965) Speak Softly, and Carry a Big Stick (b)

Isaiah 11:6; 65:25

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     (…continued)  God’s intention was to do without the big stick.  The Bible makes it clear that God would much rather deal with us by love and mercy and soft words.  That is God’s preferred way of working with us, and that is probably the way all people of good will would like to work with other people.  But any parent, any teacher, any employer, or any one who has ever worked with any other person in any way, knows that the light touch and the soft words do not always work; and if you think about it, the soft touch probably hasn’t always worked on you.  There is a part of us all, that part called sin, that is out only for oneself, and will take advantage of even the love, forgiveness, and grace of God and everyone else, and use it for one’s own selfish purposes.  “Nice guys finish last,” said the old baseball manager Leo Durocher, excusing the dismal performance year after year of his Chicago Cubs.  But there is a greater truth in that statement that applies not only to baseball, but to the whole sinful world.  If a teacher or a police officer or a parent decides only to be nice, the wicked and the strong will take over and everyone else will suffer.  Martin Luther once quoted Isaiah (11:6) who prophesied that one day “the wolf and the lamb will live together.”  That, said Luther, will happen only in the world to come.  If you try that in this world, he said, the lamb will have to be replaced often.  This is how it is in the real world.

     God has the entire ‘real world’ to look after, so of course he is going to have to get the big stick out once in a while.  When God sent Moses to Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt who had enslaved the entire Hebrew nation and was working them all to death, God’s word for Pharaoh was not, “I accept you just the way you are.”  Instead, the message God sent to Pharaoh through Moses was, “Let my people go; or else!”  That’s the big stick.  Ten plagues later, with his nation in ruins and his first-born son dead, Pharaoh finally gave the slaves their freedom.   When Pharaoh later changed his mind and sent his army to bring them back, the Red Sea parted for the escaping Hebrews, but crashed in on the pursuing Egyptian warriors, drowning them all.  God was serious enough about freedom for his people that, when forced into it, he let loose his power and might.  And that story of freedom inspired, encouraged, and gave hope to ten generations of African-American slaves in this country.  When that American slavery finally came to an end after the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln looked back on that horrendous four years of bloodshed and destruction, saw in it the ‘big stick’ of God’s providence, and said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865).  God’s judgment and wrath may be bad news for the oppressor, but it is God’s good news for the downtrodden.  And in my own little world, sometimes I am oppressed and sometimes I am the oppressor.

     In Luke 21 Jesus is speaking about the end of the world.  He said, “There will be signs on the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity” (verse 25).  That sounds like today’s news– and the news in the 1960’s with the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis, and Vietnam; and the 1950’s with the Korean War; and the 1940’s with Hitler, Pearl Harbor, concentration camps, and a world at war; and the 1930’s, with an international economic crisis; and on and on we could go, all the way back to Jesus– ‘anguish and perplexity’ that does not end.  But someday it will end, Jesus said.  God will end it, “coming on the clouds with power and great glory,” Jesus said, and “people will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world” (vv. 26-7).

     The anguish and perplexity will end only when the whole world ends, Jesus said, and it will end by the power and with the judgment of God.  We might say that on that day, God will not be walking softly, but will be bringing out the big stick.  All the images of that time are unpleasant, and whether or not you or I will still be here for the end of that world, our whole world will end when we die, and we know that is coming.  God will one day put an end to you and to me and to this whole world.

     So keep that in mind, Jesus said.  Be ready for it.  “Be always on the watch,” Jesus said in the closing words of the chapter.  And how do you watch and get ready?  By looking to and believing in Jesus, says the rest of the New Testament.  Perhaps you don’t like this end of the world talk.  Then look to Jesus.  That is how these scary and unpleasant verses are supposed to work.  These texts about the end of the world when Christ will return in power and majesty and judgment are there to drive you to look to Jesus, your only hope.  This world will end.  You don’t need the Bible to tell you that.  Scientists will tell you the same thing.  But the Bible offers what science knows nothing about, and that is a hope and a promise of new life after the end of the world.  This season of Advent prepares us for that message, for Christmas, when we hear the story of when Jesus first came to earth.  (continued…)

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Luke 21:25-28  —  (Jesus said), “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.  On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Luke 21:36  —  (Jesus said), “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

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O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL

12th century Latin text, author unknown.

Listen at:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xtpJ4Q_Q-4

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel…

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