Saturday, January 16, 2010

Over All the Earth

Over All the Earth
Isa. 43:1-7; Ps 29; Lk. 3:21-22[1]
If you’ve been around me any length of time, you’ve noticed that I open my sermons with the prayer, “Make us to know your ways.” I spent some time last year during Lent looking at what it means for us all to pray that prayer. You may have also noticed that I use another prayer in conjunction with my sermons. Like the opening prayer, the closing prayer I use is taken from the Psalms: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth” (Ps. 57:5, 11). I use that prayer for a very specific reason, one that is closely related to the celebration of Epiphany.
Now, I realize the season of Epiphany is probably one of the most overlooked observances in the Christian calendar, so I’m aware that just by mentioning the word “Epiphany” I risk losing you for the rest of the sermon. But “Epiphany” is an important concept in our faith, even though our use of the word usually means a realization that dawns on us fairly dramatically, or a disclosure that is potentially embarrassing. Neither of those ideas really gets at the meaning of Epiphany for our faith. The essence of our observance of Epiphany is the idea that in Jesus God’s intention to make all things new had its “big debut.”
Epiphany is about the unveiling of what Advent promises: that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk. 3:6); that “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). Of course, that probably makes it about as clear as mud! To say that Epiphany is the season when we celebrate God’s glory revealed to all people runs a double risk of losing your attention. Talking about the “glory of God” with most people these days at best evokes a yawn and at worst a blank stare! So what in the world does it mean to celebrate God’s glory revealed over all the earth?
Let’s start with our lesson from the Psalms for today. Psalm 29 calls the “heavenly beings” to ascribe to God “glory and strength” (Ps. 29:1). I think this may point us toward our first clue. The idea that God’s glory is revealed over all the earth suggests that there will come a time when all people everywhere acknowledge God—as creator and sustainer, as redeemer and liberator, as the one who gives us all new life through God’s abiding presence.[2] It’s the vision that seems to have motivated St. Paul, who looked forward to the day when every tongue would confess “Jesus is Lord” to the glory of God (Phil. 2:10-11).
But that also points us to what I think may be our second clue as to what it means to celebrate God’s glory revealed over all the earth. There is a definite sense in which God’s glory is revealed when people experience and are transformed by God’s great redeeming works. Our lesson from Isaiah for today points us in this direction. The prophet Isaiah had warned the Jewish people that their arrogance and injustice would be their downfall. Into the devastation that engulfed the Jewish exiles in Babylon, the prophet of Isaiah 40-55 took up where his predecessor left off, and promised in the name of the Lord that after exile would come restoration. In our lesson for today, the prophet describes God’s redemptive work in terms of gathering the scattered Jewish people as a sign that their sins had been forgiven and they had been restored. In one verse, the prophet talks about God gathering “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isa. 43:7). Now in one sense, the point of that is that God would gather and restore the chosen Jewish people. But in another sense, in the context of the book of Isaiah as a whole, it points toward the restoration of all humanity,[3] for there are none who are not “called by God’s name” and “created for God’s glory”!
So the second dimension to celebrating God’s glory revealed over all the earth is the Good news that God intends to gather the “people created for God’s glory,” to renew and restore and liberate all people and all creation. It is the good news that in Jesus God has begun to fulfill what was God’s intention from the very beginning—that all people and indeed all creation might be filled with God’s love, God’s freedom, God’s joy, God’s life.[4]
The glory of God is finally revealed “over all the earth” not in some religious setting but in God’s dwelling with all people in such a way as to enable them all to experience all the freedom and joy and love that define God’s very being.[5] The good news of Epiphany is that in Jesus God has already turned loose that “glory,” that power of liberation, that new life. We may only see glimmers of it now, but for the now the glimmers are enough. One day we will all walk, run, skip, and dance into the full light of God’s new day. Until then, we continue to look forward to it and bear witness to it in joyful faith, praying, “Let your glory be over all the earth.”

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/10/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2]Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 197, for this description of the “economic Trinity,” or God’s character as revealed by God’s works.
[3] Cf. Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah, 326: he says that this promise is focused on Israel, but it extends to a “covenant relationship with the nations.” Cf. further ibid., 332, 335. Cf. also Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology II:243: “Second Isaiah’s” message in a nutshell is that God is coming not only to reveal himself to Israel but also to reveal his glory to the whole world. Cf. also ibid., 248-49.
[4] This is a theme in Jürgen Moltmann’s theology. He says that when the glory of God is revealed over all the earth, all humankind and all creation will be drawn into “the life stream of the triune God,” where they experience “boundless freedom, exuberant joy, and inexhaustible love,” which is what God intended for creation in the first place. See Moltmann, Trinity, 124, 126, 161, 178, 212, 222. Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 183-84; Jürgen Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning, 145.
[5] Walter Brueggemann, “Expository Article: Luke 3:1-4,” Interpretation 30 (Oct 1976): 409

No comments: