Sunday, December 5, 2010

Where Do You Look for God?

Second Sunday in Advent
December 5, 2010
Romans 15:4-13

If you know where to look you will be able to find it. If you know what you’re looking for you’ll be able to see it. Otherwise you would go right on by never knowing it’s there. Never seeing it.

One day my family and I were on a hike in Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, just above Glacier National Park in Montana. A ranger was taking us on a nature hike. Through one portion of the hike, all I saw was old, dead, dried up, burnt bark. Nothing to see there. I would have walked right on by. But the ranger knew where to look. She knew what to look for. Let’s take a look here. I would just have soon continued on by but she wanted us to see the new growth. Before I could think too long about how I wondered if she was really qualified to be a ranger, she pointed out to us the new growth that was coming out from underneath all of that dead stuff, all of those trees that had been destroyed in the fire. It was very pretty. Green shoots coming from underneath a brown blanket of what used to be tall beautiful trees. But there they had lain, providing a warm moist blanket for the ground beneath it, a fertile sphere for new life, new growth to shoot forth.

When I am in nature I am drawn to the grandeur, the magnificent scenery, those things that are easy to see because they stand out with their obvious beauty and glory. What I learned on that day is that there is a lot more beauty than what at first meets the eye. I learned that to see some of the most amazing things you need to know where to look. You need to know what to look for. And you need to know that it’s sometimes in the places you wouldn’t expect.

Maybe that’s the problem with us. We don’t know where to look. We don’t know what to look for. We rely on what we see at first glance. We’re looking for the grandeur, the glory, the powerful. We’re wanting the God who will swoop into our lives just when we need help and magically, powerfully take care of our situation, and then give a wave and a wink as He goes back to sitting on His throne and keeping everything under control. God is the God of glory, is He not? So where’s the glory? We look for it, but it isn’t always apparent. Most of the people in Allied Gardens aren’t waking up every Sunday morning to join us here as if to ignore the obvious: that here is where there is the glory and grandeur of the Almighty God and His abundant blessings. If anything, they look at our little church and wonder what the big deal is. Many people look at the trials and tribulations of Christians and wonder why we would believe in a God who would allow us to go through such things. Where’s the glory? Where’s the grandeur?

Have you ever chopped down a tree and just left the stump there? You got that problem taken care of, the tree had gotten too big, it was in the way, you needed the space for something else. Months went by. One day you looked at that stump just sitting there, useless now. But from it you see something not dead, not useless, but something green. A little shoot. Coming from that stump. The tree came from the ground for life and even chopping it down to a stump wasn’t going to prevent it from fulfilling its purpose.

Paul says in the Epistle reading that the Root of Jesse will come. He will be the one who arises to rule the Gentiles; in Him will the Gentiles hope. What kind of God, what kind of Savior, do you think the people of God in the Old Testament were looking for? What kind of God do you think would catch the attention of non-believers, Gentiles? Wasn’t a mighty, powerful, glorious God, one that the Israelites should have been expecting? Isn’t a God who erases all the things that make life tough for us the kind of god non-believers would think to look for?

But the Old Testament makes a promise of the God who will come as Savior, and one that doesn’t necessarily fit the description of what we might look for. We heard it in this morning’s Old Testament reading: “There shall come forth a Shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a Branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” The promise is of the Almighty, Glorious, Lord of All coming as a little sprout. A sprout that comes from an old stump. Some glory. Some grandeur. Some power. God’s people might have wondered about their God. The Gentiles might have thought those Israelites, and now the Christians who were believing in that same God, were a little crazy, or at least people they should feel sorry for.

Isaiah was a great prophet. Many times He speaks of the greatness of God. Why here in the portion we heard in today’s Old Testament reading does he then refer to God the Savior as the Root of Jesse? Jesus was descended from the line of King David. That’s King David, the powerful king, the one who was glorious and a great leader for the people of God. But Isaiah tells us of the promise of the Savior as coming from David’s father. That’s Jesse, the simple man from the country. The man who raised sons to help out on the family farm, to serve King Saul in the army against the Philistines, to be simple men who would serve God in ordinary ways as most of God’s people do. These are the humble beginnings of the Savior. From King David, yes, but also from Jesse, a man who never thought his youngest son who tended sheep would be considered to be the king of God’s people.

From this prophecy in Isaiah we see the pattern. God likes to come in ways where you wouldn’t think to look unless He showed you. Would you have thought the Savior would be born in a stable? Would you have looked for the woman to give Him birth in a simple peasant girl? Would you have walked all the way out to the country as Samuel did to Jesse’s house to find the next king? Samuel did because God directed him there. I don’t think he would have thought of Jesse on his own, let alone know who he was.

If Isaiah used such a humble description of the Savior to come, Paul had the opportunity to paint a portrait of the glorious, powerful, Almighty God who had come in his appeal to Gentiles. But he picked up on the theme of Isaiah. The Root of Jesse. The one who came from a stump. The one who thought it was a grand plan to come in as Savior as a sprout rather than a Sequoia.

John the Baptist had quite a time trying to get people to see that his cousin from the backwater town of Nazareth was the Savior of the world. There are some who would never believe. Some who would mock. Some who would simply feel sorry for those of us who believe in such things. Yes, there are those of us who look to things like a dead stump for a glimmer of growth. For a sign of life in a little sprout coming forth. Who look to a stable and among smelly animals for a Savior. And not just a Savior, God Himself. We would never have thought to look for God and our Savior in one who was so beaten that He couldn’t carry His cross to the hill where He would be crucified. We would never have thought to look to one who would die in such a way, among common criminals. That’s just not the way we think. When we think of God we look for glory. He says for us to look among the weak and ordinary things of this world.

When there’s so much in this world that paints a picture that God obviously cannot be in control, obviously does not have the means or the power to bring us out of the mess we’re in, God says, Be still, and know that I am God. Be still and look into that very mess and you will find Me. Be still and believe that My glory and salvation come through the cross, through the weak and ordinary things of this world.

The world can offer plenty of glory and power and enticement. Only God can offer salvation and the true glory. If you know where to look and you know what you’re looking for you’ll see it. If you look to the font you will see that there is where you were brought into the eternal care of the Almighty God. Whatever you face, whatever doubts you have, whatever knocks you down, God has you in His care. He won’t let you go. He will carry you through the trials to the eternal glory.

If you’re looking in the wrong place or for the wrong thing you might pass right by it. If your Lord thought it was a great idea to come from a backwater town, to be born in humble circumstances, to come from a line that started off in the simplest of circumstances, He will in the same way come to you in ordinary bread and a sip of wine. There’s life in that bread and that wine because your Lord is present where you wouldn’t expect Him. His Body and Blood are in and with that bread and wine to give you growth in faith. And if a shoot from the stump of Jesse can bring life eternal then our Lord’s Body and Blood in and with the bread and wine can do the same.

The really great thing about all this is that you don’t have to look for God at all. That’s a human-centered way of looking at it. He comes to us. He finds us. He meets us where we’re at and rescues us in our lost state. You don’t need to search for glory, you don’t need to look for great things to come your way. Rest in your Baptism. Rejoice in hearing that your sins are absolved. Know that bread and wine are humble means of delivering to you the glory that compares with nothing else: Your Lord in all His fullness and glory. When He comes He brings with Him forgiveness and the true glory of life forever with Him. Amen.


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