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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Christmas I - 09/12/27 Is. 9:2-7; Ps. 145; Gal. 4:1-7; Mt. 1:18-25
We read in the Gospel of Luke, the angel says to Mary, "And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Yeshua." And then in the Gospel of Matthew, an angel speaks in a dream, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sins."
You shall call His name Yeshua... or as we say, Jesus. 'Yeshua' means, 'Yahweh saves'. 'Yahweh' is often in Hebrew shortened to 'Ya' -- 'ya shua'. Yahweh is one of the Hebrew names for God, the one given by God at a Burning Bush some 1400 years before the birth of Christ, to a fugitive from Pharaoh, wanted for the killing of an Egyptian -- named Moses.
God was asking Moses to return to Egypt for the absurdly unlikely task of leading his Hebrew slave people out of Egypt to freedom, to a land promised by God. Moses, who understandably did not want to go on this assignment, and was looking for a way out, asked, "Who, shall I say to my people, sent me?"
"God said to Moses, 'I AM who I AM.' And He said, 'Say this to the people of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you"'"
'Yahweh' means in Hebrew, 'I am who I am'. It is a
name which, so far as I know, has no parallel anywhere in all religious,
philosophical, or mythological literature. It is a name which would have been
incomprehensible in the pagan world. It names someone who has absolute being, an
To make this clear, I will draw my two pictures in the air, one of the Biblical worldview, and the other of the pagan worldview.
First the Biblical. Imagine a circle which represents the whole of the cosmos here in the air. And above the circle is God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a triangle up here. And imagine the Hand of God reaching down under the circle of the world holding the world in existence. And also the Voice of God speaking to the whole world. God gives the world existence, and then He speaks to it. That means that God has created persons in the world to whom He can speak. God talks to Adam and Eve, that is, to the human race. He tells us why He has created us, where we are going, and how to get there. We, His creatures in the world, have intimate, free, and open communication with God outside the circle of the world.
In this world, the ultimate Reality and source of our life is a Person, a Somebody, with whom we can have a personal relationship.
And secondly, the pagan worldview (which fits also the secular world). Imagine the same circle, with the same horses, cows, buildings, rivers, lakes. In both worlds we are here in this church doing what we are doing. But in the secular/pagan circle, we Christians are deluded -- because there is no God out there listening to us or holding us in His Hand. There is just the cosmos, and we in it. The world is totally on its own.
As the center of this cosmos, imagine a smaller circle from which evolves all else that exists. The pagans thought of this as a kind of womb of existence deep at the center of all things. It was sometimes called the Great Mother, but it was not a personal mother, it was totally impersonal, unknowable, impossible to understand or describe. But it was the source of all else that existed, the polar opposite of the source of all life in the Biblical world.
We come into being by totally unknowable processes, best described as accidental and unplanned. There is no person planning anything. We just emerge. And then we cycle through our lifespan, die, and sink back into the womb of life, just like the cycle of nature. Things blossom in the spring, flourish for a summer, then die, and sink back into Mother Earth.
We are born an accident, we live an accident, and we
die an accident. Life is fundamentally chaotic. Beyond a few stable things, like
the rising and setting of the sun and the cycle of seasons, not much in life was
predictable, and death waited on every street corner.
My reason for pointing to all this is to look at what it means to be a "Somebody" (rather than a "nobody") in either of the worldviews. They are quite different things.
In the pagan worldview, the "somebody" has to be someone who has exceptional qualities of survival and control -- a "strong man". Only such a person could survive longer than the rest, because the world is constantly eating up its inhabitants. Death lurks on every street corner. Life is eat or be eaten.
The "Somebody" in such a cosmos is a person who can control the resources, the land, the trade routes, the wealth, someone who has force of arms, who has arms and armies to fend off enemies, and to go forth to conquer and control them, to build empires.
We might call such person tyrants, and so did the ancients. But the ancients understood that such persons are necessary to the sanity and peace of life, because such persons were able to impose an order on the misbehavior of the otherwise uncontrollable criminals and warriors who wandered about the land. The Empire of Rome was established by the virtually unbeatable Roman legions -- at sword point. But that tyrannical empire brought two centuries of relative peace to the Mediterranean basin, almost unheard of in the pagan world. Roads were built, commerce thrived, and cultures grew rich beyond the imaginations of earlier cultures.
