by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Of the Father’s love begotten, Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He.
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore! The Presbyterian Hymnal #309
Jesus: Everlasting Father
When Angie turned 14 her parents gave her the most wonderful gift – her own phone. This was before cell phones and smart phones. Until this point if Angie wanted to talk to her friends she had to use the phone in the kitchen, with her parents and nosy brother listening in. Now she had her own phone and her own line. Life was great. One afternoon a few weeks later her father got brave and went on an adventure into her bedroom. It was a typical teenager’s bedroom, a total disaster. Clothes were all over the place. Books, papers and other stuff covered the floor. Angie was sitting on the bed, surrounded by this chaos, sobbing. Her father sat next to her on the bed and asked what was wrong. Through her tears Angie said, “My phone just rang and I couldn’t find it.”
Cathy was several years older than Angie. At 16 ½ she had just gotten her driver’s license. After a couple of months her parents trusted her enough to let her drive to one of her friends’ homes on a Friday evening. She still had to be home by her curfew, 12:00 midnight. On Saturday morning her father went out to get the newspaper and came in rather upset. Cathy came out of her room about 11:30 am. She was groggy and it didn’t look as if she had gotten enough sleep. Her father asked her what time she got in. She said, “Oh, not too late.” With a straight face her dad said, “Then I guess I’m going to have to talk to the guy who delivers the newspapers about putting it under your tires.
Of course, not every father is as loving and patient as these two were. Even the best father is far from perfect. And the fact that our fathers, and our mothers, are not perfect means that everyone has a longing deep inside to be loved by our father.
I became very aware of this in 1982. That was the year that Tanya and I were in Kentucky, working at Buckhorn Children’s Center. There were 20-25 kids who for any number of reasons, were not living with their parents. Most of them had fathers who were terrible. Some of the kids had been physically abused by their dad’s. I remember Eddie telling me how his dad used to take cigarettes and burn holes in his arms. Some of the dads struggled with alcohol. They took what little money the family had and spent it on booze, rather than buying food. Some of the dads were in prison. At best, these fathers ignored their kids.
What really surprised me was that as bad as these fathers were, all of the kids looked forward to visits with their dads. It did not matter how bad they were, the kids thought their fathers were wonderful. Most of them wished they could live with their fathers. The kids at Buckhorn expressed the longing that we all have to be loved by our fathers.
Let me tell you another story about a father. It’s a story we all probably know, from one of my favorite movies, The Sound of Music. Captain von Trapp has just returned to his home. He brought with him the Baroness von Schraeder, the lady he is planning to marry. As the captain and the baroness get out of the car, Maria and the kids are on a boat in the lake by their house. They are singing, laughing and having a wonderful time. They end up falling out of the boat, getting drenched and walking up to shore. The captain blows his whistle and they line up to be introduced to the baroness. Then the captain sends them inside to change their clothes. The baroness goes inside too.
Maria starts to follow the kids into the house. Captain von Trapp stops her and they have an argument. He scolds her for not following the rules that he had set up for his children. She gives it right back at him for not being the dad that they want and need. He ends up firing Maria. Right at that moment they are interrupted by some music. The children are singing, their voices blended in beautiful harmonies. “The hills are alive, with the sound of music.” The captain is shocked. He has never heard them sing before. He rushes in to the house to listen.
When he got to the room he sees the children singing to the baroness. For a moment he hesitates. Then he joins in the song. Together they sing this beautiful piece. At the end of the song they all stand still, unsure of how to act. Then the captain opens his arms and the children rush to surround him. They laugh and hug each other.
It’s my favorite moment in the whole movie. It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, I start crying. It is a symbol of the longing we all have for the love of a father.
Ten to fifteen years ago 60 minutes ran a segment that showed the importance of having a father. At a South African wildlife preserve 39 rare white rhinos were killed. They were killed, not by poachers, but by juvenile delinquent elephants.
About ten years earlier the park had too many elephants. They decided to kill the adult elephants whose young were old enough to survive without them. There was a large group of elephants that grew up without fathers. These young elephants roamed together in gangs and began to do things that elephants don’t normally do. They threw sticks at other animals and acted like bullies. A few of the young males became violent, knocking down the rhinos and stomping them to death.
The park rangers theorized that the young elephants were acting badly because they didn’t have adult role models. They brought in several large, adult, bull elephants, who established dominance and put the young bulls in place. The bad behavior of the young elephants stopped. They were mentored in how to live and act. They needed the tough love of a father.
I tell you these stories about father’s this morning because I believe that our longing for the love of a father is met in Jesus. In our passage from Isaiah he uses four names to describe the Messiah: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. We believe that Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor, who guides us and shows us what God wants for our lives. Jesus is the Mighty God, who protects us from evil forces in our world. Today’s message is that Jesus is our Everlasting Father, who loves us with the perfect love of a perfect father.
Most scholars think that Jesus never got married or had children. He never was a father in the sense of having children. However, Isaiah tells us that Jesus, as the Messiah, is our Everlasting Father.
That could be confusing for several reasons. First, one of the central doctrines of Christianity is the Trinity, God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son, not the Father. Second, during Christmas we usually focus on Jesus as a little baby. We tend to ignore the fact that babies are demanding and hard work. They grow up, and that is challenging as well. Since Jesus became a man I usually think of him as my brother or my friend. Sometimes I think of him as my boss or master. All of those are healthy, normal images that we have of Jesus. Isaiah gives us another way to think about Jesus. He is our Heavenly Father, whose love for us is God’s love.
Another reason that people struggle with the image of Jesus as our Father is that their own fathers were not very good. They were more like the fathers of the kids in Buckhorn, absent, negligent or abusive. The reality of their own father’s has caused many people to reject the Trinity, with God as our Father, or even Jesus as our Eternal Father.
I understand that struggle. I don’t want to downplay the pain that some father’s caused. However, I’m not ready to reject God as Father, or Jesus as Father.
If it is hard to wrap your mind around the idea of Jesus as your father let me offer you two ideas. First, there is a tendency to think about our fathers, who were not perfect, and then think of what a perfect father would be like, and claim that is what God is like. Unfortunately, that is backwards. We can’t start with our own fathers to decide what God is like. We must always start with God, the Father of Jesus Christ, the first person of the Trinity, and then say that is what human fathers should be like. We must always start with God, not with human fathers.
Second, in and through Jesus we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father, the first person of the Trinity. The love that Jesus has for us is the same as the love that our Heavenly Father has for us. It is God’s love. Jesus’ love is a perfect love, that fulfills our deepest need for love. The love of God that we know in Jesus can never be taken from us. That is what Jesus claims when says that he is one with the Father. Jesus love is the love of the Father. The love of God that we know in Jesus in the perfect love of God that fulfills our need for love.
I don’t know most of your fathers. Some of you here this morning are grieving the death of your father. Some of you probably had fathers who were absent or negligent or even abusive. What I do know is that everyone’s father is, or was, imperfect. The best father was still a sinner. The fact that our father’s aren’t perfect, means that all of us have a longing for the perfect love of a perfect Father.
Friends, the good news today is that our longing for love, our need for love, is met in Jesus Christ, for he is our Eternal Father.