Advent 2016 - The One We Need message by Luis Menjivar, Associate Teaching/Young Adults Pastor. For more information, visit cornerstonesf.org
We are continuing this theme we’re calling “The One” You may have noticed Odalis has already referred to it. I’d like us to explore the idea that Christmas is a reminder that Jesus is the one we need. He is the one we need. There’s no question about it in my mind, in terms of what the scriptures say. I think this is important for us to recognize or grapple with at a certain level. I’ve talked to a number of people throughout my years in different walks of life, different religious affiliations, different paths that they have come from, and inevitably the conversation turns towards the things of God. The truth is I haven’t met a whole lot of people who are atheists. I’m sure they exist, but I personally haven’t had a whole lot of interaction with people who would say, “I am a total atheist. I believe there’s zero existence of God.” I haven’t met a whole lot. I’m sure they exist. I’ve read of authors and things of that nature.
Most of the interactions I’ve had have been with people who believe in God. To imagine that there might be somebody stronger, bigger, more intelligent, and more capable than us isn’t necessarily that huge of a leap of faith. That makes sense to me. I think it makes sense because nature in itself shows us that there are things bigger than us. I think that’s why the mountains that we are surrounded by, especially so close to San Francisco, take our breath away if we allow them to. There is something about the wilderness and seeing the enormity of creation that shows us there are things much bigger than us. I think this is also why we are fascinated with wildlife. We understand there are beings much stronger than us. There’s something majestic about seeing an animal. We travel to go see safaris, we see animals in their own habitat, or we like to see them in a safer environment. Something about them compels us. They’re stronger. They’re faster. They’re more capable of us. Something about that draws us. We can see it. It is possible. It’s all around us.
In fact, there was this video my wife showed me a week ago or so. She was scrolling through Facebook, and there was this video of the safari that was, I’m not sure exactly where in Africa. They were making their way and saw a leopard. Which is a rare thing to see in the middle of the day. They saw a leopard walking down the safari. You could hear everybody oohing and awing. You could hear the snapping of the pictures; everybody was capturing the moment. The leopard gets closer to the safari van and it gets a little quieter. Then the leopard disappears. People are wondering where the leopard is. All of a sudden, the leopard’s on the van, standing right there. In the video, you could start to see the stabilization software is malfunctioning because the leopard is staring at the person. It’s just so quiet. I’m not sure exactly how much time passed because they clearly cut the video. But the leopard stood there, then crouched down, sat there, then ended up lying there. The entire time the van is quiet. You could hear a pin drop because they understood one swipe, one wrong move and it could be horrible. It’s not hard for us to meet something we understand. Someone, a being stronger than us.
I was reminded of years ago, when I was working with students, we would take them once a year to this camp in the woods, away from the city. Other groups would come with us. There was this one group that had students primarily from the inner city. A lot of these students had never left the inner city. There was a ‘rallying’ or coalition to be able to fundraise for them and send them to camp. They were there with us. I remember this one evening, we were sitting around a campfire talking and singing songs. When the fire died down, the group, all of us, looked up. We know this. We know that if we leave the city lights, we see the night sky. But to see this through the eyes of a youth who has never left the city lights. Wow. We could see the expansiveness of the night, the canvas of the stars, and grasp how enormous the universe actually is. It’s breathtaking. It’s not hard for us to imagine that there might be a being larger than us. All of creation speaks of it. That’s not the leap. When we see it, we recognize at the same time if it is that big, we are actually quite small. Many times when I have these conversations with different people, the conversation turns towards; not does God exist, but if God exists, does He care? Is He good? Is He trustworthy? If He does exist, is He safe?
When we meet somebody more powerful, something stronger or bigger, that is the question we start asking. I remember asking that question when I first decided I wanted to learn how to surf. I decided to go for this wave that was several times larger than me. I remember catching it, luckily, I don’t know how. I remember going down it, screaming at a very high pitch and feeling the enormous power underneath me. On one hand, it captured me and gave me an adrenaline shot. It was intoxicating. It pulled me in. On the other hand, it was terrifying because I knew this was powerful and uncontrollable. I could do nothing to control it. It was also rather unsafe.
