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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44

Dreams (Part 1): The Future

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

December 2, 2007

Isaiah 2:1-5

2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Matthew 24:36-44

24:36 "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

The theme for the sermons this month is, "Dreams." Particularly, Christmas Dreams. I think Christmas is a time when people do a lot of dreaming. If you're a kid, a lot of your dreams have to do with toys. If you're a fan of Bing Crosby, you're dreaming of a "White Christmas." Notice how the song doesn't say, "I'm wishing for" a White Christmas. Or, "I'm praying for" a White Christmas. It's all about the dreams, Christmas dreams.

The Bible has dreams, too. Over this month, we're going to be reading some of the Bible's Christmas Dreams. The people of Bible times might not have known they were having Christmas Dreams, but they were. People like the Prophet Isaiah, Mother Mary and Father Joseph... even Jesus himself had dreams of how things would be when Christ came en masse to earth, whether that meant the first time, or the second time, or in ruling majesty, or in a lowly manger. We know, in retrospect, that the Bible is filled with dreams of how the future will be, how the world should be, and how we should be because of the Advent of Jesus Christ.


Dream with me for a minute. Dream with me about how your house would look if you actually had all the time, energy and money you needed to decorate for Christmas the way you've always wanted. How would your house look? How would it smell? What would you be hearing? What would be different in the Christmas of your dreams? In my imagination, I've always pictured the proper mode of Christmas transportation is a horse-drawn sleigh. The world would be a better place if every Christmas we all abandoned our cars and rode around in one-horse open sleighs. You just can't be irritated at relatives who drop in unexpectedly if they're singing sleighing songs and laughing all the way. "Sure, Cousin Ed, put the horse in the garage and bring all thirteen kids in for some hot cider and fruitcake." If they pulled up in a backfiring RV, you'd turn out the lights and hide in the basement. Get a sleigh to drive this Christmas. That's my contribution to world peace.

It's easy to dream of Christmases just like the ones you used to know, or the Christmases you'd like to know. It's too easy. Because everywhere you turn, every TV show you watch, every magazine or newspaper you pick up, every store you shop in - are all reminding you that not only should you dream, but that it's good to dream of that perfect, ideal Christmas. And then it's really good to spend a lot of money making your dreams come true. So, you've got these Christmas dreams... and then you've got Christmas reality. I think a good portion of the anxiety some people feel at Christmas has to do with the size of the gap between the dreams and the reality. The bigger the gap, the harder this time of year is.

Unfortunately, and despite our best intentions, I think the church isn't a whole lot of help. You come to church during Advent (better known as, "The Christmas Season,") and what happens? We tell you, "No, you're wrong. It's not the Christmas Season. The Christmas Season is after Christmas. This is Advent. You're going to sing Advent Carols, even though there are only two good ones (both of which we're singing today and then it's Christmas Carols from here on out)." You come to Church wanting to hear hope, peace, love and joy, and what scriptures do we read? John the Baptist, hollering "You brood of vipers!" There's a jolly old saint. This year, we skip John the Baptist, and run straight ahead to the Rapture, where two will be in the field and one will be taken and one will be left behind. Somebody get us some Prozac.

But it's not all bad news and unsingable hymns. We also get to read scripture like Isaiah 2, which says, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." That's good news. With soldiers stuck in Iraq for who knows how long, with so many terrible people in the world doing terrible things, it's good to hear that peace not only has a chance, it will win. But when? How long, O Lord, how long? Have you been watching the news, Lord? The gap between even the Bible's dreams of Christmas - the prophesies of the coming and rule of Christ - the gap between even the Bible's dreams and earthly reality - can be a source of anxiety.

Ironically, another one of the reasons the church causes people anxiety is because church people (such as myself) labor under the very non-Biblical belief that we're supposed to have an answer for everything. And we do this with the best of intentions. We try to take away people's anxiety by giving them assurances, whether we understand what we're talking about or not. We say, here's what scripture means, exactly. Here's the answer to this situation, exactly. Sometimes we get it right. But a lot of the time, we're relying on someone else's answers, which came from someone else, which came from someone else and has become the accepted "right answer." For instance, the Rapture. Two are working, one will be taken, and one will be left behind. One verse of scripture. It comes in the context of Jesus himself explaining that he has no idea what the future will look like, or when the time will come, when God establishes the kingdom of heaven on earth. Good, churchy people have taken this one verse of scripture, in which Jesus is trying to say, "I have no idea how or when the kingdom is going to come," and turned a dream of Christ's Second Coming into a hard and fast, literal explanation of something not even Jesus could explain. And then, instead of feeling happy with the answer, people get even more anxious because they start worrying, "Am I going to be one of the ones taken? Or am I going to be left behind?" Which leads to churches giving hard and fast, step-by-step rules of how you can know for sure that you'll be taken. But what if you forget one of the rules? Well then, there are more rules. Then more anxiety. And the whole thing swirls into a death spiral caused by trying to explain something not even Jesus could explain. If you're smart enough to explain Jesus' dreams of the future better than he could, good for you.

Instead, Jesus leaves us in that gap of anxiety. He refuses to take it away. Maybe because he knew that a little anxiety is good for us, and that trying too hard to take it away, paradoxically, only makes us more anxious. Jesus says, in essence, "I don't know - and it's not good for anyone to know - when Christmas is going to come in completeness." A little anxiety is good for us. A little anxiety keeps us sharp, keeps us watching for the signs. Jesus leaves us with that anxiety. But he doesn't leave us alone. Instead of giving us a literal roadmap to the future, he gives us hope. Instead of a timeline, he gives us dreams. He doesn't tell us how we'll beat our swords into plowshares, he doesn't tell us how the lions will lie down with the lambs, he just tells us that we will, they will. Jesus gives us the promise that someday - maybe someday very soon, maybe a long time from now - he doesn't know when - someday, God will make the hope, peace, joy and love of Christmas come... and stay here... forever. It will happen. How do we know this? Because this is God's dream - for our future. Unlike our human dreams, God's dreams will come true. How do we know? Because the Bible tells us so.


I would never, ever tell you to compromise on your dreams for the perfect Christmas. Unless your dreams are driving you crazy. Or driving crazy the people who have to live with you obsessing over finding THE perfect, inflatable lawn ornament. In that case, I might say it would be better to live with a little anxiety than to cause everyone more by trying too hard to bridge the gap between your dreams and reality. Dreams give us hope. Dreams keep us alert. Dreams keep us looking toward a better future. The prophet Isaiah had dreams. Even Jesus had dreams of how the future should and will be. Neither Isaiah nor Jesus explained the mechanics of their dreams. They just had them, and held onto them.

Instead of dreaming of solutions, dream of hope. Instead of dreaming of perfection, dream of peace. Instead of happiness for a day, dream of joy. Instead of flawless people, dream of love. Light a candle in your heart for each of those dreams, and I guarantee you - you will see the kingdom of God, maybe on Christmas Day, or maybe all year long.