Hardness of Heart

A good friend is going through a difficult divorce, and she grieves the loss of her marriage, the loss of her friendship with her husband, and the loss of man he was when they married. As is the case in some hard breakups, her pleas for counseling and reconciliation are rejected. He has set his face on a course away from her and there is no turning back. In biblical terms, he has become calloused, and has “hardened his heart” against her.

This phrase comes up often in the Scriptures, as the people of God hardened their hearts against the law, the Word, the love, and the mercy that God extends. We are a stubborn lot, aren’t we? Isaiah describes it as the people “growing dull” and becoming hard of hearing, and what they do hear, they refuse to understand (Isaiah 6:9-10). God must feel like it is akin to raising rebellious teenagers all the time. 

There are few things in life that sting as hard as rejection. I’m sure you have felt that sting. I know I have! Paul dealt with rejection all the time and today’s reading is no exception. He had just delivered a day-long impassioned speech about the good news of Jesus Christ as the “hope of Israel,” and some believed … but some did not. Arguing ensued, and he was reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s words that described the same rejection of God’s Word thousands of years before.

Acts 28:25-31 (Common English Bible)

25 They disagreed with each other and were starting to leave when Paul made one more statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke correctly when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet,

26 Go to this people and say:
You will hear, to be sure, but never understand;
    and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing.
27 This people’s senses have become calloused,
    and they’ve become hard of hearing,
    and they’ve shut their eyes
        so that they won’t see with their eyes
        or hear with their ears
        or understand with their minds,
            and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them.

28 “Therefore, be certain of this: God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!”

Both men concluded that we don’t receive God and all of God’s benefits because we don’t want to turn away from our lives and be healed of our sin. We don’t want to change our hearts and behaviors. Is this true in our world today? I think the evidence is there.

Is this true in your life?

Even committed, church-going Christians can reject God, if only in little ways. While we don’t reject our belief in Jesus as the Messiah-Savior, we reject God’s call to live in unity in our churches. We reject God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves, with an emphasis on the neighbor who doesn’t look like us. We reject the Bible’s instruction to welcome the immigrant into our homes. We reject our responsibility to take care of the widows and orphans. We reject the invitation to have the mind of Christ when we post polarizing political rants on social media. We reject the command to obey the law when we speed, cheat on our taxes, and litter. Let’s face it … we reject God’s call to change our lives every day.

Today’s passage is a wakeup call for the heart. Is Paul describing us? Where is God calling us to change our hearts so that we may be healed?

May the Holy Spirit convict us so that we might repent and be pleasing in God’s sight.

Wake Up Call by Kathy Schumacher

Singing Hallelujah

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NIV)

“The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.

It is so tempting to hit the “Publish” button right now. What could possibly be added to the glory and beauty of that Isaiah passage? It gives me chills to read it. I can hear the echos of Handel’s Messiah as I read it: those gloriously phrased notes of “Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God! The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!”

I had the unexpected blessing of standing next to my sister-in-law and singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of a performance of the Candlelight Processional at Disney World this week. Yes, Virginia, they do read scripture at Disney World. It is accompanied by a full orchestra, a 200-plus choir, six herald trumpets, and a deaf interpreter signing each note and word from the stage. All hope is not lost in this world. My sister-in-law is an excellent alto, and our voices combined in harmony with hundreds of others as we sang the truth about why Christmas happened.

It is important for us to sing the truth this season.

In the midst of the world’s cacophony, we need to sing, and sing loudly. We need to be that light in the darkness of commercialism and secularism. It is good for us to remind each the world that Christmas is still Christ’s Mass, a celebration of his birth. We need to complain to school boards that remove every sacred song from school Christmas productions and feed our children a sugar-diet of “Jingle Bells,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and “All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.” OK, I get that the last one is relevant to the Elementary School set, but still….

Where is the truth? What is the truth?

Handel knew. He wrote Messiah in just 24 days. He wrote from morning to night. Given the sheer volume of the 259-page score, it is estimated that he wrote 15 notes per minute. In total, he wrote roughly a quarter of a million notes in a little more than three weeks. That is insane. That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

Messiah is in three parts. Part I begins with this prophecy by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. Part III tells of the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. The story is complete, a reminder to us that when you sing of the truth of Christmas, it is good to tell the whole story, from the Old Testament promise of his first coming at the manger, to the New Testament promise of his second coming.

So go and tell. Go and sing. Go and speak the truth, using both words and actions.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the zeal of the Lord Almighty accomplished it. Hallelujah!

Candlelight Processional by Kenn Haas