(sermon note: 12-05 sermon note)
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a new life form that was discovered on the planet Mars. It was a huge humanoid figure, almost 200 feet tall while seated. And when it was discovered that’s what it was doing…just sitting there. The rise and fall of the creature’s chest was evident, but it didn’t seem to do anything else. Scientists came from all over to investigate this strange being. They became more and more frustrated at the total lack of movement from the creature. Finally, one of the scientists looked up at the creature and shouted out, “Do you think we will ever understand you?!!?” The creature suddenly started moving. He rose ponderously onto his two enormous feet. His hand rubbed his chin. Then he finally said, “No.” The creature sat down and resumed its previous position. The scientist slapped his forehead and said, “OF COURSE!! It only stands to reason!”
Of course, it only stands to reason. I know, a play on a familiar expression but also a teachable play. Here we have a new creature in a new land, content with being misunderstood yet willing to rouse himself and engage the scientist’s question. New life arising in an otherwise desolate wasteland…of course it would be misunderstood! What reasoning life would actually choose to spring forth in such dire conditions?! Perhaps that’s why reason is developed over time. All life must first begin unreasoned, unchoosing. Life is a nonsensical explosion on a barren landscape. Life just doesn’t make sense. The creature doesn’t understand it’s own existence, why should the scientist?
In our reading for today, we are presented with another prophet living in a barren landscape, the same barren landscape as last week’s prophet. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel were living in a time when God’s beloved people had been exiled to Babylon for their dissolute living. Hopelessness and despair had settled on the people and both prophets were given opportunities to speak God’s hope into the situation. We heard Jeremiah encourage the Israelites to plant gardens and raise families right where God allowed them to be exiled. This week we hear Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones, representative of the hopeless situation that the Israelites had found themselves in. God recognizes their lifeless situation and has Ezekiel breath new life into it. Our God is a God of mercy if nothing else. Our God doesn’t abandon us to our lifeless, hopeless situations. Why? Because our God is a God of life and renewal. When life gets stagnant and death is all around, our God steps in with his most blessed gift, that nonsensical explosion of new life. God had Ezekiel breathe new life into those dead bones. God creates new life in barren situations!
This is a fine message to reflect on as we await the coming of our Lord, Jesus. This year’s trials and tribulations are quickly coming to an end and for some of us the trials far outweighed the tribulations. Some of us have found ourselves in valleys of dry bones with nothing but hopelessness and despair to keep us company. God sees our valleys and wants to breathe new life into them. With Jesus comes new life and new hope. Recall the words of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17) In Christ, God breathes new life into dry bones. In Christ, God creates new opportunities to grow and bear fruit. In Christ, God shows his great love for us! In Christ, we have an opportunity to lay our burdens from this year on him and free ourselves to take on the trials and tribulations of a new year. Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (11:28-30) What a gift to be freed from the burdens of the year! What a gift to be given hope in our hopeless situations!
God once again shows us his ability to do the impossible. The prophet Isaiah says on behalf of God, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (43:19) The wildernesses and deserts of our lives may not seem to have any ways out but God invariably makes ways. We’re lifting up the idea of peace this week with our second Advent candle. When I think of the impossible, I think of the end of intractable conflicts. I think of friendships growing from enmity, of charity blossoming from selfishness. I think of those impossible choices we can make to put the needs of others before our own during this holiday season, to truly celebrate Jesus is the way he wants us to—with compassion, patience, and understanding. I think of neighbors and families coming together, despite—or even because of—their differences. But most of all, I think of communities that truly want to heal; and do so because, through God, it is within their power to do the impossible. Think of that relative you aren’t looking forward to seeing at Christmas, and make a real effort this year, in God’s name. Spend a little less on things you don’t really need and a little more on helping someone who has nothing. Pay less attention to your own self-doubt and a little more attention to the people in your life. That ever elusive peace of which we pray for will be revealed!
Our God is a God of making the impossible possible. Our God is a God of hope and new life. Our God is a God of peace and wellness. All of these gifts can be found in and through Jesus. So let us give thanks for the gift of him whom we await, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.