Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 2 February 2020.
• Old Testament: Malachi 3: 1-5 ( The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple)
• Epistle: Hebrews 2: 14-18 (Through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil)
• Gospel: Luke 2: 22-40 (Jesus presented in Jerusalem to fulfil the law)
The US political season never really ceases. The moment one election is over they then seem to be preparing for the next.
And so even though the Presidential poll is still nine months away, the manoeuvres to select and present the parties’ candidates are well advanced, especially on the side that does not hold the presidency.
And so the process never really ceases, and with an election every other year, then everybody is kept in a fine state of tension and expectation.
For Jesus, however, we celebrate His birth, circumcision and then His presentation in the temple before the timeline of His life goes very quiet.
The next thing is His Bar-Mitzvah or coming-of-age, at the age of 12. The other years are hidden and He only really breaks cover when going to be baptized by John in the River Jordan.
There is very little excitement or preparation and everything is very low-key until the time for it all to go public.
But His presentation in the temple is the presentation of a baby in the sight of God. Just as the sacrifices of Israel were to come from the best and the first part of the crop or the flock, so the firstborn male were also to be specially consecrated before God and their lives were to be redeemed by sacrifice.
For Jesus however there was something more in that apart from being a normal baby, He was also sent by God into the world as the chosen sacrifice for the sins of the world.
He would point to a wholly new beginning and having been sent to be the atonement for the sins of the world so He would also come again, this time in judgment and in authority.
Isaiah sets out the sense of this judgment. Not only would He vindicate His people under oppression by foreigners, but His judgment would also start in the household of God.
This was a people chosen and blessed with the revelation of the will and purposes of God. They were chosen to be a picture of what a society and a community were supposed to look like when they followed the law of God.
And so Isaiah set out the basis for this judgment.
First, this would be God’s judgement thought His chosen servant. This servant would be qualified to judge by virtue of having lived among His people personally and having seen at first hand the temptations and challenges of that community life.
Indeed, it would be that same community life that would sentence Him to death.
But the order of Isaiah’s judgments that is interesting. He starts with spiritual sins in terms of consorting with alien and hostile spirits and deities, often those of neighbouring countries.
Any form of occult, divination, sorcery or any other dark arts would be the first to be condemned and there would be no excuses about multi-culturalism.
Then he goes on to sexual sins, summarized by adultery, but including anything outwith monogamous heterosexual marriage. Questions about personal taste, national fashion, being inclusive are not given any kind of consideration and as these are some of the most personal and intimate then they are the most difficult to address.
They also offer the greatest opportunities for public scandal and of course prurient voyeurism. ‘Isn’t it awful – tell me more, with all the details.’
But it does not stop there for false swearing comes next – any kind of false or duplicitous dealing, the false raising of expectations, trading in false or misleading descriptions or using false weights or measures.
In the public sphere, where promises are made then they should be kept, and if they cannot be kept then they should not be made.
All kinds of campaigning, publicity and promotion – take note.
After this there are the social sins of oppression, and this includes widows and orphans who have none to protect them, hired workers who are vulnerable to every whim and mood of their employers, and the abuse of foreigners and visitors.
For Isaiah, this is all of a piece and the Lord who would visit His people would be there to seek faithfulness in all relationships and transactions, from the personal to the social.
It is easy to be critical of evil in our society when we do not have any grounds for personal exposure. But as we grow older then we find that we are more and more exposed to judgment in our relationships and transactions.
Yes, the Lord would come to His temple and yes he would judge – but not before His own innocence had itself been cause for His condemnation by His own people.
Not before He had Himself been the atonement for the sins of the world, and had already borne personally the blame for the sins set out by Isaiah. Who ever said it was going to be simple?