Sunday, November 29, 2020
Preachers like alliteration. At least, this preacher does. As I looked at the Advent readings provided us in the Lectionary,
I found four c’s for advent this year. Come, comfort, clothing, and consent. Three of our Sunday scripture readings will come from the prophet Isaiah. The last will come from Luke.
Isaiah lived in the 7th century BC. God allows him to see some 100 years into the future. He predicts that Israel will be defeated, taken into captivity by Babylon. He also predicts that out of their slavery and horrible conditions, the people of Israel will turn back to God, asking Him for deliverance, to “save them.”
You have heard Isaiah 64 read. Please turn to it with me. Isaiah 64 begins with a plea to God to come, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” “Come down to make your name known to your enemies.”
The Prophet is in a place of desperation. He is feeling overwhelmed by those who are against him, his enemies. He recognizes that he needs – that the nation needs – God’s help.
I know it’s in our general mindset that desperation is a place best avoided. As far as our faith goes, sometimes desperation is a good place to be. It gives us no choice but to call out to God. When we come to the end of ourselves, we have nowhere else to go, but to God.
When I was reading this passage through, a song by Michael W. Smith came to my mind. It’s a wonderful song of confession. “This is the Air I Breathe.” Changing the words a bit, “You are the air I breathe. You are my daily bread. I am desperate for you. I am lost without you.” That is such a good confession for us to make. We are desperate for God.
I would invite you to make that confession a part of your prayer life this Advent season. Just get down on your knees if you are able. If not, that’s okay. Sit, stand, or lie down to pray. It doesn’t matter.
If you can kneel, that’s a helpful prayer posture. I know I don’t get on my knees before God nearly enough these days. If we get on our knees, it expresses in a bodily way our place before God.
We come before God as supplicants not as deal makers, certainly not as equals. We come as those who are desperate for Him.
We face such enemies. We face this terrible pandemic. That is making so many ill. That is taking so many lives. That has been changing the ways we live our lives like nothing else I have experienced in my life time.
The pandemic is not the only enemy. There is the enemy of cancers and other diseases, all manner of illnesses. There is the enemy of the tragedies that just happen, accidents that take the lives of our loved ones. There is the enemy of racism. There is the enemy of poverty. There is the enemy of hatred. There is the enemy of just plain evil.
Because of our enemies, we are desperate. We are like the disciples that were in the boat with Jesus when the storm raged about them. They pleaded with Jesus to wake up and calm the storm. Their faith was small. They should have realized that with Him in the boat all would be well. Even so, their faith was small.
They were desperate. We are desperate. I am desperate. We need to cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
Then the prophet says a pretty big thing. He says that when You, God, come, You do awesome things that we do not expect. We serve a wild God! God is not as tame as we would like Him to be sometimes.
We think we have some kind of control over God, like He is a genie in a lamp. In our prayer, we attempt to rub our lamp and summon God like He is obligated to grant our wishes. That is not how things work, is it? Our God does amazing things, unpredictable things.
Another great prayer of Advent is the prayer we call the Magnificant, the prayer attributed to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
We find it in Luke 1.
“My soul praise the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has been mindful of his humble servant
From now on all generations will call me blessed
For the Might one has done great things for me
Holy is his name
His mercy extends to those who fear him
From generation to generation
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm
He as scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
But has lifted up the humble
He has filled the hungry with good things
But has sent the rich away empty
He has helped his servant Israel,
Remembering to be merciful
To Abraham and his descendants forever
Even as he said to our fathers.”
God does unpredictable things. He upsets the status quo. He turns things upside down. He does what we do not expect, but what he does is right. What he does is just and we all tremble before him.
Sometimes, the old saying comes true. Be careful what you ask for! But, ask it anyway! The God we pray to… The God we cry out to… The God who we ask to come…is unlike any other.
The prophet proclaims this truth, “Since ancient times – No one has heard – No ear has perceived – No eye has seen any God besides you – Who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”
That’s us, hopefully, the ones who are waiting for Him. Advent is about that waiting.
Then, in the midst of that rejoicing in the goodness of God, the prophet utters the realization. That on the one hand, we are the people waiting for God to come. On the other hand, we are not innocent. We, too, are among the sinners. We, too, are among those who have not been faithful.
The prophet cries out, “How then can we be saved?”
He makes another confession, “All of us have become like the one who is unclean. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags. We all shrivel up like a leaf. And like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
That is truth, isn’t it? We have all sinned. There is no one righteous. No, not one.
Why would God answer us? How can we even dare ask? My friend; my brother and my sister; it is true that we are sinners.
It is true that we are the lost ones. It is also true that God loves us.
Sometimes, it feels like God has hidden His face from us. Instead, it is we who have tried to hide from God. Sin has separated us from God.
Yes, we are desperate. And, God desperately loves us. That’s why Jesus Christ came. That’s why we have hope. Hope does not disappoint.
In just the right time, God’s angel spoke to a virgin. Let me read from Luke 1, starting at verse 26.
“ In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Jesus came because we were desperate, because God desperately loved us.
What is our response? We give ourselves over to God. The prophet said. “We are the clay. You are the potter.”
Our response is to give ourselves to God. To say to God, “I am Yours. I don’t know why You love me. I don’t know why You want me. I accept that You do. Do with me what You will. Mold me and make me. You are the potter. I am the clay. Use me as You will.”
That’s what Mary said in Luke 1: 38. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Are you the Lord’s servant? Are you willing to let Him do in you whatever is to His glory?
We know this will be a different Christmas. Our world right now is different. Our celebrations will be different. They most likely will be smaller, quieter. I believe God can and will use this time to teach us. To remind us what’s important. To remind us just what it is we celebrate.
Christmas is not about gathering with families. That’s nice, but it’s not what is most important. Christmas is not about going shopping and giving presents. There is a gift, a precious gift, which we celebrate. Christmas is not about singing even though we will miss the caroling. We may be restricted in singing out loud, but nothing can silence the song that is in our heart.
Christmas is about our desperation. I don’t think I have ever said that before. Christmas is about our desperation and about God’s answer. For God did indeed come. He came to us in His only begotten Son because He desperately loved the world.
When we call out through the prophet’s voice, “How then can we be saved?”
God said, “I will save you. My Son will save you. He and I are one. I will send Him to you. He will teach you. He will love you. He will die for you. He will rise again for you.”
“Then, We will send the Holy Spirit. We are one with that Spirit. That Spirit will dwell within you. We will be with you…always.
That, dear ones, is what we celebrate. That is our truth. Live in it.