Wednesday, December 10, 2003
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth,” Paul says in Romans. I saw Creation groan while camping. Despite being in the wilderness, two squirrels had gotten used to finding bits of food around that campsite, and so when my group arrived, the squirrels began to boldly approach our packs looking for food, handouts, scraps. Our group leader tried to scare them off by throwing rocks in their direction. Brave and brazen, the squirrels continued to approach our packs. A rock connected, instantly killing the squirrel. My leader never meant to hurt the squirrel; he only wanted them to break a bad habit. When the other squirrel saw that its companion had been killed, it chattered and chattered back in the brush, until it finally crept up to the dead body, shook it with its front paws, and then dragged the body away back into the brush. The squirrel was mourning; we had never seen anything like that. That was the groaning of Creation.
Just before our reading tonight, Paul says in verses 19-21, “The creation waits in eager expectation. . .to be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The Earth, the entire Creation, is groaning, because it is suffering the ill effects of the sinfulness of mankind. The Earth does not work in harmony and peace and beauty, because sin entered the world, and with sin came disease, decay, death. And so the whole creation groans, waiting for the day when Christ will return, bring this sinful world to an end, and make everything new.
The Creation groans. You can hear the groans when the storms and winds come, the trees creaking and groaning under the strain. You can hear the groans when the birds around your feeder squawk and carry on because there’s a hawk around, a hawk that will kill. Animals once got along, not harming one another, in God’s original Creation, but sin came into the world, bringing the food chain, predators, and fear into the animals. You can hear the groans of Creation in the cry of a wolf trying to maintain his territory, in the whinnying of a horse terrified by some loud noise. You can hear the groans of Creation in the humpf of a deer, scared away from its grazing in the woods.
But what is the hope that still sings? Creation still waits with hope, hope for God to bring peace and newness into the world, to restore His Creation, restore order and life. You can hear the hope in the spring songs of the birds. We can hear the hope in the gentle breezes—as the leaves of the trees gently flutter, the waves on the lake gently lap the shore. You can hear the hope in the sounds of wolf cubs playing, in a horse that neighs after a good run. You can hear the hope in the quiet sound of deer munching in the woods.
The hope looks to God the Father, the hope looks forward to a day when the Creation will not be at war with itself, when there will be no need for death of animals and people. The creation groans, waiting for Jesus to return, and liberate the entire Creation from the affects of sin. Jesus came at Christmas, because He heard the groans of Creation and wanted there to be sounds of hope.
“We ourselves groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as children, the redemption of our bodies,” Paul says. I saw a Christian groaning. My Grandpa died in the night 3 years ago yesterday. My parents got the call, and so we went over to my Grandma’s to tell her in her person. We let ourselves into the house, it was still 6:00 in the morning, and she was asleep. As soon as my mom woke her up, my Grandma knew why we were there. She just said, “Oh, no, oh no.” My groaned that day. We all groaned and grieved and cried. The pains of this world took us by storm that day, the pain of death and sadness.
The Christians groan. We groan when we pray for the sick and mourning and those going through difficulties. We groan when we talk about our hurts, how we’ve been rejected or ignored or made fun of for what we believe. We groan when we realize that our sinfulness causes us to be unkind, unforgiving, and unmerciful to people around us. We groan when we see the bad choices that our loved ones make, choosing things that are addictive or dangerous or lead them away from God. We groan when we know that once again there is hidden resentment among people in the congregation.
But what is the hope that still sings? We as Christians still wait with hope, hope for God to bring peace and newness into the world, to restore His people. We hear that hope when there is healing and help for those in difficulties. We hear that hope when we remind each other that our loved ones who have died in Christ will also have new life in Christ. We hear that hope when someone doesn’t reject us for our faith but rather is eager to learn more, God using us to share His love with someone else. We hear that hope when we realize that we’ve set aside our anger or pettiness, and instead God has given us the strength to speak kind words to someone who has hurt us. We hear that hope when we talk about God’s forgiveness and love, a forgiveness that comes for all people and flows through our lives.
The hope looks to God the Father, the hope looks forward to a day when people will not be at war with each, when there will be no need for death of people. Christians groan, waiting for Jesus to return, and liberate the entire Creation from the affects of sin. Jesus came at Christmas, because He heard our groans and wanted us to have the sounds of hope.
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,” Paul says in Romans. Words cannot express what the Spirit groans, because the Spirit knows what we need, what we desire, what is missing from our lives. Words cannot express what the Spirit groans, because the Spirit knows so much more about us than we know ourselves, and the Spirit knows the mind and heart of God. So the Spirit groans without words, the Spirit groans when we don’t even realize that we are crying out for God’s help. The Spirit groans without words, and yet, how do we know what Spirit desires and hopes for us? God gives us a glimpse in His Word. The Spirit says even more than this, but God’s Word teaches us to know that His heart desires love and forgiveness and mercy. Hear the Word of God and the groaning of the Spirit in
O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in anguish.
How long, O LORD, how long?
Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
I am worn out from groaning;
all night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the LORD has heard my weeping.
The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
The Spirit is groaning on our behalf, because we are suffering the ill effects of the sinfulness of mankind. The Earth does not work in harmony and peace and beauty, because sin entered the world, and with sin came disease, decay, death. And so the Spirit groans, waiting for the day when Christ will return.
The Spirit groans. He groans in sadness over sin. He groans about the terror and destruction in Creation. He groans over how we turn away from God and ignore Him. He groans over how Christians suffer at the hands of evil. He groans because we are like sheep without a shepherd. He groans because the Good Shepherd, Jesus, has come into the world and yet, many do not follow Him. The Spirit groans with all of the sorrow of God, the sorrow we glimpse in His Word.
But what is the hope that still sings? The Spirit still waits with hope, hope for God to restore the world. You can hear the hope in the promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation in God’s Word. You can hear the hope in remembering your baptism, the day when God put His Holy Spirit in you, a Spirit that groans in sadness, yes, but a Spirit that also restores your soul, renews your mind, and gives you faith in Christ. You can hear the hope in every reminder of God’s promise—every time you sing a hymn, every time you tell someone the meaning of Christmas, every time you say the Name of Christ, that is the sound of hope, that is the sound the Spirit brings into the world, the sound of hope against all hope, the sound of hope that we cannot see, the sound of hope, a hope not found in this world, a hope that only comes from God Himself. The Holy Spirit sings of this hope and also makes our hearts sing with this hope.
The creation groans, the Christians groan, the Holy Spirit groans, all waiting for Jesus to return, and liberate the entire Creation from the affects of sin. Jesus hears our groans. Jesus came at Christmas, because He heard our groans. Jesus came at Christmas to make sure we had the sounds of hope, even while we wait for a new world, new life, eternal life.