Advent: the arrival of a notable person or event. Conspiracy: a secret plan to do something harmful. The advent conspiracy: the arrival of a notable person who has a secret plan to do harm, to do harm to the way of life that people accept as normal.
In a few short hours this season of Advent will turn into Christmas day. The one who started this whole conspiracy, we will remember his birth, the beginning of his conspiracy on the earth to launch his secret plan to to do harm to the way of life that people accept as normal.
The way people accept as normal. The way that nations accept as normal. Nations accept that violence is the normal way of doing business. Jesus’ advent conspiracy tells a different story of nations, a path that nations need to be heading for where spears are beaten into plough shares and swords into fishing hooks. People accept as normal the way things are. Jesus advent conspiracy calls people to keep pushing, keep breaking down the walls of normal and bring in the values, the ways, the hopes of his kingdom. People accept as normal that there will be justice for some, but not for all. Jesus advent conspiracy calls us to do justice and love mercy—and to do that even to our enemies. Listen to some of the words of Jesus’ conspiracy from the book of Luke,
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.” (Luke 6:27–30 ESV)
Those are words that feel like an amazing conspiracy, an attempt to do harm to the way that people accept as normal.
A small picture of the advent conspiracy on this night before we remember the birth of the one who started the whole conspiracy. Who started the whole conspiracy and who draws us in to this conspiracy by telling us something amazing. Words from Micah 7,
18Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.19You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Micah 7.18-19 NIV
Who is a God like you, who is greater than you, better than you at doing these things? Let’s read through the things that God is so very good at: He pardons sins, forgives transgression, does not stay angry, delights in mercy, will have compassion, tread our sins underfoot, hurl our iniquities into the sea.
Catch this: the whole, “Who is like” thing carries with it the idea that when you say “who is like” you are saying that because no one is better at it than you are. No one is better at pardoning sins, no one is better at forgiving transgressions, no one is better at letting go of anger, delighting in mercy, having compassion, treading our sins underfoot, hurling our iniquities into the sea.
No one is better at it than God. A big deal for those who first heard these words because they are in trouble. They are not living in the ways of God’s conspiracy—even though they are supposed to be at the very center of it. So what’s going to happen to them? Is all lost? Will they never be able to be part of God’s great conspiracy?
On this Christmas eve we know we’ve all been in that place or one day we will be. We wonder, “Is it possible for me to be part of something bigger than myself?” Is it possible to be part of a movement that does justice, loves mercy, and walks humble with God? Or has my past cut me off from that? Is my brokenness so deep that I can never walk with God, that he will never take me in, restore me or I have messed up too badly, screwed things up too many times?
Into this wondering of our lives comes this new about God, that no one is better than he is at pardoning sins. Sin, the Hebrew word is avon, it means to bend, twist, to deviate from the way. Avon, doing life in a twisted, bent way. There are days when we look at our sheer brokenness wonder, “why do I keep doing life this way” –and the more we keep doing life that way the more twisted it gets, and the more we wonder, is there any hope for getting things straight, is there any hope for somehow putting this twistedness behind us and finding some hope?
God’s answer: He pardons our twistedness. Here’s how another prophet who lives at the same time as Micah put it.
4Surely he [bore] our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53
Those words are being spoken about the one who launches the advent conspiracy 2000 years ago, Jesus. On the cross Jesus takes up our infirmities, carries our sorrows, takes our punishment so that we make experience peace. He is able to do that because he is God’s son, he is willing to do that because of his deep love for us, even though by all standards we should be unlovable.
He takes off our shoulders the twistedness of our lives and puts that twistedness on his own. And he forgives our transgressions. Transgressions are about rebellion. It’s about those times when we say, “I don’t care about justice, I don’t care about walking humbly with God, I don’t care that I am supposed to be helping others flourish, I am going to do it my way, I am going to make life about me. We rebel, a rebellion that breaks what the Bible calls: shalom. One of my favorite definitions of shalom is
Shalom can be translated as ‘peace’, but it means more than the absence of conflict. Shalom involves restored relationship with our Creator, human flourishing, justice, and relational wholeness for everyone. And shalom is unmistakably beautiful.
God hates our rebellion not because God is touchy but because it destroys shalom. God is for restored relationships, flourishing, justice, wholeness and beauty therefore he is against our rebellion, for our rebellion destroys relationships, it destroys flourishing, it destroys justice, it destroys beauty. But even though our rebellion destroys God in outstanding at forgiving our rebellion, at forgiving our transgressions.
An officer in the army of Russian Czar Peter the Great was involved in a plot against the ruler. But though tortured terribly, the officer refused to confess. Realizing that pain would not break him, Peter went up to the man, kissed him, and promised him that if he confessed he would receive not only a full pardon but a promotion to colonel. The officer was so unnerved by Peter’s tactic that he embraced the czar and made a full confession. True to his word, Peter forgave the man and made him a colonel! Rebellion, forgiven—and more, rebellion forgiven and a place actually found for the one who was rebellious.
He pardons our twistedness, he forgives our rebellion and he even finds a place for us in his work, in his kingdom. All of this is a big deal. Although many of us try to pretend that our twistedness and rebellion are no big deal the reality is quite different. Many counselors will tell you that one of the biggest reasons people end up in counseling is because they can’t deal with the twistedness of their lives, that they can’t find forgiveness for their rebellion—and this lack of forgiveness is sucking the life out of them.
Can’t find pardon, forgiveness. Some of you may remember Gary Gilmore. Gary Gilmore was a man that was executed in the state of Utah for the murder of two men . Prior to his execution he wrote his girlfriend.
“It seems that I know evil more intimately than I know goodness and that’s not a good thing either. I want to get even, to be made even, whole, my debts paid for (whatever it may take!), to have no blemish, no reason to feel guilt or fear … I’d like to stand in the sight of God, to know that I’m just and right and clean. When you’re this way, you know it. And when you’re not, you know that, too.”
As Gary Gilmore faced his death he wanted some way to deal with his sin. As we face life we look for the same, a way to deal with our twistedness, our rebellion. For all of us who long for twistedness relief, God gives it—and on this Christmas eve we remind ourselves of something: no other god, no other being in the universe can do this pardoning, no other being in the universe can do this forgiving: Who is like you, God? The answer of the Bible: no one.
God tells us that this pardon, forgiveness that we all need comes to a remnant. And it comes to this remnant through Mary’s son. Listen to what it says in John 14,
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14.6-8 NIV
Who are the remnant? The ones who believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Those who know that there is no other way to the father except through Jesus. Not because Christians insist that is the only way, not because followers of Jesus are arrogant and narrow-minded on the issue, but because Jesus, Mary’s son, tells us this is so.
Can we own on this Christmas eve that what I just said isn’t very popular. We want to allow people multiple ways to God, we want to have all good people go to heaven. We want just a kind of general religion for all. The difficulty with that, however, is that other religions in the world to not tell us that what they are good for is having this amazing God who pardons sins and forgives transgressions. That what they are good for is having this amazing God who invites those who are forgiven into his advent conspiracy. They profess to be good for other things like becoming your own god or becoming part of the universe in a way you no longer know you exist, they proclaim they are good for those kind of things, but only the Christian faith proclaims that we have this God of pardon and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ.
So while people may wish for a general religion, it doesn’t work because all religions claim to be good for different things and they give different paths to get those different things and the life that flows from all of that looks different—sometimes radically different from the advent conspiracy.
If we want what the God of the Bible offers: pardon, forgiveness, being part of the Advent Conspiracy then we have to follow what the child in the manger who becomes the Christ of the cross and resurrection tells us.