If we come to terms with the reality, the truth of the matter is that our heart is much more fragile than we’d like to admit. Our internal being is so easily wounded. We are sensitive. It’s what makes intimacy difficult. It’s why relationships are sometimes so hard because once people start to discover how fragile we are, we get afraid. If we wrestle with this idea that there is a God, we wonder if He is good. At the same time, we discover our own fragility. Inevitably, one of the destination points of that wrestling point is we get to the place where we say, “Yes, I might be fragile, but you know what? If that is true, then I must be my own defender. I must protect myself. I must fight for myself because I am all I have.” I’d like to suggest, that way of life leads to radical insecurity. We quickly find out that it is difficult to protect and defend against things that are not in our control.
This is why I love Christmas. Christmas, for me, is one of the most meaningful seasons of the year. Christmas is the reminder that we have been sent one we truly need. Christmas answers the question if there is a God, what is He like? Not in the existential sense, but what would He be like in flesh and blood? What is He like? Isaiah, a man who lived about 700 years before Jesus stepped into human history, wanted to reveal to Israel what God was like and what the one He would send would be like. Isaiah ends up describing various parts. We’re going to discover Isaiah’s answers or God’s answer to this question through Isaiah. Isaiah 11:1 says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” This is an illusion, an image used. Jesse is the father of David. The most celebrated king of Israel. The idea of a shoot coming from a stump is Isaiah’s way of saying the man who is being sent, the one we need will be a descendant of David. He will be of royal lineage. He will be a ruler king. He will be a leader.
In verse two, “of the Lord shall rest upon him. The divine nature of God will be upon him.” These are the qualities that He will use to form Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel. Like a counselor who can give safe guidance and is safe to approach. He is safe and He is strong. “The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord,” that is knowledge rooted in a deep reverence for God. “His light shall be in the fear of the Lord, the reverence of God. He shall not judge by what His eyes see or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness, He shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Isaiah is essentially saying this leader that will step into human history will be one who is able to lead, not limited by the things we are limited by. That is, by what we see and by what we hear. This one will be able to step in and provide true equality. He will be the one who will be the defender. Isaiah is saying He will be able to protect the meek, poor, and most vulnerable among us.
The word judge is not meant to be seen as negative. It’s meant to be seen as an accurate assessment. He truly will be able to make it. “Isaiah says this person shall strike the earth with a rod of His mouth. With the breath of his lips, He shall kill the wicked. What Isaiah is saying here is what humanity is used to, is a ruler that conquers with a sword and military might. Who overcomes with sword and violence. Isaiah says, “No, the one that is going to be sent is one who will step in and He will conquer. He will remove the power of all of those who oppose everything that is good and right and just and pure and beautiful, not with sword or military might, but with the power of His word.” His words will have an enormous effect. We’ve never known a leader like this outside of Jesus. “Righteousness shall be the belt of His waist and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” Justice shall be His clothing is the idea.
It’s difficult for us to go here with Isaiah. If he is inspiring us in terms of the qualities of this leader, he quickly leaves us. It’s almost as if Isaiah goes into another world because he starts describing “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the fattened calf with the lion together, and the little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze. Their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and the nursing child shall play over the hole of a cobra,” by which we say, “Where is this child’s parents?” This is deeply concerning. It says, “then the weaned child shall put His hand on the adder’s den.” That is the poisonous snake’s den. Many believe Isaiah is describing the finality of what Jesus steps into the earth to do. The final landing place of what Jesus stepped into the earth to do is that the world will know peace is simply unfathomable, which we would consider impossible. We sit there and say, “Okay, we were with you, Isaiah, and then you left us. Where did you go because clearly, you’re not describing earth?”
If Isaiah is describing where it is inevitably going, then He is saying there is one who is going to be sent who can do the impossible. If He can do the impossible in the physical world, He first starts by doing the impossible in the spiritual world. If He could bring peace between predator and prey, because no one else can do that, then He alone can bring peace within the human heart where there is so much turmoil and conflict, contradiction, and tension. If this is describing the physical destination, it is describing the spiritual beginning of what He came to do. This is not the real world today. We would look in vain to try to find something like this.
I’ve owned a cat for nearly seven years. My wife and I do. I love my wife, so I like the cat. We’ve had this cat and this year we ended up getting a dog. The term fighting like cats and dogs is real. It happens. It’s not just a metaphor. It’s true. I’ve seen it. What’s surprising to me is that it’s not the dog picking on the cat. It’s not the cat running away. It’s the dog crying and running, wondering what’s happening, which has given me an enormous amount of respect for this cat. It has staked its ground and lets you know who is boss. When you see this, you would say, wherever the one we need is invited into this becomes a growing reality. I would say my home, we have welcomed Him in and nothing happened in that way. But what has happened, if it doesn’t happen in the physical, it does happen in the heart. What we might sense is impossible in the world around us, but it is possible in the world within us. This is what Isaiah is saying. We have never known a leader like this. He is the one we need.
