God’s Great Decision

Delivered December 22, 2002 by Rev. Kirk Vander Molen,
Executive Director of a World Vision affiliate of Love INC (In the Name of Christ) in Northwest Allegany County, Michigan, a non-profit organization that seeks to bring community churches together to meet unmet needs in the community.

Theme: Looking at God’s perspective on Christmas.
The giver of a gift desires that gift to be meaningful to the person who receives it. That is why I believe that God is particularly interested in your perspective of Christmas. God’s great decision and God’s expression of His love through the birth of Jesus Christ is for you. He wants us to get it, to enjoy it, to appreciate it. He wants it to the foundation of our lives for eternal salvation and the foundation of our lives for our relationship with Him and with others.

Sermon Text:
Hosea 11:1-12

Good morning. It is great to be with you this morning and joining you in worship. I almost hate to stop praising through song, because it is great and who knows after I preach you might not want to stop singing either.

I am familiar with Central Presbyterian Church as my wife and I were married here nearly 11 years ago. Her maiden name was Magan, Laura Magan and over the years we have joined your congregation in worshipping as we visit our parents and spend time with them. We are here for the week to spend Christmas with them and to enjoy it.

You have an ambitious pulpit supply search team to give me a call in Michigan. I got a kind of round of applause about that, but just wait for the church to see my mileage bill to drive out here. No, no mileage bill coming from me. We were coming out here anyhow, so. You know it is hard to resist the decision to come here and preach. I told this story in the service before this, but mother-in-laws kind of can have their way with son-in-laws and my mother-in-law the resourcefulness of the pulpit supply committee is working it through my in-laws. Okay, so my mother-in-law says to me after it was made known that they wanted me to come here and preach she said, “You know Kirk, it really would be a nice thing for you to come and preach at our church.” What choice did I have, you know? But I am happy to be here and thank you for the invitation to join you.

The birth of Jesus can be looked at from a number of different perspectives. For instance, Mary’s perspective. What was it like for her to carry the Son of God or what did she ponder when in the Bible it says, she pondered. What was it like for Joseph to be called by God to be faithful and marry Mary? For the shepherds to hear the angelic message and the great chorus that went out after they were told that a savior would be born to them and it would be good news for all people. What was it like for the wise men who followed a star to Bethlehem? For the innkeeper who shut the door? For Harod who sought to kill? All these different perspectives offer their own unique insider picture of the whole of the story about Jesus’ birth. But there is one perspective that I would like for us to consider this morning and I think that perhaps it is the greatest perspective that we could consider. It’s the perspective of God. What was it like for God to send his son to be born in a manger? What was God thinking? What was it like for him? How did it come to be that we know this story? That this historical event happened?

Hosea 11 is not a common advent passage that is often looked at, but I would like for us to consider it this morning to look at God’s perspective, because I think really that passage is all about God’s perspective of Christmas. Hosea 11 and it is found on page 642 I believe in your pew Bibles. If you brought your Bibles I encourage you to open it with me. We will be looking at the different sections of it. But Hosea 11 is like eavesdropping in on God. And what we hear is a deliberation that happens within God, of what he should do with Israel who God describes as being an ungrateful child. It is a remarkable passage. The first section of Verses 1-4. It says:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son., But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love;I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.”

Well to hear from the prophet of Hosea is that God is describing the situation. God goes back to the beginning of his relationship with Israel and he says that when Israel was a child, I led them out of Egypt, a reference to the exodus. And after he had led them out of Egypt, he gave them the law and he gave them guidance and he tried to encourage them and keep loving them to follow him and to see that he is all God of all the universe and where we really have our hope and all our desires can be found in God. You know the entire Old Testament I think can be described as God’s relentless search, relentless pursuit of the people of Israel. Trying to work through them and draw them close to him so that through them the word of God and the truth of God would be known to the world. But the problem was that the more that God pursued them, it says in our text, the further they went away. A rebellious son, Israel is described as, taking all that the father had given them and then being ungrateful. In fact, Israel wasn’t just neutrally ungrateful, they took from God and then they worshipped other Gods and burned incense to images. It would be as if you gave me a Christmas present and I thanked her for it. Ungrateful. Ungratefulness. God endearingly in this description of the setting of the first four verses, kind of paints this picture of and refers to Israel as Ephraim, a name for Israel in the very beginning stages of God’s relationship. So it is referring when Israel was young. It says, “I taught Ephraim how to walk, taking them by the arms.” The image of God bending down to feed Israel. All these caring and nuturing images that God paints here. And God’s perspective is this, but they didn’t realize it was I who healed them.

