+ Wednesday of Advent 4 – December 21st, 2011 +
Text: Genesis 32:22-23
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The last time Jacob checked in at the Hard Rock Hotel, he had a dream – angels ascending and descending between the throne of God and earth. No sweet dreams this time. He was afraid. And for good reason. Tomorrow’s the family reunion. But this was nothing like the Waltons. The last time he saw his brother Esau, he had tricked his father, stolen the birthright, and hit the road for fear of his life.
So there’s Jacob beside the river, all alone in the dark, wondering if the generous gift of animals was enough to appease Esau’s wrath, worrying about the next day being his last…when God comes to pick a fight with Jacob. But this was no dream.
“A man wrestled with Jacob until daybreak.” It took Jacob fighting all night to figure out what we, the reader, know all along: this man was the Lord.
But all Jacob knew was that he was in a fight for his life. So, he fought tooth and nail. As darkness turned to daylight, Jacob was still holding his own. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob he touched his hip socket and put Jacob’s hip out of place as he wrestled Jacob. The only way the fisticuffs came to an end was when Jacob’s “stranger” played the divinity card. God doesn’t always fight fair.
Here is the remarkable thing: not that God appeared as a man, not that he picked a fight with Jacob, but that God lost. The ant bested the elephant. Jacob whipped the Almighty. Even after the Lord dislocated Jacob’s hip, he held on like a baby to its favorite toy. He outhit, outwrestled, outdid God. And here is the even more remarkable thing: not that Jacob won the fight, but that God delighted in losing.
Not so with man…we don’t like to lose. Not on the playground. Not at work. Not our petty arguments around the dinner table. Not our pride at church meetings. Not ever. Losing is weakness. No one wants a loser on their team. And we certainly don’t want a god who can lose either. Strong. Powerful. Mighty. Your wish is my command – now that’s a god I can believe in. So it goes with man. So it goes not with God. When it comes to fighting with and for his people, God is the biggest, and the happiest, loser.
For when God loses we win. And when we win; God wins. That’s the way it was for Jacob. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have fought with God and have prevailed.” Jacob is given a new name – Israel, the God-fighter. It was a fight for his very life. And he won. He saw God face-to-face and lived. A new name. A blessing and even a limp, that in his body he might carry a constant reminder that when God loses His people win.
God works the same for you. When God loses, you win.
But you will not you behold the victory until you see God’s power and majesty hidden in weakness and foolish humility.
You will not find God in the highest heavens…but in lowliness. In a branch shooting forth from the dead stump of Jesse’s tree. In a humble Virgin betrothed to a carpenter. In losing his life from the moment he’s born. For the glory of God in this world is not found in the courts of earthly kings, but in humanity’s deepest abyss. In the manger. In suffering. On the cross.
That’s what his first Advent is all about. Jesus is the new and greater Israel who’ll lose much more than a wrestling match. He fought and struggled with them year after year, but finally they prevailed. They would not let him go, but pinned him down, hands, feet, everything. And when dawn broke after his loss, he stepped forth to proclaim his people’s victory. Now he crowns you, his people with a new name, a new nature, a new life. In the crucified and resurrected Jesus, all people see God face to face.
So, you could very well call the Sacrament of the Altar, your Peniel, for here you see greater things than Jacob – God face-to-face in the bread and wine; here your life is delivered.
That is our joy in Advent and Christmas. Christ comes ready to fight for our very lives. And once again it is not only remarkable that God becomes man, that God comes to fight with and for his people, but it is most remarkable of all that God delights in losing. He is not content until He has wrestled away every last sin from you and given you every last blessing of his. Take it all; it’s yours. Strip him of everything He has…God withholds nothing from you: a new name; his blessing and a crucified mark upon your forehead to remind you that when God loses you win.
Unlike Jacob, Jesus is your perfect brother. He gladly gives you his birthright: “All that is mine is now yours. Look at my scars; gaze upon the wounds of hands and feet; I have fought with God for you and prevailed. I have lost my life that you might gain yours.” Unlike Esau, Christ seeks no vengeance; but satisfies all God’s wrath. Unlike Cain, He truly is your brother’s keeper, and more: your brother in human flesh. Before he bore the cross for you; He was given skin and shoulder blades to place a sinful world upon his back. So that he could go to the cross and lose it all for you…to give you everything.
And when the day breaks again…it will be the dawn of the Day without end. The day of victory. The day when you will see God face-to-face in Jesus, your brother. He’ll stand before you with his scarred hands and feet and side and bring you before the Father for the greatest family reunion ever. The fight is over. The night is ended. This is no dream. Welcome home.