Rev Andrew McKearney’s Christmas Morning sermon 2013 —
“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9.7)
For me, this phrase “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” is a particularly Christmassy phrase! I’ve heard it over many years, as you probably have. We had it at our Carol service on Sunday night; we had it this morning at the end of our first reading: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
The reading from which it comes begins in a familiar place too: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”.
The passage then goes on to talk about “the yoke of our burdens being broken” and “the boots of the warriors and the garments soaked in blood being burnt”. It is a wonderful passage in the Bible; and all this is going to be achieved by “the zeal of the Lord of hosts”.
It’s clearly powerful stuff if it’s going to achieve all this!
- Give light to those who walk in darkness
- Remove the burdens that weigh us down
- Burn the boots of the warriors and the garments soaked in blood
- Establish an endless peace
That’s quite an agenda!
What is this “zeal” that is going to achieve all this, according to the prophet Isaiah, with such certainty? As a way of answering this question, I want to think about some of the things that we’ve been involved in doing to get ready for Christmas. There’s been the Christmas cards, writing them, receiving them, maybe sending a letter at the same time, wondering who to put on your list, and that’s all been about staying in touch. Then there’s been the presents, choosing them, wrapping them up, sending them; and the presents often mean more than a card; they’re for the people who really matter to us. Both cards and presents are a way of communicating, both show that we care and that the other person is important to us. Cards and presents are part of the language of love.
If the language of love is what Christmas is about, then while cards and presents have their place, they pale into insignificance when compared to the person themselves. The whole movement of love is beyond cards and presents to being with the other person – greeting them with kisses, hugs and tears – sharing Christmas with them, sitting round the table together – that’s the most important thing, the presence of the other person.
So the transport system grinds to a halt as we make every effort to be together. Why? Because ‘being together’ is the most natural dynamic to love. And if we can’t ‘be together’ then there are the phone calls throughout today so that we can at least hear one another’s voices; there are photos to look at so that we can see the other person; and now there’s skype – Glory to God in the highest!
But there are absences too which no bits of modern technology can help us with; and those absences can be at their worst at this time of year – this too is part of the language of love – and it’s painful.
Cards, Christmas presents and the other person being with us, all this is the language of love and it’s our deep need for this that makes Christmas important to us.
Back now to the question I raised earlier about the “zeal of the Lord of hosts”, a phrase that concluded our first reading this morning, said with such certainty: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this”.
I wondered what the “zeal of the Lord of hosts” was that could achieve so much? And my suggestion is that the things that we’ve been involved in doing to get ready for Christmas point us towards an answer – it’s about the language of love – and love, both human and divine, is zealous, able to turn the world upside down!
We’ve thought about the cards we’ve sent and received; they’re messages, ways of communicating, staying in touch, relationships which go back over years, sometimes a lifetime. We’ve thought about Christmas presents and how presents often mean more than a card. Cards and presents expressing our human loves.
And God? How might God express his love for us?
For many, creation is a gift, a present to us. We can use our five senses to enjoy the gift of creation – the sight, the sounds, the tastes, the smells and the touch – all gifts of God’s love, his zeal.
Scripture too, God’s way of staying in touch, sending us messages if you like. Scripture contains relationships which go back not just over a lifetime but over generations, written to encourage us and to show the Lord’s care for us, his zeal for us.
But when thinking about getting ready for Christmas, we also saw how the whole movement of human love is beyond cards and presents to being with the other person, sharing Christmas with them, sitting round the table together.
If this is the dynamic of human love, then in terms of our relationship with God, beyond scripture, beyond creation is the gift of God’s presence – just as with each other so too with God – that’s the most important thing. Christmas is about “the zeal of the Lord of hosts” doing this – bringing the movement of divine love to its fulfilment – God coming to sit at our table.
So our first reading also contained these remarkable words:
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. (Isaiah 9.6)
Today, in the city of David, the zeal of the Lord of hosts has done this!