Summary: If Israel’s priests were accountable for Israel’s ignorance and wickedness, what does that mean for all believers as priests and pastors in particular?
[Note: I felt led to preach this sermon during the period leading up to Christmas.] Today is the beginning of the Advent season in churches that follow the ecclesiastical calendar. It celebrates the past, present, and future of God’s coming into the world. In fact, “advent” originates in the Latin root for coming (venire) combined with the preposition “toward” (ad). So, this season celebrates the historical fact that the Word became flesh and came toward humanity in Jesus—both the baby of Bethlehem and the Christ of Calvary. For believers, the season also celebrates the present reality that our Savior lives within us through the miracle of the Holy Spirit, the method by which He comes to us in the present. And for those who believe God’s Word, we also look to God’s future coming toward us when our Lord comes upon a cloud, demonstrating power and glory.
The malls may be filled with Muzak telling us that “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” but this is the season that churches should be full of carols proclaiming that “Jesus Has Come to Us,” hymns describing that “Jesus Resides in Us,” and choruses sharing that “Jesus Will Yet Come Back to Us!” What a perfect message for celebration! At every time and in perfect ways, “God comes to us.”
But this Advent season, I am reminded of the message of prophet from 800 years before Jesus’ birth. This prophet asked, “What is the Day of Lord to you? It is darkness and not light.” This morning, as the first Advent candle was lit and we remembered the “Light of the World” and the promise of HOPE, I’m afraid I hear the counterpoint to that message of hope, Amos’ question (Amos 5:18) rings in my brain. Already during this Advent season, I’ve heard a minister tell his congregation not to worry about the judgment inherent when our Lord comes again, but merely to focus on the joyous promise of His coming. And I wished I had been able to ask him, “What is this coming Advent to you? It may well be darkness instead of light.”
I hope you’ll all keep listening (or reading), even though I doubt very many other pastors are looking at the message of Hosea in the light of Advent. It isn’t a very “Christmas”-style message. Yet, I feel God’s direction in sharing this text and its troubling aspects with you. Someone here (or out there in cyberspace) needs to hear it and grapple with it. Somewhere in this litigation that God is prophetically bringing against the People of God must be hope for a settlement that works in our favor. After all, that’s the real hope of Advent, isn’t it? Once again, as we explore the text, I’ll be reading from my translation of the Hebrew text and encourage you to follow in the translation with which God most blesses you.
Hosea 4:1 Hear the word of the Lord, children of Israel, because (this word is) a lawsuit belonging to Yahweh with the ones dwelling in the land because (they are) without truth and without covenant love and without knowledge of God in the land.
Listen to those initial charges in God’s lawsuit against Israel. They lack truth, relationship with God, and experiential knowledge of God. Does that sound familiar? Does that resonate with modern society? There is a school of philosophy that styles itself as Pragmatist. Within that school are people like the late Richard Rorty who say that the question is not whether we are talking about something with intrinsic meaning or our words express real/unreal problems, but whether the resolution of the debate will have an effect in practice. In short, be useful by his definition. It doesn’t matter if “God” is real or unreal to such a philosopher; it matters if “God” solves a problem in our lives. It doesn’t matter if there is any authentic Truth or not, merely that what we discover works for us. And as one French philosopher called him on this point in a debate, it doesn’t matter whether there is real evil or not, merely whether it seems evil to us. Frankly, when we lose sight of what is evil, we’re on a downhill slide to real torment.
Now, the bulk of the population may not be able to phrase this quite as eloquently and precisely as a trained philosopher would, but there are lots of people who confront the question of God with a “What does it matter to me?” attitude. Like Herod in Jesus’ day and Woody Allen in our day, they refuse to believe unless they see a miracle. There is a dearth of Truth in our society because we no longer value the Truth. We value what seems to work—in the SHORT term. If lies and dirty tricks work in the short term, we go for it. If misleading accounting practices or “bait and switch” marketing works, we use it and proclaim that everybody does it. Even the media that once held such high ideals for publishing and broadcasting the Truth is now only concerned with printing, posting, and broadcasting what works for them. There is a dearth of wisdom in our society because we no longer have that relationship with God as the author of Proverbs maintained (“The fear/reverence of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom.”). We don’t know what’s important. We don’t know what’s important enough to LIVE for, much less to DIE for. We don’t know what’s important enough to KEEP much less to SACRIFICE. As a result, life becomes humdrum because we have no wisdom. And finally, the reason we don’t understand or seek after the Truth and the reason we don’t know what to LIVE for is because we have cut ourselves off from the guidance, energy, and strength provided to us by God. Without a relationship with God, we don’t know God and we don’t seek God for the same reason a thief doesn’t try to find the police. We don’t know God and we don’t seek God because we know encountering God will change us and humanity is change-resistant. But let’s read on.