One-sided relationships can be pretty difficult. When you have one person who gives and gives and gives and another person who takes and takes and takes. It is a difficult relationship. Particularly if the person who takes, takes and takes is clueless or ungrateful to all the giving they are taking. At that is what God is describing here. If there is one thing about parenting that I have learned is that it takes an extreme amount of patience and sometimes with kids it takes an extreme amount of patience for their parents. Where I am at today, is I have a 3 1/2 year-old and a 1 1/2 year old and as they are walking along and they are kind of clueless. We have this one door knob that is broke and I have to fix it at home, but it sticks out and actually it is probably child endangerment, but it sort of sticks out and my son Isaac is just right at that level that it could take out an eye. I mean there is a door knob on it, so it really is not going to take out an eye, but sometimes as he is walking he is looking down or something like this and I put my hand on the door knob and he has no clue. I mean he just is like do ta do, walking away. And I can’t tell you how many times that happens as a parent looks out for their child. They have no idea, especially the little ones. And so you give and give and give and they take and take and sometimes the kids just lose it and most of the time I just have no idea why. They are throwing a tantrum and you are like, what did I do? What did I do? And you go from the love parent provider to the unwanted, leave me alone, you can’t do anything right parent and you are kind of scratching your head and you know, as much as you know I treat my kids like little adults, so I try to give them the you should be more grateful speech. Yeah, it’s funny isn’t it? You know how is that going to work with a 3 1/2 year old and 1 1/2 year old? You know, really Isaac, you should be more grateful because look what mommy and daddy are doing. We provide for your needs and your home, housing and food and he is like, looking at me like I have three heads. Like what are you talking about? It just doesn’t work. So kids kind of have that way about them and I think that is what God is describing.

So in verses 1-4 we get a glimpse of God’s frustration and even hurt in his relationship with Israel, and it wasn’t as if that was just a beginning of a relationship. It is estimated that Hosea lived around the time of the 8th century BC, 700 years after the exodus. So this, you want to talk about patience. 700 years of it and God is having this conversation with himself. What am I going to do?

That leads us into verses 5-7. This begins Gods deliberation. This is a situation; well what am I going to do about it? Verse 5:

“Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? Swords will flash in their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them.”

You hear in this God’s deliberation, kind of a righteous judgment. God’s righteous anger causes him to consider not only pulling out of the relationship, but as it says, will they not return to Egypt? Get this. What God is considering doing is returning them to Egypt. God considers undoing the exodus. Imagine that. I mean imagine the position of the exodus event of God freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt and how that is so much the beginning and a cornerstone of God’s love for Israel and he says, I am going to send you back. This is what God is thinking. And even more so, not only sending them back, but potentially just destroying them. He says, your plans will cease. He mentions cities that were destroyed near Sodom and Gomorrah and he talks about destroying them that way. Your plans will cease. You will not have a future. God considers giving up. But, is that what he will do? Is that he will do? God continues and this is I think the best part of knowing God’s perspective towards us. If God is all worked up about what he could possibly do, and he takes a deep sigh and said, “How can I give you up?” Verse 8:

“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? Those are the cities that are referred to that are near Sodom and Gomorrah and they were destroyed. How can I destroy you, God says. “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man- the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.”

To finish out the chapter it says:

“They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord.

In verse 8 and 9 when God says, How can I give you up? This scale tips and God’s enduring love supersedes any of the previous thoughts that he had had. Humanly it is difficult to live in the kind of relationship that God was living in with Israel. The one side giving, giving, and giving and the other side taking, taking, taking. It is very difficult and he puts aside his feeling of anger and hurt and says in a way perhaps a human would send you back to Egypt. Perhaps the human nature would be to destroy you, but I am God, not man. The Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. That is God’s great decision. I will not come in wrath. That was his great decision with Israel and it is his great decision when he became the Holy One in our midst in Jesus lying in a manger.

