Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Shall a King Come?

We are in the time of Advent in the church calendar. Advent is when we look expectantly to the coming of the Lord. Since his first coming believers have been expecting his return. During this season we long to experience Christ in a new way in our lives. One of the ways we can experience Christ’s presence is by helping and caring for the vulnerable.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says I was in need and you took care of me and the people said when have we seen you in need and he says when you have helped just one of these you have helped me.
45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
Matthew 25:45 (NIV)
 Who are the “these” in Matthew 25:31-46? Who are the hungry and the thirsty (think homeless and kids), the stranger (think immigrant or alien) and those without clothes (think homeless) the sick (think shut-ins, hospital patients, or nursing homes), or prisoners? These are the vulnerable the ones we are called to care for. In the Old Testament they were referred to as immigrants, poor, widows and orphans.
9 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.
10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'
Zechariah 7:9-10 (NIV)
This Zechariah is one of many passages (Psalm 146:7-9, Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 27:19, Proverbs 31:8, Jeremiah 22:3; 22:16) that give us specific instructions of how to show our love for others. These instructions include care for the needy, the poor, immigrants, orphans and the widows.

To be more specific Micah speaks to this
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
The Hebrew word we translate mercy is hesedh and means God’s unconditional grace and compassion. (BTW grace means God giving to us that which we don’t deserve as compared to mercy, which is when God withholds from us what we do deserve.) The Hebrew word for justly or justice is mishpat and means to treat people equitably. 

I guess you could think of it this way mishpat is the attitude behind the action. It means more than punishing wrongdoers it means giving people their rights. It really is worship in it’s second emphasis (loving others as much as you love yourself). Scripture deals with four categories of vulnerable or needy people: poor, immigrants, widows and orphans. Today I would includes the elderly in this mix. Since women tend to outlive men this would include widows and so many of today’s elderly would be considered poor, hence my inclusion of them in this list.

9 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.
10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'
Zechariah 7:9-10 (NIV)
Tim Keller in his book Generous Justice speaks of two forms of justice found in the Old Testament. The first is mishpat or “rectifying justice.” The second is tzadeqah, which refers to our day-to-day relationships with all that we come in contact with in family and society as a whole. This form of justice is referred to as “primary justice.”

It would seem that if each of us practiced tzadeqah or primary justice there would be no need for rectifying justice.

12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him.
13 The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow's heart sing.
14 I put on righteousness (tzadeqah) as my clothing; justice (mishpat) was my robe and my turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger.
17 I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.
Job 29:12-17 (NIV)
See also Job 31:13-28

In scripture, gifts to the poor are called “acts of righteousness”

1 "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Matthew 6:1-2 (NIV)
So I guess we could postulate that not being a generous giver would not be miserly or stingy but rather unrighteous and as such sin!
Reading Ezekiel 18:5, 7-8a seems to teach the same thing. By not living openhandedly with the material possessions that have been entrusted into our care we are living unjustly and in reality robbers of God’s possessions.
18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.
19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 (NIV)

6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isaiah 58:6-7 (NIV)
The Isaiah passage is one of my favorite in understanding that fasting which is considered one of the ways that we worship God includes more than simply depriving ourselves of sustenance. It means action!
So during this season of Advent when we are longing for Christ to visit us let’s not forget that perhaps Christ is already visiting us in the form of those in need. How are we doing with caring for Him?

Excuse me while I go serve some of my fellow men in need. Who knows maybe if I look real close I’ll see the face of Christ shining through them

Have a great Advent season

Pastor Val