Isaiah 42 continues to describe, “a bruised reed He will not break, a faintly burning wick He will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or discouraged until He has established justice in the earth.” Justice begins in the human heart. “The coastlands wait for His law. All of creation waits for Him to fulfill what He has begun to do. Isaiah is essentially explaining if there is a God of the universe that is bigger, larger, infinite, we are finite, all intellectual, and all-powerful, what is He like? Our fear is whether or not He is safe. Isaiah says, “a bruised reed He will not toss out and replace it. A withering flame, our deepest fear is that it would be blown out. He says, no. “He will demonstrate that He is tenacious in His gentleness. He is committed. He will not be discouraged. He will restore.” This is what He’s like.
In a poetic way He ends up giving this servant a voice in Isaiah 50, “the Lord God has opened my ear and I was not rebellious.” This would be Jesus speaking, thinking these words. “I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who stricken in my cheeks to those who pull out the beard.” It is impossible to read this and not see Jesus stepping into the moments of the cross. “I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting, but the Lord God helps me. Therefore, I have not been disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like a flint that is determined, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah is saying rejection, human brutality, and complete evil is unable to dissuade him from the reason for which he came. If a verbal rejection pushes us away, physical brutality is unable to stop Him from moving into what He was supposed to do. He is the one we need.
The last, which ends up being Jesus’s, some have called it, mission statement, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me.” That is He has appointed me and equipped me to bring good news to the poor. “He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Upon reading these words, Jesus, at the age of around 30 years old ends up rolling up the scroll, giving it back to the leader of the synagogue, sits down, and gives what I believe is the shortest sermon ever. He sits there, looks intently at the audience, and tells them, “In this moment as you see me, this Word is fulfilled.” He had no question about who He was, His identity, or why He came. If there is a God, what is He like? Is He safe? He is one who gives good news to the poor. He is one who binds up the brokenhearted. He is one who proclaims liberty and opens up prison doors to the bound. That is Christmas. If that is Christmas, what implications does this have for us personally? Wherever we might be in our journey of faith, whether exploring or whether we’ve been walking for some time, we need to understand that what Isaiah is speaking into is the deepest parts of who we are.
Our souls crave security. Our souls crave security that is ultimately found in the character of Jesus. This is not meant to say that anything else is unimportant. No, our bodies need food, water, and oxygen. We need clothing. We need a roof over our heads. We need a vocation to be able to explore our creativity, skills, and gifts and to contribute to the world. We need that. We need relationships in which we are loved and we love. We need these things. No question about it. This is why we’ve been put here. What Isaiah is speaking into is that our soul craves. Our soul, that is the immaterial part of who we are. Let us never forget we are, as Pastor Terry has oftentimes said, spiritual beings on a human journey.
There’s a part of us that nothing physical is able to satisfy. Yet it does not prevent us from trying. I think it’s because of the culture we live in. I think it’s because of the day in and day out of how we live our lives. Many times it’s very easy for us to understand the craving for security, safety, and stability. It’s why a lot of times some of us would say it is our financial health. If our financial health is okay, we are okay. Others would say, if our physical is okay, then we are okay. Some say, if our capacities and intellect are still with us and our capability to push forward is okay, we are okay. Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to the older generations because I have a grandfather who’s 89 years old. I see him quite a bit. Whenever I do see him, I ask, “Grandpa, how are you doing?” He only speaks Spanish. He says, “Ay, hijo,” which means, “oh son, growing old ain’t easy. God is good.” I’ve noticed time has a way of demonstrating the instability of anything else we try to situate our feet on. It starts to demonstrate to us that nothing we are capable of doing is permanent in this life.
I was with a group of friends. There was somebody among us who would not call themselves a follower of Jesus yet. I asked them, “Hey, what would you say is your deepest need?” I know, a very surface-level question. He says, “Man, I don’t get asked that every day.” I say, “All right, no worries.” He kept talking and went back to lighthearted joking and we ended up eating. Later on in the conversation, I went back to it. I said, “You know what? I’ll tell you what. For me, I would say my deepest need right now is I need courage.” Somebody else decided to share and ended up in a moment of raw honesty, stepping in, and saying, “You know, I need acceptance.” Our needs will drive our behavior. Our needs will drive us to do what it is we do, to seek what it is we seek. God knows us about us, and He doesn’t mock us. He doesn’t ridicule us. He doesn’t reject us. No, He knows the deepest needs of our soul, and He sends us the one who is trustworthy. He sends us the one we truly need.