But the circle of the cosmos is a closed circle. There is nothing outside the circle, so there is no communication, no passing of information or energy to outside the circle. What happens is totally controlled by the circumstances of things within the circle. The Somebodies were thus on their own. They might occasionally gain the help of the gods or goddesses, but the deities were themselves just another aspect of the closed circle, emanating from the womb of life, the Great Mother. They did not come from outside the cosmos, but were an inherent part of the cosmos. They were bound by the same rules of fate as all the rest of the cosmos, and would one day themselves be recycled again through the Great Mother process. And they were not generally friendly, still less loving, toward the lesser somebodies, such as we humans. The secular/pagan world has no concept of a Cosmic Somebody, a personal creator of all that is, who can befriend and give cosmic order to the lives of we humans. We have to do that ourselves.
In the Biblical world, there is no Great Mother at the center, from which we all emanate and to which we all return. There is God, a very personal and individual God, who stands outside the cosmos, holding it in existence.
Because God lives wholly independently of the creation, i.e., He does not need the creation to be fully and totally Himself, and because God communicates with His creatures, and we with Him, the circle of the creation is an open circle. We are not locked into the circumstances within the circle. New things can happen. The world can change. It is good, and it can be improved.
In the Biblical world, being a somebody (rather than a nobody) depends on our personal lives, as it were, standing on the Hand of God, from which we get our personal, ontological stability. No one can pull the rug our from under us. So, we thrive or fail, depending on the closeness of our personal relationship to our Creator. And thus we are not cast on a sea of chance and unpredictability, leading inevitably to death.
And we get our moral stability from the Voice of God who defines the reason for our existence, and that of the whole cosmos.
There is, therefore, a secure ontological order and a secure moral order, neither of which exist in the closed circle of the secular/pagan cosmos. In the Biblical cosmos, we can know who we are and where we are going. There is clarity about our salvation. In the secular/pagan world, they cannot know either who they are or where they are going. They have to make it up as they go. Their identity and their moral direction are always an unsolved mystery. So salvation is always a mystery.
Thus, when God says to Moses, "I AM who I AM", He is saying that He is the eternal being upon whom all other beings depend for their ontological and moral stability. He is the One whom no other can defeat or successfully compete against. As the title of the Broadway play put it, "Your arms are too short to box with God."
God is the Somebody in the Cosmos, the only Somebody, from whom we all get our "somebody-hood", our stability and moral direction. We get our "somebody-hood" from outside the cosmos, not from within it.
The secular and pagan people are left with only the closed circle, which does not provide either stability, and which they therefore have to cobble together on their own -- which cannot weather the ravages of time and change. They can tough it though for a space, but in the end, they succumb and die. Even the so-called "immortals".
God was telling Moses -- "I, not Pharaoh, am the
Somebody, the One to reckon with, and if you will obey me, I will show that to
Pharaoh -- through you and your people."
All of that was contained in the angel's message to Mary and Joseph, that the Messiah, Yeshua, Yahweh Saves, was to be born, that "He who Is" was coming to earth to lead us back to Himself from the Fall which we had brought upon ourselves when our ancestors, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. God was breaking into that closure of the circle which we had created by the Fall, that closure, that wall between ourselves and God which gets in the way of our open communication with God, the dark shroud of death, which Isaiah says hangs over all of us, hiding God from our view, and condemning us to our own self-destruction.
The world of the closed circle, the world of paganism and of secularism is the world of the Fall, a world which has no eternal life to give, which is severely impersonal, depersonalized, and corrosive of all personal life. It is a world with no ontological stability and no moral stability. It is a lethal world.
In the light of all that, listen again to the lesson from Isaiah:
The people who walked in
darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased it joy;
they rejoice before Thee as with joy at the harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor, thou has broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given;
and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called
"Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
...the zeal of Him who Is, I AM. The worldly
wanna-bes cannot do that.
In Galatians, we read that we were in bondage under the law, not the true law, but the perversion of legalism which the Pharisees and other leaders had imposed upon the people. The Pharisees knew the law, but they did not know the Law Giver. They had no personal relationship with God Himself, they knew only the abstract laws of God, and applied them in an abstract and impersonal way, leading inevitably to injustice and breakdown of the true law of God.
Only when Jesus defined the law as supremely in terms of the law of love could it be seen clearly that law was about close personal relationship, caring about one another, not about the laws in and of themselves. The laws were made for people, not people for the laws, and had no importance apart from helping people to build with God and one another the kingdom of mutual caring and righteousness.
Legalism is just another closure of the circle, another wall between ourselves and God, another idolatry, another worshipping of the creation, not the Creator, another aspect of the Fallen world, not of God's world. Legalism is just one more attempt to create an order in the world -- which ends up yet once more being destructive and lethal, not life-giving. And it will always be commandeered by the control-minded to control and plunder the people. It was the purveyors of this unjust law which Jesus so severely castigated.
And you shall call His name Yeshua, I AM Saves.
We are people who have walked in darkness, and who have seen a great Light. Lord, make us the kind of people who will walk out that door and let the Light shine through us.
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