Christmas

Text: Isaiah 12:2-6

Red flares peppered the sky 

and the sound of gunfire rang through the halls       

at Tantur,     an ecumenical study institute 

between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. 

We’d all been drawn out of our rooms 

by the ominous booms 

and found ourselves congregating 

in the common room with a terrace that overlooked 

the hills including Beit Zait, an Israeli settlement, 

and Beit Jala, a Palestinian town. 

The flares of the firing guns lit up like foreboding red fireflies 

on the Beit Zait hillside, firing across the valley into Beit Jala. Someone flicked on CNN. 

People gaped out the windows; 

we’d come to study the conflict for the summer, 

but we hadn’t expected to get such a first hand account 

of the evening attacks. 

The phone rang; 

it was my then-fiancé, Steve. 

6,000 miles away, he had on CNN too. 

He wondered how safe I was 

as he watched the gun fire on the screen

—that showed gunfire 

from a hill labeled “Beit Jala” (Palestinian) 

onto a hill labeled “Beit Zait (Israeli).” 

Having only CNN’s optics, 

he asked if I had known that the Palestinians 

were going to fire on the Israelis tonight. 

I was confused. 

“The gunfire is coming from Beit Zait—the Israeli settlement.” I said. It was only then that my colleagues looked closer at the television 

and another pastor said, “They’ve mislabeled the hills.”

What we could see with our own eyes

—an Israeli attack on a Palestinian town, 

was accidentally    or “accidentally”   mislabeled by CNN 

so that they were reporting the opposite 

to a much wider audience.

In our text for today, Isaiah says, 

“Surely God is my salvation;     I willtrust, and will notbe afraid.”

I’d like to create a place to question Isaiah for a moment 

because I experience a lot of reasons not to trust and 

sometimes I’m reasonably afraid

Can we acknowledge what gives pause to our trust and 

what fears we really do face?

I’m gonna tell you some real things that create a lack of trust for me 

And I want to know what they are for you, too.

I grew up on a struggling farm in the farming crisis of the 80s

I learned early that you couldn’t trust people to judge you 

on “the content of your character” 

since the quality of your blue jeans 

seemed to matter so much

Now, I’m perplexed by the acceptance 

of the number of lies put out by 

the current president and those around him

—direct statements that are contradicted later 

by receipts, emails, phone calls, 

and new direct statements. 

                  And my trust is rocked by 

                           The extent to which prominent people 

advising or in the government will go 

to cover up previous lies 

about which they are directly asked.

                  It doesn’t jive with the values I grew up expecting from politicians

I really want the government to work for ethical change 

that benefits the most vulnerable. 

Yet, what I read in the news night after night 

doesn’t instill trust 

that the current leadership cares 

about truth or 

those who find themselves vulnerable. 

Fears are around us. I got to teach at a middle school yesterday 

and some things middle schoolers told me they fear are:

         People finding out          who you like         in middle school

         People thinking you’re uncool

         People making fun of you because of your beliefs

         Running out of time to study for a test

I remember being afraid of being uncool. 

Now I wish that the content of my fear could be dealt with through introspection and just growing up

But I feel afraid that climate change is as serious as University of Iowa scholar Connie Mute (not to mention scores of scientists, and evidence of rising sea levels) says it is

So, how does Isaiah have any right to come into my living room and invite me to trust and not be afraid.

The First Isaiah hears my complaints.

And does a sort of jujutsu—using my own momentum against my own fear

First Isaiah says, “I know, remember the Assyrians were at the door 

when I became recognized as a prophet. 

I didn’t trust that our leaders could stop them. 

And I certainly didn’t trust the Assyrians.”

“I know, Assyria overthrew us and deported scads of the population of the Northern Kingdom—

including Jehoiachin and the rest of the royal family. 

I was afraid.”

“I remember. 

We were left without military people, 

without political elites, 

without craftsmen; how could we thrive? 

What power did we have to change it?”

So I can’t write off Isaiah as a silver spooner who is out of touch with reality…

Still, Isaiah insists that you must trust.

Isaiah does not back down: you must not fear.

At the same time, 

Isaiah doesn’t seem to care if the world isn’t very trustworthy,

Or if there are legit fears.

Isaiah spends        not one breath       on trusting things in this world.

Isaiah spends all his lines          imploring you to trust in God.

         “for the LORD GOD is my strengthand my might”

Isaiah even suggests something 

that is quite different from orthodox western theology

—Isaiah says “God has becomemy salvation” 

…has become my salvation 

through this process 

of coming to trust in God 

as might 

and strength.

I feel like Isaiah can be my ally 

in becoming able to trust God 

in the midst of a world that teaches otherwise, 

because in Isaiah’s day 

governments were unstable and untrustworthy. 

Fear was real and acknowledged.

Alright Isaiah

I guess its ok to not trust what is not trustworthy (I suspect that is the Good),

and yet remain a person who is able to trust 

And I guess its ok to fear things that are fearful (I suspect that is the Good) 

And yet, preserve our lives as ones with good courage. 

And it is possible to call out as untrustworthy, the untrustworthy, 

when emboldened by a real relationship of trust

And it is possible to set parameters for fear—here, and not everywhere

—when relaxing into at least one true relationship of hope

A pledge to do just that is a confidence in the truly trustworthy name of the Lord.

So pluck up your courage cause we’re joining Isaiah on this one. 

  • draw waterfrom the wells of salvation.
  • Give thanksto the LORD, 
  • callon God’s name; 
  • remind yourself of God’s deeds

I’m particularly taken by streams of living justice

I will believe day in and day out in God

 who accompanies us in the confusing pits of life.

I trust this God because God showed up after our miscarriage, 

when I couldn’t get out of bed

I trust God because during some of the darkest years, 

new sisters showed up…

You, too, choose trust in God, in order to point out untrustworthy practices here

You, too, find courage in the one who will not leave you—courage enough to name real fears.

Sing praisesto the LORD, for God has done gloriously; 

Notice thegreat One in your midst      –it’s the Holy One of Israel!

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