A Minor Restoration
Topic: Christ's Love & Power Scripture: Amos 9:11–9:15
The word minor has several connotations and applications, doesn’t it? We know it can mean something of lesser importance. Like when you’re in college and you have a major. That’s the emphasis of your study. Your minor is more of just an accent. Or even in sports, right? Minor league baseball, while fun, is always a notch below the big leagues. It can refer to a person of a young age. Specifically, someone under the legal age. Minor even has a meaning within music. With minor keys, we are able to play songs with a more pensive, somber, sometimes dark kind of tones.
This morning we are beginning a message series that will span through Advent and all our preparation for Christmas, called “A Minor Christmas”. Larry and I figure that if Starbucks can release their holiday beverages before Thanksgiving, why can’t we start a Christmas series a little early? And as we embark on this very special season, we will be exploring a few passages from what are called the Minor Prophets. These are 12 books out of the Old Testament, that offer a unique glimpse into the history of God’s people and times when the Lord spoke directly to the people through a chosen figure called a prophet. Each section of Scripture is compelling and sometimes even odd but I want to clarify quickly why they are called the minor prophets.
It’s actually pretty simple. It’s because they are short. The books, not the actual prophets. I wish I could give you a more theologically rich answer but it really is just that simple. The three major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) are all very long with 48-66 chapters. The 12 minor prophet books are short with only 4 of the 12 even having more than 6 chapters. Hosea and Zechariah have the most chapters at 14. So when we call these books the minor prophets it doesn’t imply anything about their significance or their importance. We’re only talking about the number of chapters.
Like I said before, the word minor has several applications. We can already throw out the minor league baseball connotation. Even with fewer chapters, these prophetic books pack the same punch as the majors. But some of the other uses for the word minor apply quite well. In terms of minor as in age, we can see the connection. A young person has fewer years or chapters in their story. And the musical angle fits well too. There is a fairly steady somber and sometimes ominous tenor to what we read in the minor prophets.
And you might be asking why we’re looking at these somewhat obscure, or, at the very least, lesser-known parts of Scripture in leading up to Christmas instead of going back to the manger scene. Don’t worry, we’ll end up at the manger scene. But before we do, we have to remember what it took to get there. Often times we treat the events leading up to the birth of Christ like we do Thanksgiving. A quick, one-day recognition and then we move onto the 12 (or more) days of Christmas. This year we are going to explore A Minor Christmas and open our eyes to how the birth of our Savior means so much more than we ever had imagined.
And we start by looking at the closing words of the book of Amos. There aren’t many of us who spend our free time perusing the minor prophets. But the context of where and when the prophet is speaking out of is important and, especially with Amos, particularly close to home for where many of us may find ourselves. When we read about and immerse ourselves in the history and experiences of God’s people in the Old Testament, we often come to find that we see reflections of our own lives at various points. We see periods of tragedy and struggle. We see moments of celebration and joy.
We hear prayers of sadness and grief as well as shouts of joy for God’s faithfulness and the presence of a community. Amos gives us a glimpse into a time of life we rarely notice until it is too late. A time of complacency. One book I read describes it well: “Economic prosperity and political stability had led to Israel’s spiritual decay. This spiritual decay displayed itself in social injustice. The rich exploited the poor; the powerful dominated the weak. Morality meant little or nothing.”It is in this type of climate that our prophet Amos comes onto the scene. In the beginning of his account, Amos describes the Lord as like a lion with a mighty roar. This message was not a soft, assuring one but rather more like the kind of stern, forceful words of a concerned or frustrated parent. Much of the book is filled with images and warnings of judgment and destruction. But our text, the final words of the book itself, are a message of hope. A coming hope. We’re in Amos 9:11-15.
Our text comes right after a particularly scathing declaration from God that the sinful kingdom will be destroyed, that God will shake the people of Israel, and that those who think their sinful actions are not being noticed will meet the sword. Real cheery stuff. But that is not the final word that God offers. The final word is one of hope and abundance and restoration. It’s a word of redemption.
We hear that David’s fallen shelter will be restored, that broken walls will be repaired and ruins will be restored, that what once was will be rebuilt. God is pointing to a time in the peoples’ history that they can remember. We might call it the glory days. Things aren’t terrible for the people of God right now but they would still recall fondly the stories of David’s kingdom. When they had a king so true and so strong that there was little or no threat of danger. A time where the structure of David’s palace meant the stability of their own lives.
The remnant of Edom is referring to what will be left of a great enemy of God’s people. And God says “all the nations that bear my name” which tells us that God’s reign, His rule, and love, will reach and engage and transform more than they had once thought possible. A time is coming where God’s mercy will reach people who were once thought of as too far gone. Enemies will be made into friends. Distant lands will share the intimacy of being a true neighbor. The boundaries between us and them will be wiped away.