When we embrace Him, when we discover the beauty of this individual, the amazing capacity of the resilience of this person, we end up understanding that our sense of courage stems from His commitment, not our capacity. Courage is an elusive thing. It comes like the wind. It comes and goes. It depends on the circumstances we find ourselves in or how confident we might feel about our capacities. It is somewhat elusive. We start to discover that as we invite the one we need into our lives, more and more our courage will stem from His commitment to us, not our ability. This is huge. This is why I love Jesus. What He demonstrated when He stepped into the world was not simply His strength. He demonstrated what it would look like. He modeled what it’s like to be human in need of courage, drawing it from His father.
Isaiah spoke into it. If you look at Isaiah 50:7, after describing the amazing pain and rejection He would walk through, he says in verse seven, “But the Lord God helps me,” which Jesus ends up echoing to His disciples when He stands there and tells them, “You think I’m alone? I am not alone. I’m doing this because my father is with me. He’s with me.” What we end up discovering is, maybe not immediately or right away, is that our sense of courage grows from His commitment to us. I’d like us to do something we rarely do. We just don’t do it that much. I wonder if we could ask the question internally within ourselves, “where is it that we need courage right now? What situation do we need courage in?” I wonder if we could, with that on our mind, say verse seven out loud, that first phrase.
Where do we need courage? Can we claim this? “But the Lord God helps me.” I’m overwhelmed. “But the Lord God helps me.” I’m afraid. “But the Lord God helps me.” I don’t know what is going to happen here, “but Lord God helps me.” I want to quit. “But the Lord God helps me.” I want to run away. “But the Lord God helps me.” This feels like a mountain. “But the Lord God helps me.” He is committed to me, and because He is committed to me, I will set my face like a flint, determined. I’ll take one step forward. Yes, with fear. But he helps me. He helps me. He stabilizes me. He grips me. He holds me through this, and He will see me to the other side. That is one of the most amazing promises and realities that God extends to us, especially as we consider that Jesus is the one we need. We declare it in the face of our struggles. The Lord God helps me. In due time, what ends up occurring in our lives is that our lives become an extension of His presence in us.
If the miracle of Christmas is that God sent His very own Son into human existence, the miracle continues in the reality that wherever Jesus is welcome. Something about Jesus is that His love is contagious. We can’t help but catch it. His character is contagious. Our soul can’t help but be infected by it in the best way possible. All of a sudden something within our soul starts to be reformed, renovated, and renewed by what He gives to us. This is the reality. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a stretch of time. Everyone’s journey is different in this regard. We understand that the faith God gives us, the ability to draw from His strength and grace is something that ends up inevitably converting us into people. The goodness of God shows up in our lives.
When we start to recognize that we who are full of contradictions, weaknesses, and frustrations. We who are fragile, deeply sensitive, and we know it. We who are in deep need, end up becoming people who other people around us end up seeing as the ones they need. We start to become the people that others say, “I need you. I’ve come to need you. I’ve come to understand I need your encouragement. I need your strength. I need you to be reliable. I need you. I’ve come to depend on you.” If that happens to us, then it is His way with us. We become the beautiful tapestry of His grace. When that happens, our story and privilege are to be able to say, “Yes, I understand what you’re saying, but listen. Let me tell you of the one who met my needs. Let me tell you the one who has met the deepest cravings of my soul. Let me tell you about him.” We get to be the ones to introduce others to the one we need. We get to recognize He converts us into His messengers. We get to be the answer to the question. If there is a God, is He good? What is He like? If there is a God, this is what He’s like. His name is Jesus. He’s the one we need. I pray that as we step into this Christmas season, He would be the one who is welcomed. He would be the one who is celebrated and embraced. I would like to pray, ask for His blessing.
God, I thank you. I thank you that you know us. You know us very well. The psalmist says that you know we are made of dust. I thank you, God, that you don’t mock us or shame us. Your Son stepped into the world and said He did not come to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might have life everlasting. I pray, God, that wherever we might be in this journey of ours, that you would help us receive you into our lives and give us the courage we need. I pray, God, that if there are any of us who end up becoming those who get to be your mouthpiece, your hands, and feet, you would give us the words and actions that we would be able to declare with our lives and our words. Jesus, you are the one we need. Jesus, you are welcomed here. I pray for that in your name. Amen.