Readings: Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6, Philippians 1:3-11, Isaiah 40:1-11
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, December 9, 2018
My adapted version of Isaiah 40 verse 8 this morning reads; “The Grass Withers, the flower fades, “the energizer bunny eventually runs out of gumption”; but the Word of our God will stand for ever.”
There is not a lot in life that lasts forever. Though in songs and poems artists speak of everlasting love, though there are those who suggest that hope springs eternal, though sermons can seem unbearably long if you have a table booked for Sunday lunch, science and scripture tell us that… eventually… the earth and the heavens will pass away.
But the Word, not just the words of the Bible or any other words, the living Word that is Jesus Christ, the Word through whom according to John’s gospel, God created all things, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory… if we allow our lives to be absorbed by that sort of Word, then I tell you, we have something more than snowy scenes and St Nicholas to celebrate at Christmas Time.
What this text does for us is call us to consider, not why we celebrate Christmas, but why we are on this planet in the first place. Is there a purpose? Is there a meaning? Or have we just been abandoned to futility and eventual dissolution?
This text is a Good News text. It affirms that life can have direction and purpose and meaning because the God who gave us life is a permanent fixture… a God beyond the limitations of human or earthly existence, a God who is all the things those grand theological words like immutable, immortal, and incarnational seek to convey to us.
Let’s take my adapted text phrase by phrase.
“The Grass Withers, the flower fades”
Every second of our life that passes brings us one second closer to our demise. If you want to get into a business where you never have to be out of work… become an undertaker. Writer Steve Turner has a poem about death in which he writes;
“Boxers can’t punch it, Nor critics dismiss it,
Don’t knows can’t not know, The lazy can’t miss it,
Capitalists can’t bribe it, Socialists can’t share it,
Terrorists can’t jump it, The Third World aren’t spared it,
Scientists can’t quell it, Nor can they disprove it,
Doctors can’t cure it, Surgeons can’t move it,
Einstein can’t halve it, Guevara can’t free it,
The thing about dead, is we’re all gonna be it.”
(Steve Turner in “Nice and Nasty” Razor Books -ISBN 0551008652)
The Grass withers, the flowers fade, from dust we have come and to dust we shall return. Whatever you are today… eventually… you will not be it. In fact you won’t be anything. The time for being anything will have reached its inevitable conclusion.
Cheerful thoughts as we travel through Advent aren’t they? But that’s the point. Isaiah’s words come in the midst of a book that features a lot of gloom and doom and futility. It is partly about the way people waste their lives and live… well… for nothing but themselves and at the end of the day their selves breathe their last… and what’s left? Nothing but a huge funeral bill for the relatives to take care of. The thing about dead is we’re all going to be it. “The Grass Withers, the flower fades, and...
“The Energizer Bunny eventually runs out of Gumption”
How do we cope with the inevitability of our mortality? Not so well a lot of the time. Young folks live like there was no tomorrow. Old folks keep looking back to yesterdays. And those who can’t work out if they are young or old, they just keep working for whatever it is they are working for!
Folks, we are the energizer bunny. We just keep going, going, going, banging on the same old drum. Have you seen that advertising campaign where you think that you are watching a different advert and then suddenly bang, bang, bang, in comes that bunny again. That’s us. The circumstances may change around us but we go on year after year with the same unresolved issues, accumulating more and more baggage, evading our problems rather than dealing with them.
The energizer bunny of course runs on battery power. It is powered by something that is man made and manufactured. Eventually the battery dies. Eventually the bunny runs out of gumption. A battery powered life is no guarantee of immortality.
In our lives we can accumulate a lot of stuff that we hope will keep us powered up. We pin a lot of our hopes on our stuff. Stuff is the battery that keeps us going. If we get a better job, a better car, a better house, a better neighborhood, a job with better prospects, sometimes a better husband or wife, sometimes a better church or let’s drop church altogether… then we will attain happiness and we will live more contentedly and therefore live longer and be better and life will be more fulfilled.
If that stuff doesn’t work then people turn to other stuff. Drink, drugs, endless fruitless relationships, escapism on the Internet, the shopping channel, lottery tickets. Dangerous stuff. Stuff that doesn’t tell the truth. Stuff that tells you that this is what you need. You try it and for a little while it feels just like what you need. But when you come down you are lower than where you started from. The kind of stuff that gets its teeth into you so deeply that you just can’t live without it. Addictive stuff.
The Good News we celebrate at Christmas Time has nothing to do with stuff that runs out, with batteries that die or bunnies that cease to be energized. The Good News of Christmas is contained in the last part of our text. “The Grass Withers, the flower fades, “the energizer bunny eventually runs out of gumption”; but...
“The Word of our God will stand for ever.”
The Word of our God will stand for ever! The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the Word who was and is Jesus Christ, the Word to whom the words of our scriptures point us and direct us, the Word who comes to us in the person and the presence of the Holy Spirit… will stand for ever.
Not like the food at the store that has an expiration date. Not like the gas in your tank that keeps running out. Not like that account you had in the bank that because of having no funds in was terminated. Not like that series you were watching on Television that finally reached the concluding episode. Not like that game you were playing until GAME OVER illuminated the screen.
Not like that old radio you had for years and years, with glowing valves in the back, that picked up transmissions on every band from short wave to long wave and F.M and goodness knows where, but you turned it on one morning and it simply ceased to function… not like any of that. Not like anything that is not permanent or everlasting or eternal. The Word of God will stand for ever!
All the stuff that we build into our lives that is other than the Word of God, all that we put our hope in that is outside of the Word of God, is going to come to an end. But those things that are related to the Word of God will last for ever.
Ever wondered why us preacher types keep going on and on and on like the Energizer Bunny about how scripture reading and worship and private devotion and prayer and service to others are so important? Because somewhere along the way, we have been led by the grace of God to the understanding that everything else can’t hold us, everything else eventually goes kaputt, everything else just doesn’t cut it when it comes to eternity.
If we seek for our lives to be molded by the teaching of the One who came to us as a baby in a stable in Bethlehem all those centuries ago, then we are allowing principles and forces and dynamics with eternal reverberations to shape who we are and what our life will be and where our lives will take us.
God saw to it that we were born for a reason. Born to be people who know God’s love, who taste and see the salvation of the God in Jesus Christ, who are energized and recreated by the Holy Spirit. God did not put us on this planet to play ‘He who has the most toys wins’ but to dwell with one another in love and peace, in relationships that nurture and help each other to grow.
Yes, we have fallen and will fall again and again, but that’s why Jesus is known as the Savior. Outside of His love we have no hope. But when we dwell in His love and His love dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit we have everything to hope for, everything to live for and everything to die for.
We who believe in Jesus Christ know that we have not just been abandoned to futility and eventual dissolution. We know this because we seek to live our lives by and through His love. The love that came down at Christmas.
And so we look forward in this season of Advent. We look down the road to a day when those things we now see through the shadows will appear plain in the light of Christ. We look to what God can do and can enable us to do as we give our lives into God’s hands.
We look ahead to catch a vision of a new heaven and a new earth and the Holy Spirit brings to us a sense of confidence in the Grace of God that whatever may come our way, God is able to carry us through.
Isaiah 40 verse 8. What a wonderful text. “The Grass Withers, the flower fades; but the Word of our God will stand for ever.” Let us seek to build our lives on God’s Word. Let us not be energizer bunnies going on and on and on, oblivious to our surroundings until we eventually cease to function. Rather let us be disciples of Jesus Christ, saved by grace through faith, looking to a better day.
To God’s name be the Glory. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.