So what is God’s perspective on becoming the Holy One among us? Complete joy. Complete joy. No resent. He wasn’t being forced. It was his pleasure. It was God’s pleasure to send Jesus to walk with us. It was his pleasure. Paul wrote in Colossians 1, verse 19. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” It was his pleasure. At Jesus’ baptism God said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” It was his pleasure. Jesus said, “Do not fear little flock for your Father has been well pleased to give you the kingdom.” It was his pleasure. After the angel of the Lord announced this shepherd that a savior would be born to them and that would be good news for all people, the heavenly response to this news was in chorus form and God orchestrated it and he was the director and the angels sang, Glory to God in the Highest and on earth to those on whom his favor rests. It was his pleasure. How can I give you up? God says. How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me. All my compassion is aroused. I will not come in wrath and that is the message of Christmas.

We sang this morning; “I give you my heart and soul. I live for you alone. Every breath I take, every moment I wake.” This is God’s song to you at Christmas. God says, “I give you my heart. I live for you alone. Every breath I take, every moment I wake, you are on the heart of God.” We also sang “the skies of mercy opened up.” That’s Christmas. The Lord did hear our cry. And at that particular point in history in the birth of Christ, God gave an unmistakable message. I love you. I am with you. I am for you. And if God is for us, who can be against us?

And you know what, God’s love for us is not dependent on whether we have been naughty or nice. God’s love for us is good for you and good for me, whether we have been faithful to him or whether we have not. God loves us period. Exclamation mark. And that exclamation mark of all history was placed in a manger for us.

The author Max Lucado writes, “One of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because he is fond of you. He likes having you around. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photo would be in it.”

You know at this time of year so many things are happening and we can get so distracted that we miss it. We lose not only the message, but God’s perspective on us, which is really at the heart of what it is all about. There is potential for us to know the reason for the season, but the significance of that can fade away because it just becomes an old familiar story. Particularly true for those who grew up in the church. Sing nice songs. Tell about a babe born in a manger. And it is just so much a part of your life, if that is true for you that we forget to pause and think really what happened. And maybe you are considering that for the first time. There is potential that our efforts to be good givers can consume all of our time and our thoughts, that we forget what God gave. And you know as well as I that Christmas can become a very difficult time for people. A difficult time as people might miss loved ones. Families are divided or there is loneliness and that is a real part of a lot of peoples Christmas. And if that is true, it can have the effect of numbing people out to even care about Christmas, because frankly when Christmas comes, they feel the pain even more. But hear the story anew. Stop to consider Gods gift. Open your heart of sadness to a God who cares for you deeply and wants no less for you than to know his comfort, care and love.

This is God’s perspective. I have called you by name from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my beloved. On you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth, knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you more than a mother cares for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you in every step. Wherever you will go, I will go with you. Wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy and drink that will quench your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own and I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse and yes even your child. Wherever you are, I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one. God’s perspective on Christmas. We are blessed. And may God’s perspective so permeate our time between now and Christmas and even so the entire year that we know God’s love for us. And may all of us have a blessed Christmas knowing this perspective. Amen.

Let us pray. Lord we give you thanks for your word and the ways in which it can come into our heart, give us the perspective that is yours and the love that you have for us. We are so grateful Lord that you have not come in wrath, that you have come in love and that you love each person here. And Lord I pray that as your word has been preached and is faithful to you Lord that you will turn our hearts, that you will change our hearts for all of us and for those who have never known your love, that they may accept it and they come to a growing knowledge of you as your personal Lord and Savior. In your precious name, we say thank you. Amen.

Benediction/Closing:

The giver of a gift desires that gift to be meaningful to the person who receives it. That is why I believe that God is particularly interested in your perspective of Christmas. God’s great decision and God’s expression of His love through the birth of Jesus Christ is for you. He wants us to get it. He wants us to enjoy it. He wants us to appreciate it. He wants it to the foundation of our lives for eternal salvation and the foundation of our lives for our relationship with Him and with others. May the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ be and abide with us all so that we might have a Christmas like we have never had before. Amen.