Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent 1 mid-week

Isaiah 64:1-9

Waiting is a central part of life. When you think about it, we spend a huge chunk of our lives waiting.

Waiting to hear if you got the job. Waiting for the doctor to call. Waiting for your teenager to come home with the car. Waiting for the "other shoe" to drop.

Isaiah is waiting and longing for God to intervene in his world where things seem all wrong. "Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down…" (64:1) he cries to God.

As we begin our Advent journey this year, we come to the first dimension of the Christmas Season. Waiting!

Most of us will do a lot of waiting during this season. There may even be some times when you will have to "wait it out" – at the crowded stores, the grocery stores or the post office (you do have your Christmas cards ready to go – don’t you?)

Our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews are going into their "I can’t wait" mode. The retailers and shopkeepers are waiting for the "bottom line." While the rest of us finally close our eyes and drift off to sleep on Christmas Eve, computers in corporate offices will be analyzing data to determine whether this was a "good" Christmas.

But this is not the kind of waiting the bible is talking about. Our scripture lessons today are talking about waiting for God! As Israel longed for Messiah to come and fulfill their hopes and dreams, so each one of us has a place within that longs for the coming of the Lord.

The real gifts of this season are not the gifts you find in the stores and place under the tree. The real joy of the season is not the "holiday spirit" found in all the parties and gatherings. The real fulfillment of the season is not when we open even the most special gift with our hands…

The real gift of this season is when we open our hearts and wait for the coming of the Lord in our spirits "If only God would intervene and make everything right!" Have you ever had such a thought? Might makes right... it's who you know and not what you know... justice is more readily available if you can afford a legal "dream team"... Things just don't seem right.

And yet, if God were to hold me to a divine standard of righteousness, I would very quickly want mercy instead of God's justice. In Isaiah's words, "All our {my} righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth..." I do not call upon the Lord or seek the Lord as I should and, "... you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity." If we persist in having it "our way" -- God will sing the "Burger King song to us." Namely, "Have it your way!" And yet it turns out that "our" way is the way of devastation while God's way is the way to life.

The Advent message in Isaiah's words are contained in verses 7-8. It might come out something like: "God, I am your child, the work of your hand. I belong to you and I pray that you would be merciful and not remember my failures for time and eternity. Please remember that I am your child."

As the season of Christ's birth draws nearer, there is opportunity to look closely at my inner bearings. As we sing, "O Holy child of Bethlehem" once again, we might look within to examine how His holiness has impacted our lives.

The prophet Isaiah writes, ”How long, O Lord, how long?” We all have good times. And we all have bad times. 2011 has it been your good time or your bad time?

Bad times like that give us a hint at the despair and desperation found in this reading. Several generations had passed from the return of the exiles in Babylon. Jerusalem and its Temple were being rebuild. A sense of normal living had returned. Yet, the people were forlorn. Life was hard. And God seemed to be far away.

Isaiah spoke the prayer of the people. How long before the people returned to glory? How long before God's presence shone before the nations? Note the prayer for divine intervention was mixed with self-examination. The loss of stature was not necessarily God's fault [64:5b-7]. Yet, also note the sense of hope. The petitioner called upon God as Father and asked for his return [63:16-17].

Like those who lamented in Jerusalem, we, too, may have times we feel cut off from God and his blessing. Yet, there is always hope. For the Lord is coming. Soon!

When did you experience "bad times?" How did God give you hope?

I. Isaiah 64:1-9

A. Isaiah was praying for God to deliver Israel from Babylonian captivity.

• Isaiah 63:18-19 refer to the destruction of the temple (63:18) which is a reference to the Babylonians conquering Judea and exiling the Israelite population to the various cities of the Babylonian empire.

• Isaiah 64:1-9 begins by asking God to rend the heavens to come down and deliver Israel from the Babylonians. Isaiah may have been thinking of the sky as being like the roof of a tent, separating the earth from the heavens. Isaiah was asking God to tear this tent open to come down and set things right.

• God answers this prayer with the destruction of the Babylonian empire and the return of the Israelites to their homeland under the Persian King Cyrus.

B. God, however, answers this prayer in another, much more profound way. God answers this prayer in a way Isaiah could not even imagine.

• God literally tore open the heavens and came down to the earth as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. God did this to deliver us from our sins.

• Let’s take a closer look at Isaiah 64:1-9

C. An outline of Isaiah 64:1-9

I. Isaiah 64:1-2: Isaiah asks God to tear open the heaven and come down to the earth himself. When this happens, the mountains will quake and nations will tremble. In other words, wondrous events will happen and the statuesque will drastically change

II. Isaiah 64:3-4: Isaiah remembers God’s past actions. God’s actions in the past caused wondrous events to happen and the statuesque to drastically change.

III. Isaiah 64:5-7: Isaiah realizes, however, that we are sinners and do not deserve to have God tear open the heavens and come down to earth on our behalf.

IV. Isaiah 8-9: Despite our undeserving nature, Isaiah asks God to delivers us anyways. He asks God to deliver us based on his love for us rather than our righteous behavior.

D. This is what Christmas is all about

•We all are held captive by our sinful nature. No matter how hard we try, we can not love God and neighbor in a manner that is pleasing to God. At some point, our sinful desires, such as lust, greed, pride, jealousy, anger, prejudice etc…, will get in the way of our ability to love. So….

•God tore open the heavens to come to earth in the person of Jesus to set us free from our sinful desires. Jesus did this through his life, death and resurrection.

•God did this, simply because He loves us.

II. During Advent, we should contemplate the ramifications of God tearing open the heavens and bursting into human existence.

A. God, the creator of everything, knows what it’s like to be a human. God knows the pain and joy that comes with living as a human on this earth.

B. We now know what a perfect life looks like. The relationship between Jesus and his Father is the same type of relationship we should have with God. Jesus modeled a perfect love for his Father and neighbor. We now know the standard for holy living.

C. Our sins are paid for on the cross. Through the cross, we receive forgiveness for our sins. This frees us to live in an eternal love relationship with God.

D. Sin, death and evil have been defeated on our behalf. The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that we have the victory.

E. The forgiveness of our sins paved the way for the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts

III. Conclusion

A. God loves us so much, that He himself tore open the heavens and came down to earth as a human being. He became one of us. If you never responded to this love by repenting of your sins and trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord, you can do so now.

B. Simply tell God that you want to change and become the loving person He created you to be. Then, acknowledge your trust that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is sufficient to take care of all your sins. Say this to God and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

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