Another person on death row. Karla Faye Tucker. Her crime was hideous: She and her boyfriend (who was sentenced to death and died in prison) killed a man and a woman with a pickax. Tucker told friends she had a sexual experience each time she struck the victims with the pick, which was found embedded in the body of Deborah Thornton. She was executed on February 3, 1998 – the first woman to be executed in Texas in over a century. Most surprisingly, she died with the name of Jesus on her lips. She died knowing that her twistedness, her rebellion had been lifted off her shoulders. Even though her twistedness is beyond what many of can imagine. A reminder, by the way, that God’s forgiveness can cover the largest and the smallest of sin.
Longing for pardon, longing for forgiveness, longing to be a part of the remnant that lives out God’s Advent conspiracy? Ask yourself this question, “Have I believed in Jesus?” If you have not and your heart is longing for pardon, forgiveness that’s the first step you need to take. If you aren’t sure what that means, if you aren’t sure how to take that step. I’ll be up here after the service and I’d be honored to talk to you about the next steps you need to take on your journey so you can believe in Jesus.
God’s pardon, forgiveness goes to his remnant. These people find that God treads their sins underfoot. Treads—a loaded word. To tread something under your foot in Hebrew thinking means that you’ve used force to get something that didn’t want to be subservient to you, subservient. In other words, sin is not willingly pushed to the side, sin is not willingly forgiven. Brad and Jill found themselves in a place they didn’t want to be. They had sex outside of marriage, they both knew they weren’t supposed to, they knew what God commanded, but they did it anyway and now Jill was pregnant. What to do? They had plans, college, careers, this was no time for a child. So Brad and Jill decided that abortion was the only answer. Brad helped pay for it. Today he regrets it, wishes with all his hear that they had shown courage, owned up, had the child and either given it up for adoption or married and raised the baby together. But they didn’t and a child is dead. Brad has asked God for forgiveness, begged for it. But it never seems that he can sense that forgiveness. And so today Brad believes that God can never use him, that he can never serve God fully, because each time he takes steps to follow God’s call to serve, Sin reminds him of what he did, tells him that all is lost, that he can never be a fully passionate follower of Jesus. Simple truth: sin doesn’t want to let us go. Nothing less than being forced to, nothing less that God tying it up, binding it up so that it can’t bother us any more is going to do. Listen to some words that Paul writes to the church of Colossae,
13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Colossians 2.13-15 NIV
God tramples the powers and authorities, he tramples sin. When sin tries to raise it’s nasty head in our lives and remind us of what we have done, we have the right to remind sin that it has no place because God has stomped on it for us. Maybe we even need from time to time to literally put our foot down, imagine that sin under our foot and stomp on as a symbol of what God has done for us. Because sin doesn’t want to let go and will take every opportunity it can to sneak back in, even though it has no right to be there.
The remnant is sold out to God, overwhelm him with lavish praise because he takes their twistedness on his back, forgives their rebellion no matter how great, because he stomps their sin under foot. And one more thing he does. He hurls our iniquities into the depth of the sea. Micah wants us to remember a story that happened hundreds of years before he was born. He wants us to remember the day when the people of Israel we at the Red Sea. Pharaoh behind them, the Red Sea in front of them. They are powerless in the face of Pharaoh. He has a great army, they have nothing. But God comes, parts the Red Sea, they walk through. But not Pharaoh, not his army. They are hurled into the sea, covered up by the depths never to be seen or heard from again.
1Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD : “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea… 4Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. 5The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. Exodus 15
As Pharaoh’s army sinks into the Red Sea, utterly defeated by God. So our sins are hurled—a word by the way that is used when someone has a great victory—so our sins are hurled into the Sea. Done, gone, finished.
Who is a God like you—these last words in the book of Micah are a play on Micah’s name: Who is like Yahweh. Indeed, who is? Who is willing to lift up our twistedness and rebellion put it on his shoulders, so that he bears it? Who is willing to do what it take, who is able to do what it takes to tread our sins underfoot, hurl them into the sea—except God. Who is able to do all of this so that we can find freedom not only from sin but to join God’s advent conspiracy.