December 8, 2013 Second Sunday in Advent
Peace for the Asking
Isaiah 55, Psalm 25, Romans 15:4-13, St. Luke 21:25-33
Delwyn was a short, skinny convict in his 30s, pale as paste, who hailed from South Dakota but had run afoul of the law in Texas. I met him in a prison I visited on a weekly basis for many years.
Each time I entered, Delwyn would greet me with a smile and each time I asked him how he was he would beam brighter and say, “I am blessed!” He was one of those folks in whom the Holy Spirit appears to have taken up residence and then turned on all the lights and left every one of them burning.
And I encountered Delwyn many times. Long after he had completed the 18-month pre-release program Prison Fellowship operates in this particular prison, there he sat. Completing the program places no obligation whatsoever on the parole board to grant a man’s release.
Year after year, some prisoners receive a set-off, as it’s called, and after they have done everything required of them they remain on the unit for an eternity. Delwyn was one of these. I don’t know the number of years he languished in that prison but I do recall somebody telling me, “Delwyn’s got the record.”
He had served more time since entering the program than any other inmate before him. He may still hold that record.
My role as a volunteer at that time was to teach a journalism class and to oversee the prison’s monthly newsletter. When I taught my guys how to conduct an interview, I wanted to add practical experience to the instruction. I told them to bring a volunteer to class, an inmate who would sit for a mock interview.
One week, I walked in and there sat Delwyn, smiling. I asked how he was and he said, “I am blessed!” I assigned one of our class members to do the interview.
Now, asking a prisoner about his crime can be a delicate business and I coached my guys to probe gently and, if they met resistance, to move on. A mock interview wasn’t worth creating bad blood. These guys live in confining quarters.
The interviewer went to work and Delwyn did not balk in the least. In fact, his story gushed out like water from a fire hydrant. Still a teenager, he lived with a female relative and her two sons. The woman told Delwyn and her younger son that the older son, a grown man, was demon-possessed. She said there was only one way to eliminate the demon.
One night, she led Delwyn and her younger son to the man’s room and while he slept they fell upon him with hammers and murdered him.
As Delwyn spilled out the story, he might have been describing a day’s work in the prison laundry. Not a sniffle. He said he had confessed and repented and made peace with God; he could do no more.
I found myself wondering often afterward if it were truly possible to put away an act so heinous and find peace. Can it be? How can it be?
The answer comes thundering down upon us today from the eighth century before Christ in the voice of the prophet Isaiah: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. How much higher are His thoughts and His ways than ours? “As the heavens are higher than the earth.”
Man’s shriveled understanding does not bind God. God knows a mercy beyond our imaginings, a grace above our dreams. With God, all things are possible . . . and Delwyn’s salvation is one of those things.
In this season of Advent, we celebrate the arrival in the world of the Prince of Peace. Peace pours off of Him in a torrent and falls like a spring shower on those He has made in His image. We bathe in His peace. It washes away the grime of our sin and leaves us blushing like babes in the pink of new life.
Those many centuries before the Prince of Peace came into His world, our Father told of this advent by the word of His prophet Isaiah. Isaiah publishes the gospel of peace in his time and place to disobedient Israel, which is under threat from a foreign power, urging trust in God for protection.
But his words reverberate through the corridors of time, down to the tribe of Judah in captivity in Babylon two centuries later and to those who return from exile. And, finally, to us as well, universalizing a message addressed first to those threatened with bondage to a human enemy and last to those under the yoke of sin.
Isaiah’s gospel unfolds the coming of Immanuel, God With Us (7:14) – not a disembodied principle or an unknowable being that hovers out there somewhere but a loving God who becomes one of us that He might know our temptations and trials as we know them.
The prophet declares Him the Prince of Peace and the author of an everlasting peace (9:6-7) He will establish at the end of history. This is shalom, the full measure of everything God has promised His people by His covenants. This shalom is the great blessing the priests of God in ancient Israel poured out on His people.
Is it not still so today? “The peace of God which passeth all understanding . . .” It is the peace God provides that establishes us and preserves us in the knowledge and love of God. How do we attain it?
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Can it be? God’s richest blessings on offer at no cost? Is God running a soup kitchen? Indeed He is not. The price of peace is staggering . . . but because God has declared it so His prophet can pronounce our bill paid. Immanuel of chapter 7 is the Prince of Peace of chapter 9 who is the suffering Servant of chapters 52 and 53. He pays the price in blood.
And so, peace for all! But no. In chapter 48 we read, “’There is no peace,’” says the Lord, “’for the wicked’” (v. 22).
Are not all wicked, damned by their sin? Oh, yes, if not for what God has done. In chapters 54 and 55 the prophet celebrates the saving work of the Servant. We see first the effects of that work, the healing of estrangement and despair.