And then verse 13 gives us those charged words: The days are coming. The days are coming when the reaper will overtake the plowman when the one who plants will be passed by the one who harvests. Amos is sharing the intention of God here. A day where the plenty will be so abundant and so big that it almost seems endless. For as long as humanity can remember, there has been labor and toil and exhaustion so that a harvest could be gathered. That reality reaches as far back as Eden when Adam faced the consequences of the first rebellion against God. It was then that we hear that God cursed the ground and made it so that only through our own tiring and painful work would we gain food from the land. The endless cycle of exertion for the sake of survival began then and has not ceased. That is until the days come that Amos is speaking about. Days that are described in our text out of Revelation where, as verse 3 says, No longer will there be any curse. That is the intention of God and His desire for the people He loves.
Amos finishes his prophetic message with an image of new wine flowing from the mountains and the moment where all of God’s people will come home. Where not only are cities rebuilt, but lives as well. Where vineyards and gardens produce an abundance and the nation of God’s people are given a permanent home, the deepest of roots, all within the closest intimacy of God Himself.
Now, this all creates a powerful and meaningful reality. A reality that the people Amos was speaking to would have longed for. But it’s also a reality that we long for, albeit using different terms. We may not remember ancient kingdoms and shelters but each and every one of us seeks out a true and lasting assurance of safety and peace. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the kingdom of Israel from centuries ago or even the confines of our own city limits, all of us long for a community where love and belonging are not metered out based on the color of your skin or the geographic location where you were born.
We want to rest. Not simply out of laziness or entitlement but out of a desire to not be overcome with exhaustion. The daily grind is better for some and more of a grind for others but all of us dream of reaching a time in life where we don’t have to scramble and scrounge for every measure of contentment and peace. We want to stop worrying and be given the assurance that everything will be ok, that it’ll work out, that we are being taken care of.
Our desires and hopes are not all that different from those of ancient Israel. And that’s because these aren’t time-sensitive, cultural, or even personal hopes. These are the common longings of the human person. A longing that was formed within all of us at the moment of separation between Creator and creation back in Eden. It is a common ailment. A problem that reaches into and touches every part of who we are. And this common ailment, this reaching problem, has only one remedy. It is the hope spoken of by Amos. It is the reason for the season. Our remedy and hope is Jesus Christ.
We may try and fill this void and cure this condition by other means. Some attempt to fill it with other poisons. Some attempt to cure this longing by simply exhausting every moment of the day so that their thoughts might rest elsewhere. And often times we endeavor to make things never intended to be the totality of our heart the center of our lives. Things like friendship, service, and even family. Those goods were never meant to, nor are they capable of replacing, the ultimate Great that is lacking. John Calvin said that if we don’t have Christ that we cannot have any sure hope. He said, “We may indeed be raised up by some wind or another; but our empty confidence will shortly come to nothing, except if we have confidence founded on Christ alone.”
The holiday of Christmas is actually the perfect example of what I mean. Like pretty much everyone else I grew up hearing the songs and stories common to Christmas. I would hear melodies about parties and gatherings of friends and loved ones. About a time for giving and not receiving. I grew up knowing the Grinch was a jerk and Scrooge had it all wrong. And as I got older I found that I longed for that. I’ve never seen chestnuts roasting on an open fire but I came to believe that they brought the warmth expected out of Christmas. And the more and more I desired that the more I found it lacking.
After my mom passed away, Christmas was never the same. The grand gestures and traditions were replaced with an almost forced and somewhat empty sense of obligation. When you have very little and feel alone, songs and stories about giving and being home for Christmas only heighten the disappointment and sadness. None of those things are bad. Generosity, friendship, sleigh rides, and snowmen are wonderful. But they are all goods. Not the Great. It wasn’t until I knew Christ that Christmas became a joyous celebration for me. When I understood the cost of the cross I came to love the child in the manger. Jesus was no longer simply another decoration for the holiday. He was and is the source of all the warmth and hope and generosity and abundance that Christmas points us toward.
Our text gives us a glimpse of a time where that which has been broken will be restored, where that which has fallen will be built back up. Amos fills the people’s minds and hearts with the hope of an overflowing abundance and an ultimate peace and security. The prophet shares a vision of the reaching love of God. A love that can touch and envelope all people. A love that brings us home. To our lasting and true home. We all need that.
Every single one of us is entering this Christmas season with different but common hopes and burdens. Friends, my encouragement to you is this: Follow the gaze of our prophet and fix your eyes on Jesus Christ. I’m not telling you to cancel the neighborhood Christmas party or to do away with the Christmas tree. But I am asking you to recognize that those things are not the Great of Christmas. They are the minor things of Christmas. Enjoy them, share them. But don’t make them the centerpiece of your Christmas this year.
Amos spoke to the people about rebuilt walls and fruitful gardens. But the reality and truth of what would come in and through Jesus Christ are so much more than buildings and crops. We can use the good things that come out of this season to point us to the truth and warmth and heart of our Savior. We can appreciate and serve and bless others but we cannot forget that through the birth and life of Christ we have been declared valuable, that we have been served in the most powerful way, and that we have received the greatest blessing of all.
The people of our text this morning had fell victim to years of putting the good before the Great. In terms of Christmas, they put the presents above the manger and the spirit of giving above the Spirit of God. And as we explore these texts from prophets of long ago, this year let’s put our Christmas through a minor restoration.