Second Sunday of Advent 2018
Ezekiel was prophesying shortly after 600 BC just as Judea was about to be crushed by the mighty Babylonian army. The reason? The Lord – who had been very slow to anger – had finally gotten fed up with Judea’s wicked ways. Evil king after evil king had led the people into corruption and idolatry – which included child sacrifice – on an epidemic scale. In verses 22.23-29, Ezekiel checks the “naughty” list of Israel’s leaders and finds extortion, bribery, murder, racism and more. Injustice of every kind was routine for the leaders of Judea.
God had warned the people through Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets for decades, but her leaders refused to listen, and now, every peaceful option had finally been exhausted. God was about to pour out wrath, a biblical term which means, “kick some booty,” and He was going to use Babylon’s army like a hammer to get the job done.
It’s no surprise, then, that Ezekiel’s prophecy today ends with a military reference:
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22.30)
We understand that a complete wall was the most important defense an ancient city had. If you can picture a castle surrounded by a large wall with towers and battlements around it, and scale that concept up to imagine a wall around an entire city, you have an idea of what the city of Jerusalem was like. It was strong and its people were safe from attack because it was a walled city.
But walls deteriorate over time, and it takes constant upkeep to ensure that the walls will hold when an enemy invades. Places where a wall might have crumbled would be called “gaps” and these “gaps” were life-threatening; a matter of national security.
To defend a city with a gap in the wall, you needed to put a strong military unit right at the point of that gap to repel attacks from the enemy. When Ezekiel gives this prophecy, God is saying that there is a spiritual gap in Israel’s spiritual wall where they have failed in the upkeep of righteousness and justice, and they are therefore now quite vulnerable to deadly attack. It gets worse – the Lord goes on and says here is no one who will stand in the gap, to stand up and speak out against idolatry and against injustice; and no one who will speak up for truth and for righteousness.
And such a gap remains stands today. From a spiritual perspective, there is a horrifying gap in the wall of human righteousness, and there is no one among us who is able to stand in that gap on our behalf.
In 1969 a husband and wife opened their first retail store together and named it the Gap as a way of expressing their solidarity with young people of the time who lamented a generation gap between the way they saw things and the way their parents saw things. Of course, generation gaps were nothing new, but that generation was particularly self-absorbed and affluent, and smart retailers knew how to appeal to their hubris. And so “The Gap” was born and become a huge success, drawing its name from the concept of a generation gap.
Now, I would like to propose that there is now – and has been since the time of the fall – a different kind of generation gap. I’ll call it a REgeneration gap.
In other words, there is a gap between what we were meant to be in the Garden and who we are now after the fall. Humanity degenerated as a species because of Adam’s sin, and you and I continue to degenerate individually because of our own sin. No matter how hard we try, we all fall short, we all sin, and we all miss the mark. The result is a gap between the degeneration we experience day to day in spite of our best efforts, and the regeneration God wants us to experience.
Let me give you an example of the gap. Let’s use the example of love. We know that love is real - right? But do we think that any of us loves the way we ought to 100% of the time? Of course not. We all fall short of the ideal of true, selfless love at least some of the time – perhaps even most of the time. The regeneration gap is the span between what is ideal and what really happens; the regeneration gap is the distance between the amazing holiness of God and the lame brokenness of humanity.
This “regeneration gap” is, sadly, something we in our humanity are unable to remedy on our own. Religion can’t do it. Philosophy can’t do it. Consumerism can’t do it. And the government sure can’t fix the regeneration gap!
The regeneration gap is what Isaiah lamented when he said:
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6.5)
There is no one, no a single member of Adam’s race who is able to fix the problem. According to the Scriptures we are fighting a losing battle if we try to be good little boys and girls on our own power. We need help, and we need it in a big way!
Have I ever got good news for you today. There is one person who has the wherewithal to stand in the gap. That person is so madly in love with you that they would give up everything, even their own life to stand in the gap for you where you cannot stand for yourself.
I’d like to introduce you to the Gap Kid, none other than Christ the Lord, the newborn king. Merry Christmas.
The Gap Kid
There is an old tale about a man who fell into a deep pit. He was unable to climb out of the pit himself for the pit was deep and the walls were miry clay. Exhausted, the man cried out for help. A philosopher heard his cry, and looking down into the pit encouraged the man to pretend he wasn’t really in a pit at all, that it was just a matter of perspective. The man tried that for a while, but the pit still seemed awfully real to him, especially on cold nights. So he eventually cried out for help again. This time a priest came by and looked into the pit. He shook his head in disgust at the man, and berated the man for being so wicked as to fall into a pit. Then the priest told the man that he needed to try harder. The man tried that for a while, but clawing at the walls of clay just made him feel more and more dirty and hopeless. So the man cried out again for help. This time Jesus came by and without hesitation hopped into the pit with the man and said, “Climb on my back. Let’s get out of here.”
Sometimes, if you want a job done right you have to do it yourself. And that is precisely what God did – when we could not rescue ourselves, God rescued us.
This is really what Christmas is all about. At Christmas we celebrate the “incarnation” - which is a fancy word to say God came to us, climbed into the pit to lift us out of it, out of the miry clay of selfishness and sin.
Jesus was the original Gap Kid. Don’t let the diapers fool you: that baby in the hay is the warrior who’s here to rescue everybody who will receive it. The real Christmas miracle is not that a virgin had a baby, but that God himself loved us so much that He himself bridged that impossibly wide regeneration gap so that we could be made whole again and enjoy Him forever.
Christmas is all about bridging the gap. And it isn’t a mistake that the Bible uses military terms to describe the way that Jesus stands in the gap on our behalf. Christmas is our spiritual D-Day, and Bethlehem is our Omaha Beach.
And a sneak peek at next week’s sermon on “Herods of Judea,” you can bet there was resistance to such a military operation – there still is. Instead of machine gun nests manned by SS troops, the first Christmas features a villainous homicidal king ready to slaughter every child in Bethlehem. Make no mistake, the battle of Christmas will be remembered as the turning point in the great war for our souls, when the one and only Son of God came to earth and stood in the gap for you and for me. Yippee-ki-yay and Merry Christmas!
“He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.” (Isaiah 59.16-17)
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Stand in the Gap
This calls for a celebration! But HOW should we celebrate the battle of Christmas?
Does it begin and end with gifts and pies and candy?Or is there more we could do to commemorate our liberation from the forces of evil?
Please don’t get me wrong. Presents and dinners and Christmas carols and lights are all wonderful, appropriate and fine things that should be enjoyed. But these ornamental details in and of themselves are not exactly the celebration God is looking for.
And what does the Lord require of us this Christmas? That we stand in the gap along with him today and each day.
And how do we stand in the gap? Micah 6.8 tells us that the Lord simply wants us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.
We do justly when we serve our fellow man, when we stand up against injustice, when we fight corruption, and when we choose to love the alien and foreigner in our midst.
We love mercy when we intercede for the people around us who are still stuck in the miry clay of selfishness and sin and when we introduce them to Jesus. Not sweet little baby Jesus, but Jesus the liberator.
And finally, we walk humbly with our God when we open our ears and our hearts to His Holy Spirit, when we pray without ceasing, and make room for Him in the overbooked hotels of our hearts.
I hope you have a holly jolly Christmas. I really do. But even more, I hope you have a holy, joyful Christmas as you celebrate the amazing love of God for all mankind as you stand in the gap alongside Him.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not
let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5.1)