Servanthood is much on the prophet’s mind, for it is both the way of salvation and the fruit of it. The heritage of God’s people is righteousness. “And their righteousness is from Me,” says the Lord. Now comes the exhortation to receive this righteousness from God that will bring with it restoration and peace.
How can it be? Despite their sins, the people of God can look heavenward now and see not the contorted face of the wrathful God who punished their disobedience with deportation and exile but the serene countenance of a loving Father who will welcome them into the very city of God.
The Servant has purchased their peace. Those who accept this free gift can enter into the inestimable privilege of servanthood.
“Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live.” Come to God in obedience. Your obligation and your reward are the same, faithful service to your Master. Claim the Servant’s sacrifice as your own and become His fellow heir. Carry that sacrifice to the Father and present it to Him as payment for your sins.
“And I will make an everlasting covenant with you – the sure mercies of David.”
That covenant God made with David contained irrevocable promises of eternal mercy and peace that would be fulfilled through a Messiah who would come from the line of David. This Davidic King, we now see, is the suffering Servant. Is the eternal kingdom to be ruled by a Servant?
David the king was a witness to the power and glory of God. But now we see that he did not build a nation for himself but a platform to declare the glory of God as King of all nations. David’s royal heir will take His place upon that throne and rule over every nation. But He will not conquer with spear and bow as His illustrious father did.
He will overcome the nations with His incomprehensible, sacrificial love. Those “sure mercies of David” will spill out upon God’s people and overflow onto all nations. The Prince of Peace is David’s Son, the Servant who conquers to pardon and whose pardon imposes peace upon His creation.
Go to Him! Go to Him! His pardon is yours for the asking. Ask and ye shall receive.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found . . . Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord . . . and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
Who may gain this pardon? He who humbles himself and makes petition for the pardon that proffers peace. Is Delwyn forever beyond the pale of God’s peace? Was King David, adulterer and murderer, too depraved to enter into it? Who are you, o man, to decide? Are God’s thoughts your thoughts? Are your ways God’s ways?
“My word . . . shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please.” God’s infallible word reveals His purpose and His plan, but it does more. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (St. John 1:1).
God’s Word puts on flesh and dwells among men. God’s Word acts in history, bending history to His will. God’s Word puts God’s plan in motion and achieves His purpose, and that purpose is pardon.
With pardon comes peace, the great blessing. Peace upon the entire creation, peace that knows no end. This is the peace He has left with us, not peace as man gives – no parole board, willing or not, can dispense it -- but as only the Prince of Peace can give (St. John 14:27).
"For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands . . . And it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
Giving glory to God is our very purpose in creation. When we live according to our purpose we align ourselves with our Creator and we reflect His glory as the moon gathers light from the sun and distributes it on the planet.
The great banquet God spreads before us, saying, “Let your soul delight itself in abundance,” is the peace that comes from the pardon that is ours because our Lord has paid the price in full. His great heart yearns to pardon abundantly all who will forsake their wicked ways and return to Him.
All He asks is that we ask. And that is all He asks off any of us and all of us.
These days, Delwyn lives in a town not far from Fort Worth and drives a delivery truck. I had not thought of him for some time but on Thanksgiving Day I happened upon a letter he posted on Facebook:
Dear Family, Today, I'm spending the day with Mother and my brother's wife and son; Carrie & Caleb. What a blessing!
And I'm thankful for who I belong to; To Jesus; to my family; to my friends.
You may know the Lord has left me one dozen chickens to care for, and how one of the hens got her leg broken when I was tossing logs off the wood pile, last year.
So, `MaryLu` was in the basement (hospital) for a couple months. I prayed for her, and anointed her leg with oil. The wound stayed clean, and healed amazingly.
Anyway, it's been cold this week; and the chickens cuddle up together, in the hen house, each night. Before dusk, is feeding time and the other day one of the hens came running up to me! All the others were busy eating (I mean, getting after it!), and here comes MaryLu. Bending over, I said; "Well now MaryLu all the food's over there, Girl".
She came right up, reaching to climb in my lap. So I picked her up and brought her inside, feeding her at the place her food and water was kept last year.
Twenty minutes later, I came back downstairs and she was looking around for a place to fly up and roost for the night. Picking her up, I sat her in the little bed of hay & towel. Guess what she did;
She layed right down and began pecking the hay up close to her. Before I went to bed, I went down to talk to her and pet her a minute.
And ya know what? None of the other hens got treated like that, but I would have picked any of them up if they had come to me.
You ever wonder why The Lord our God treats some people so up close and personal? Why does He take some in His very hand, and gently place them into His favorite place for them; into the very dwelling place He stays? And so many others just stay on the ground fending for themselves?
Tell me if you know.
And tell me if ya love me too, like I do you.
Take care now, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!
Yours Truly, Delwyn.
So wrote Delwyn the murderer. So wrote Delwyn, a man who did forsake his wicked ways and run to God and ask for His eternal pardon. So wrote Delwyn, a man at peace. Amen.