Life Is More with God

01-19-2020Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

We may not realize it, but there is often a lot of formal ritual in our lives. We celebrate the dedication of a new building with a formal event. When someone new moves to our neighborhood, we often bring over a dinner to say welcome. When we visit a newborn at home, we bring a special gift to note the new beginning of life. We all know that a new beginning means a lot; it is for most of us a wonderful sign of hope. Indeed we have heard the saying that “hope springs eternal” and we believe this to be true. Oftentimes the past is clouded and difficult, but we still believe that the future is full of hope and light. In our scripture today, that beautiful newborn baby of Bethlehem is now shown to us as God’s most Chosen: God’s Son.

Our reading from the book of Isaiah was actually written by a second writer who was then named Isaiah. He spoke when the Jews had returned from Babylon and the people were in disarray. They had a lot to do; they had to feed themselves, provide shelter, and also start to rebuild a temple for worship. Their future was unsecured and they were afraid and depressed. They were at an end and also at a new beginning. They were seeking to rebuild Israel, but Isaiah told them the Lord God had a greater plan for them. Indeed Israel as a country and people was to be much more than a rebuilt nation: it was to be a light for the entire world. Isaiah tells the people that through this new Israel, God’s salvation would reach to the ends of the earth. This message became the vision of the people, and it was certainly a bigger vision than they had made for themselves.

We know that this great prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled on the banks of the River Jordan by John the Baptist when he announces the coming of God’s chosen one and works to prepare others to receive him. We read again of how the Baptist did not recognize Jesus when he came forward. John did not recognize him as the one promised by God. It was only when the Spirit descended upon Jesus that John the Baptizer understood. He then spoke the truth that the heavens had proclaimed the day before: “This is God’s chosen One.”

The next day Jesus comes back again and John announces loudly: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John points to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Note that this appellation is only used in the fourth Gospel; however, it is used twenty-nine times in the book of Revelation to identify Jesus as the risen Lord whose reign is finally established.

We must admit that we know this story well and are beneficiaries of the mercy of God. In many ways we are at the ends of the earth in the Western hemisphere compared to Israel in West Asia. Isaiah’s words that there was something bigger than the little country of Israel are indeed very true. The dreams of the Jews of then could not imagine that we exist today in the life and world that we have. Indeed God’s dreams were bigger for the people of then than were their own. In fact God’s dreams for us are bigger then the dreams we have for ourselves.

The newly redefined mission of Israel to be a light and salvation to all the nations was given many, many centuries before the birth of Jesus. And we know salvation is ours through Jesus, the Servant of God. All of this reminds us that our life is made larger, deeper, and better when we cast our hearts, minds, souls, and hands with the dreams and hopes of our God for us. Life is always not less, but more because of God.