Stop Grinding the Gears
Isaiah 9:1-7 “Stop Grinding the Gears”
This is the second Sunday in Advent. It is the time of preparation for the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, but I’ve gotta tell ya, 2020 has been a real bummer. Like a lot of you I am tired of having to wear a mask. I am tired of all of the fear mongering on both political sides about Covid-19. I want my children to be able to have a “normal” school year. I am worn down from worry about whether the Governor and the Bishop are going to have to close everything back down again because the hospitals are seeing record numbers of Covid-19 cases. I worry about whether we are we going to be able to have our Christmas Eve services? I miss the days of going over to the elementary school for the awards ceremony for my children. I missed having the usual homecoming service. I hated not having a covered dish lunch after each of the baptisms we had back in August. We were supposed to have a party for Edith Sigmon for her 100th birthday back in March. I miss those things.
For so many of us 2020 has felt like a really dark and frustrating time. This whole Covid pandemic has felt like sitting in the car with someone who is learning to drive a manual transmission. How many of y’all remember learning to drive a stick? How many of y’all know what it’s like to teach someone else to drive a stick? How frustrating is it when they just cannot figure out how to stop grinding the gears. (Make those jerking shuddering movements and noises as if in the car when someone is learning to drive.) That is what 2020 has felt like to me. Then we come to a passage like this one in the season of Advent.
“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”
The truth is times and seasons often look darkest before the dawn of God’s love and action become evident in our lives. I recently came across this quote by Oswald Chambers. Oswald Chambers, the author of “My Utmost for His Highest,” which is a wonderful collection of Oswald Chambers devotions, teachings and sermons. If you haven’t read it I strongly encourage you to do so as a gift to yourself this Christmas. Oswald Chambers once wrote this. ‘Beware of spending too much time looking back at what you once were when God wants you to become something you have never been.’
As Southerners we have this in spades. The moment the South conceded the War between the States the South became immortal in every Southerner’s heart, mind, and soul. What’s that phrase? Southern born and Southern bred, by the grace of God I’ll be laid in Southern dirt when I am dead. As Southerners we stubbornly hold on to the glory days of the way things were. Things were almost always better before. Yes it was hard, but it was better.
Israel from this morning’s passage was the same way. The Davidic monarchy is in decline. The Northern 10 tribes have been defeated and carted off into exile. While the Southern Kingdom of Judah had some reformers like Hezekiah they were a long way from being the People of God’s Promised land they once were. They held on to hope for a Davidic king, to suppress their enemies and return them to God. In some ways they were a lot like us. They were all for returning to God, just so long as they did not have to change themselves. The idea was if we can just get the right king then everything will be like it was. How many of us can agree with that sentiment? If we can just lay hands on that vaccine for Covid-19 things will be like they were. If we can just get the right president into office everything will be better. My brothers and sisters what if the past was not as great as we remember it? What if God is calling us to be something new and different which leads all of us in this room and everyone in the community into a brighter tomorrow? Maybe we, like Israel are spending too much time looking back at what we once were when God is calling us; asking us; urging us to become something we have never been before? Into the darkness of mourning for what once was God sends this hope.
God is giving Israel a king, an anointed one who will be the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” the world so desperately needs right now. But this new king is nothing like the old kings and He will not do things in the old ways. This king is God. God has a plan to fix the brokenness of this world. Our God and King does not start from the top and work down. God works from the bottom; through us to fix the world we have broken. This babe born on Christmas eve will pay the ultimate price for our salvation. Jesus didn’t come to just save the greatest of the great, the best of the best, the smartest of the smartest, or the bell of the ball. Jesus Christ came to save us all. Through salvation we are touched by God’s grace; but it does not end there. Salvation is like the opening of a door into our soul through which the Holy Spirit continues to pour and to pour and to pour God’s grace. There is so much grace being poured we are to share out of the abundance of God’s love.
What does that look like? It means we have to stop grinding the gears. Any time we allow our wants and desires for the way things used to be get in the way of what God is calling us to do right here and right now we are grinding the gears. I confess. There are times when it is hard to know what God is asking us to do. There are times when it is easier to do things like we always have, and then complain about anything or anyone that forces us to change. Change is hard. However, when we focus on what we do not like instead of allowing God’s goodness to shine we grind the gears, and our bitterness gives people one more reason NOT to come back to church.
(raise my hand) Yes. I am preaching to myself. I have been guilty of that. It is important to acknowledge there is pain and this Covid-19 business is the pits. However; the complaint should never be the last word on our lips. When Christians are better known for fussing and complaining; belittling, scolding and criticizing, we are grinding the gears of God’s grace at work in our lives. We have to stop grinding the gears. Once we have acknowledged the pain we must reach for the help of God. We must stretch for God’s grace and share where we have seen God at work putting the wrongs to right. There is darkness in the world, but through us God is shining God’s light and grace into a world that does not understand it. If we want to evangelize to other people; if we want to see our neighbors come to church; if we want to see God’s kingdom grow then the change has to start with us. And the good we want must be shared both inside and outside of our walls. As we actively wait for the birth of our newborn King, what should we be doing to share God’s light out in our community? How can we stop grinding the gears and allow praise of God almighty to be the last word on our lips?
In the name of Jesus Christ,