Advent 2 Evening Communion
Zechariah 9: 11-17
Recently I was reading that the idea of substitutionary atonement wasn’t always the theory. In fact that came from Anselm of Canterbury.
Now already some of you may be lost.
Anselm theorized that we need to pay for our wrongs, our sins.
That every time we do something wrong there is a cost that needs to be paid. So if I go into debt then someone needs to pay that. So when my daughter gets a car and then when we are getting the car discovers that she doesn’t have enough money, well then dad pays for that and she owes him. Now dad may say that she doesn't need to pay him back. But if she doesn't pay the debt then the debt doesn’t go away. It still needs to be paid, only this time dad has paid it.
So, the theory goes, every time we sin, every time we do wrong, we incur a debt to God, and the cost of that debt is death. The wages of sin are death. And someone needs to pay for that. So, the theory goes, that Jesus paid the price for our sin. He became like us so that we might become like him.
They likened it to the sacrifices of the Old Testament being a substitute for the wrong of the person so that God ignores their sin.
Now why is that important to us?
Because today we are in the second week of Advent. And we are looking at peace.
And sometimes we misunderstand peace.
For instance often we look at peace as something that is the lack of something else. Lack of war, lack of noise.
The other week my wife volunteered for us to look after our granddaughter Jessica and their dog Riley.
It was an overnight baby and dog sitting which meant that we had to look after them as they slept.
Now all you want when you are trying to sleep is peace.
But that peace isn't peace, that peace is the absence of noise.
So here is the scene.
We have the double bed where Roseanna and I are.
We have Riley's bed which we brought from his home. Personally I would have been happier with Riley down stairs but we were told that if he is on his own he freaks out and howls.
We have Jessica’s cot beside the bed.
And we have a seat.
So all is quiet and then Riley thinks to himself from his bed, ‘Am I not Riley the DOG, protector of the Jessica?’Should I not be closer to her?’
So off he goes and tries to sleep beside Jessica’s cot.
Then Riley thinks to himself. ‘Jim is on the other side of the bed. Jim always has treats. If I sleep beside him some of these treats may fall out of his hand while he sleeps. That would be a better place for me to sleep.’
So off he toddles round to my side of the bed, his tail wagging away, and hitting the radiator, as he thinks of the treats .
After a while he thinks to himself. ‘There are no treats falling. Maybe Jim is keeping them in his bed. The bed would be warmer anyway.’ So he jumps on the bed to sleep there.
At which point Roseanna has had enough and chases him off the bed.
Then Riley sees the chair, thinks to himself. ‘That chair is cosy. It is close to the bed and the Jessica whom I protect, and the treats that must be about here somewhere near Jim.’ So off he goes wagging his tail off the cane sides of the chair and settles down.
Now Riley has the brain capacity of a goldfish. So after a while he has forgotten all that and thinks to himself. ‘My bed is more comfy than this. The cushion is comfy but the sides are rough. Where as my bed his comfy all round. I will go and sleep on my bed.’ So off he goes back to his bed.
He’s probably in his bed for five minutes when he thinks to himself.
‘Am I not Riley the DOG, protector of the Jessica?’ Should I not be closer to her?’
And so the routine started again.
Five times that night Roseanna chased him off the bed.
Here’s the thing.
All I wanted was peace to sleep.
And what peace meant was the absence of noise and distraction.
But when we told that story to Cairy and Ian, Jessica’s parents. They said they never had a problem with sleep. Because they were just used to Riley sneaking into their bed when they were asleep.
Riley did all the things in their house that he was doing in our house, yet they had peace.
So peace becomes a relative thing. It becomes a state of mind.
Peace is not something that we create on the outside, peace is what is in the inside.
You can be in a house with a noisy dog, and still be at peace, because your heart is at peace.
You can be in the middle of a thunder storm, and still be at peace, because your heart is at peace.
You can be in a war zone and still be at peace, because your heart is at peace.
You can be being tortured, and still be at peace, because your heart is at peace.
So what has that to do with substitutionary atonement?
Well when I found out that Anselm didn't exist until the start of the seconded millennium, over 1,000 years after Christ’s death. That got me thinking. If the original disciples didn't know about substitutionary atonement, what did they think the cross was about?
And that takes us to today's passage and a lot of passages like that which talk about God’s messiah, as a shepherd, a good shepherd.
In fact we could argue that in Luke 15, when Jesus is talking about the good shepherd, that he is really giving a definitive explanation of his ministry.
And in this explanation the work of Jesus is that of the good shepherd. Who hunts down the lost sheep because of love.
And love is costly.
The question then becomes, how costly? Well as costly as it needs to be.
The shepherd doesn’t look at the sheep as a sinner that has to have its wrong paid for, and his walking, his searching is a substitute for the wrong that the sheep has done.
The shepherd looks at the sheep as lost.
And the walking, the searching is a sign of his love, the cost of what that love means, to find the sheep and bring it home.
So the cross then doesn’t become a substitute for our wrong.
It is the sign of love, and how far God would go to search for us and bring us home.
What has that to do with peace?
Well the temptation is with substitutionary atonement is that we deal with a schizophrenic God.
We are dealing with an angry God who wants to punish us and but Jesus, who loves us, takes that punishment for us. Except that Jesus is meant to be God too so is God angry or loving?
Or maybe God is legalistic.
He might love us but the law is the law and there is nothing he can do about it. So we have to face the consequences of our actions, but again Jesus takes that from us. But if Jesus is God as well then which is it...
Is God impotent because he can’t do anything because the law is the law, or is God not impotent because he takes the punishment for us?
In the non substitutionary atonement model God is God. He has seen that we are lost and he has gone out to search for us. And he will pay whatever cost that love asks of us, even to the death of his own son.
The father loves us and is willing to do what it takes to find us, even sending his own son to search for us.
The son loves us and is willing to do what it takes to find us, even dying on a cross to show us that he doesn't give up on us.
So how does that help us?
Well it means that whatever we face. We know that God so cares for us that he will do whatever it takes to get us home.
And that gives us peace, no matter what we face.
We can be struggling with our own health, and be at peace, because we know God is with us.
We can be worried about a loved one and their circumstances, but be at peace, because we know God is with them.
We can be terrified of what is happening in the world, but still be at peace, because we know God is with the world, cares deeply for the world and all who are in it, and never gives up on them.
‘When that day comes, the Lord will save his people, as a shepherd saves his flock from danger.’
I was talking to a friend that was struggling recently. And I was aware that we both had peace.
We know the road ahead will be hard. We know the road ahead will be tough.
But we both knew that God will be with her. And if we truly knew that, then we could be at peace.
Because God has shown us just how much he loves us, and what cost he is willing to pay to show that love.
That love is like a light in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to put it out.
That is the peace God offers us, that is the peace we can have.