earn God's grace but because we who have been shown grace are to show that grace to others. Jesus taught that time and again. We Christians tend to judge quickly and harshly, but remember that unless you've walked a mile in another's shoes, you cannot understand their motives. Live giving grace instead of revenge, forgiveness instead of resentment, peace instead of violence.
We often are tempted to ask God, “why?” when bad things happen. I'm sure Mephibosheth did—he was lame because his nurse dropped him while they were escaping from the enemy. They were running for their lives. He was dependent on others for his care and protection. His prayers included this why question. And so often that's us as well. We see the violence, we suffer the pain or loss, we struggle through breaks in relationship, we wonder why. But none of us sees the big picture. We wait and watch. And Advent reminds us, by its odd readings, its call to be awake and alert, its focus on what God has planned, that we don't know what God has planned. The upper story is being played out according to God's perfect plan, but here, the lower story looks so unproductive. But God knows. We have a special Advent hymn, and it reminds us that all creation is under God's reign...now we know in part but someday we will know fully even as we each are fully known by God. And God knows the plans he has for each of us. Trust His promises, live in the hope that He cares for us and all creation. Praise be to God.
Hymn: God, You Alone Know What You've planned (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear)