Scripture Passage – Isaiah 40:9-11 and Matthew 21:6-9
Description – The Third Sermon of the 2010 Advent Series
(Slide one) (Introduction included a dramatic reading from the Advent Series ‘While Shepherd’s Watched,’ by Arden W. Mead. © 1999 Creative Communication for the Parish)
(Show video clip called “Showing Off” http://www.sermonspice.com/product/20852/showing-off)
Now I know that you are all wondering what the connection is between the dramatic reading we have all just heard and this video clip from the Andy Griffith show. Well there is a statement in our dramatic reading this morning that caught my attention when I first read it. It is early in the dialogue between David and his son, the next king of Ancient Israel as they go back in time to David’s shepherding career and David says to Solomon:
And you don’t understand, Solomon. You probably can’t. Understand what, Father? What it is to care for sheep … in their wanderings, in their helplessness. What it is to be totally responsible for their well-being. You’ve told me about the lion, Father, and the bear. Not to mention wolves. Yes, I’ve TOLD you. But you haven’t been out there … out in the fields at night.
To me Opie is like a Solomon and Andy like a David in the scene we have just watched. Opie speaks, like Solomon, of something he does not know and Andy, like David, speaks of something he has experienced.
Now Opie is trying to impress a girl with his father’s position and office because it is a key part of the town life but in doing so he is anything but humble. He has some idea of what he is talking about, but he does not understand what it truly means to be the Sheriff. He (Opie) inflates his importance within the scheme of things. “That is the door where I take the trash out.”
Solomon grew up much differently than David. He did not have to spend time out in the fields defending sheep from attacks. Solomon grew up in a palace with the pleasures of wealth and power. One environment naturally creates an attitude of humility. The other one does not.
As we continue our journey during this Advent season with the theme of Shepherds and gifts, we stop this morning and visit ancient Israel’s shepherd king, David and we take time to unwrap the vital and quiet gift of humility which allows us to better see, hear, and obey God.
Our texts for this morning are Isaiah 40:9-11 which says:
“Messenger of good news, shout to Zion from the mountaintops! Shout louder to Jerusalem—do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!” Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in all his glorious power. He will rule with awesome strength. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.”
And Matthew 21:6-9 which says:
“The two disciples did as Jesus said. They brought the animals to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
Most of the crowd spread their coats on the road ahead of Jesus, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. He was in the center of the procession, and the crowds all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise God in highest heaven!”
Images of humility are apparent in these texts. In the first one the image of a shepherd gently holding a lamb, perhaps injured or sick, “close to his heart” Isaiah says, is one that reflects a compassionate care in which humility, not arrogance is the norm. In the second text, Jesus enters Jerusalem, not with the royalty of a monarch or Roman emperor, who would have come on a majestic horse or in a chariot, but with humility of what we might call today a servant leader of which humility is a key characteristic as symbolized by the young colt or donkey.
(Slide three) Why is humility a necessary gift?
In Colossians 3:12 we read these words, “Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
Humility is a necessary gift because it is a mark of a Christian. In this segment of scripture Paul outlines the characteristics of a Christian and humility appears alongside mercy, kindness, gentleness, and patience.
Humility appears more than once in Paul’s writing as characteristic of a Christ follower. We also read in Ephesians 4:2 “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
A good shepherd loves his/her sheep and will do just about anything to care for it. David loved God and the nation of Israel and did just about anything for it.
But there was, up to a certain time and situation, a humbleness about David’s love and leadership for Israel. While he became famous, there was also, I think, a quiet humbleness in him as well.
But then, he went off the mark and, in a moment of passion, failed to live up to the standards of God. He paid dearly for such failure and it affected the lives of others in dramatic and painful ways.
As we ponder for a moment David’s terrible failure, I want us to think about the essence of humility. What is humility, really?
St Augustine once said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” Charles Spuregon, a preacher of another century said this about humility, “Humility is to make a right estimate of one’s self.”
Humility, as has often been said, is not filling yourself with low esteem and thus allowing yourself to become a door mat. Nor it is a vocal “ah shucks” attitude either.
