SERMON 12/24/06: Everlasting Father

Isaiah 9:1-9
John 10:7-17
John 5:19-24

Isaiah 9 says that,

“2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor {all-knowing and loving}, Mighty God {all-powerful and accessible}, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

Over 700 years prior to Jesus’ birth, these words were written that point toward the truth the Jesus embodied. He was the child born, the son given, upon whom the Eternal Kingdom is fulfilled. And this season comes to a climax over the next two days as we celebrate as individuals, families, and as a people the reality of Jesus in our lives and this world.

One of the highlights of this season for me is to receive and read Christmas cards from friends near and far. I particularly enjoy reading those one page updates many people send out. Even people I have not seen since grade school, I get a big kick out of hearing what they are doing and if their hair has withstood the onslaught of father time. My fear is that the current color of my 39 year old hair brings great joy, relatively speaking, to my friends and family who receive our picture.

During this time of year, it is important that we reconnect with friends and family. So important, that it appears to me to be a theme of this season. We went to see the Horse Parks light display on Thursday evening and at the very end there was a sign that said, “going home for Christmas”. The Blood Center sent me an email to donate blood so that I could “send someone home for the holidays.”

I personally have a huge spot in my heart for homecoming stories. No matter whether they be TV commercials, movies, or news stories. There is something about people being reunited that moves me every time. I am sure we have all seen one of those Coke Christmas commercials at some point where the man in uniform shows up at the Christmas gathering home from war. And they all run out to meet him. I cry every time! Every time I just break down. I simply love stories of homecoming. Let me ask you a question, “Would there be a homecoming without a home?” Of course not.

And it is my contention that home just doesn’t happen by itself. There must be something special that makes us want to go home. It takes love, and hard work, and coconut cream pie, and love, and chocolate cream pie and special relationships, and cornbread dressing. You get the picture? There is usually somebody or somebodies that make the home what it is. Those faithful matriarchs and patriarchs of our personal families created our homes. I have several, I am sure you do to.

I believe that is what the prophet had in mind when he said that this child would grow to be the Everlasting Father. Our caregiver. The person through whom our eternal HOME is created and cared for. The person in whom the invitation to come to a place of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and spiritual power emanates. The person in whom love flows to all the children of God. When Jesus described his role as caregiver, he did so by equating it to a shepherd and a flock of sheep. A context that held rich meaning for those in his audience. Sometimes today we have to dig a bit to understand it. Today, I would like for us to do some digging in John 10.

Before we turn to the text, I want to make two sidenotes. Please do not confuse Jesus as the Everlasting Father with Father in the Trinity. I believe that Jesus being described as our Father helps us to understand the role he is to play in our world. He is given authority and power from God the Father to care for those in this world.

Secondly, I know that the term Father carries a variety of meanings and emotions. Many wonderful and warm, some not so much. I have a good friend who is unwilling to acknowledge the Father image in Christ because of a difficult relationship she has had with her own Father. She is not alone. Many in this very room have similar stories. The last thing you want to hear is that Jesus is the Everlasting Father. You had one father figure that didn’t work out, why try another. I would ask that you hang in with me today. Do not prejudge or preclude my comments. As we look at the Scripture, we will see that Jesus draws a big distinction between the Good and Bad shepherds. This is done for a reason in my opinion. We must strive hard to not throw our own personal net too far or wide. I believe we miss such a large part of the redemptive story when we don’t consider Christ’s caregiving role in our life. It is our childlike faith that is the key to our spiritual journey. It is our ability to be vulnerable with and dependent upon Christ that unlocks a pathway to a deeper relationship with him.

This journey always begins with Jesus reaching out to us and providing the groundwork for faith to grow. Jesus tells us in verse 10, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” The Good Shepherd is concerned with protecting the sheep from harm and providing them pasture in which to be nourished for a healthy existence. As Eternal Father, Jesus has been given the authority and the power to help humanity realize its ultimate potential for which is was created. In so doing, Jesus provides you and me with the opportunity for everlasting life by the way of faith and the opportunity to live abundantly both now and forever more. That is the home that Jesus came to give us. That is the family he invites us into. As the good parent, Jesus takes on the responsibility himself to providing the means, the invitation, and the way to eternal and abundant life.

The means is provided through sacrifice. As a good parent would, Jesus sacrifices for us. In verses 9 and 11 Jesus says that I am the door says Jesus. Shepherds would sleep in front of the pen’s entrance to protect them. By laying down in the opening, the enemy of the sheep would have to go through them to get in. And likewise, the sheep could not wander off. What a great picture for us this morning. Jesus lays his life down for us. He becomes the door through which we gain entrance to our Eternal Home. He also acts as a shield to protect us. That puts his death on the Cross into a whole new light.

The invitation is personal. Verse 14 as well as verse 3, Jesus tells us that his sheep know and hear the shepherds voice and respond to it. They are willing to follow him to safety because they have been with him so long that they develop a trust in him. Being dependent upon and vulnerable to Christ becomes second nature when there is a deep and abiding relationship with him.

The way is provided through Grace which at its core is unconditional love. It is here that Jesus contrasts the good shepherd with the hireling. The hireling was only expected to fend off no more than one “wolf’ at a given time. If more than one wolf appeared, the hireling could in good conscious not risk his life to protect the sheep. Not so with the good shepherd. He does not run off at the first hint of trouble. Rather, the good shepherd is in the relationship for the long haul, not dependent upon situation but dependent upon his relationship to the sheep.

Max Lucado in his book No Wonder They Call Him the Savior tells a story that encapsulates what I am trying to convey.

Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture–taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.

It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did.
Max Lucado , No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, Multnomah Press, 1986, pp. 158-9.

You see, God sent Jesus to this world. Starting in a manger, ending on a cross for one purpose. To create for you and for me a home. A home that knows no end. A home that knows no condemnation. A home full of love. A home that grows us to be the people we were meant to be. And Jesus, as the head of this home, spared no personal cost to convey this message. The invitation stands: Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Your eternal Father stands ready to receive you into his arms. Tis the season to go home.