When humility is in operation, you do not notice it. It is a quiet gift.
Kent Crockett tells the story of a church who decided to form a committee to find the most humble person within its congregation. He says, “many names were submitted and numerous candidates evaluated. Finally, the committee came to a unanimous decision. They selected a quiet little man who always lived in the background and had never taken credit for anything he had done. They awarded him the “Most Humble” button for his faithful service… However, the next day they had to take it away from him because he pinned it on.”
Humility is a lot like love. It is hard to describe but you know it when you see it. It is a slippery quality that cannot be held tightly for the moment you try to hang onto it, you have to have it taken away!
David’s glaring lack of humility eventually caused a deep rift in his family toward the end of his reign and life. It set up a dynamic that perhaps could have been avoided if he would have stayed faithful to God.
Another thing that I notice in our two main texts is that both the ancient Hebrews of the prophet and those of Jesus’ day were not expecting a humble savior but an exultant and powerful Messiah. They were expecting someone with great power and authority.
They wanted a new king on the throne that David and Solomon once inhabited who would help them rise to the greatness they once had experienced as a nation. They were expecting someone powerful and effective to come and save them.
The same holds true today not just in business, or government, or our schools but in the church and even in, our personal life. We seek someone powerful and influential who is going to set things straight and when they don’t… we crucify them.
Humility it seems has little use for us. And yet when these so called saviors leave our businesses or churches or communities behind, there is sometimes a trail of broken wreckage left in their wake.
William Arthur Ward once said, “Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service, and character.”
The baby in the manger is our savior. He is our redeemer. He came with a different agenda. It was (is) a spiritual agenda. It is about our being made right with God and one day returning, if you will, to Eden. It is about our character, not our status that changes from one day to the next, nor our influence which comes and goes throughout our life, nor our wealth that can be here one moment and gone the next.
Humility, like faith and forgiveness we have studied in the past two weeks, and simplicity like we will study next Sunday, God willing, has to do with our character and our souls. Jesus did not come as the babe in the manger to give us more power or status or wealth. He came to change us.
He came to change us at a level far below the surface of our lives where the currents of good and evil churn and create a turbulence that comes to the surface in either an embrace of holiness or the throes of evil We choose, daily which to embrace.
So what does all of this mean for us today?
(Slide four) In their book @Sticky Jesus, which is about how to live for God in the world of Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and Google, Tami Heim and Toni Birdsong talk about the value and necessity of humility in our online presence. In fact they devote one chapter to this issue of humility and offer some practical things that I think are appropriate to today’s message.
(Slide four a) They make five valid points about humility: it reaches out, it seeks to serve, models gratitude, has a gentle tone, thinks less of self. And they make a wonderfully valid summary of humility and these five things when they say, “Does humility mean you can’t express self-confidence? No, not at all. Just know there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence can talk a lot, but that talk tends to inspire others and be concerned with igniting excellence in others. Arrogance tends to be self-absorbed and oblivious to the needs, insights, or aspirations of others.”
The baby in the manger had self-confidence and not arrogance. He knew who’s He was (and is) and that knowledge affected His attitude. He did not come to be popular or fashionable. He came to help us get back home to God.
David, the shepherd king, forgot, in a moment of passion, his humility before God and it was in humility, after being confronted by Nathan the prophet, that he confessed his sin and sought God’s forgiveness. Psalm 51 reminds us of this.
Pride is the opposite of humility. Pride seeks to build one’s self up at the expense of others. But we are called to be humble.
This morning, I ask you which of these five things do you need to work on with God’s help? Do you need to be more focused on caring for others, or perhaps to serve more, or to be more grateful? Maybe you need to be thinking less of yourself and more of others.
So why is humility a necessary gift? Without it we lose sight of God, just as David did and Solomon as well. Humility gets our eyes off of ourselves and on to the Lord, the baby in the manger, our savior and redeemer.
Let us respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit in these matters and respond to Him as we need to. Amen.