First Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2023
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9
The words you have heard read this morning come from the voice of a Prophet – someone charged by God with the spiritual welfare and direction of God’s people. This is not some official, institutional position in a church where there is accountability within a well-oiled structure with supervisors, committees and reports involved. Prophets were God-appointed and recognized by the people they served.
This is a person whose life work is two-fold. It is to KNOW AND LOVE GOD and KNOW AND LOVE PEOPLE. He/she felt keenly the responsibility to SPEAK what they heard from God. Isaiah and Jeremiah, both prophets, described this situation as “the hand of the Lord was upon them” and “his word was as a ‘burning fire’ within them.”
They were not magical foreseers of the future, nor soothsayers or fortune tellers, but like any faithful person in a leadership position, they had to have their eyes focused on both NOW and TOMORROW as best as they could. They were shepherds for their people and their job was to protect and nurture their sheep and keep them from the dangers they saw around every corner. It was not an easy time to be a prophet in Israel. Things were not good during Isaiah’s time.
Israel was experiencing a wrenching split into two pieces. They became two nations: Northern and Southern Kingdoms. This was the tragic evolution from the clear intention of God who shaped them into One Beloved Community there in the desert under Moses.
Both of these separate kingdoms were being harassed and invaded from time to time by powerful Assyria. The North kingdom had lost so much of its faithfulness to God and to the worship and loyalty to God’s ways. The South was the more faithful, but it seemed always ready to run away from God. Isaiah was a part of the South but the division and abandonment from God’s ways grieved him beyond description.
The whole of a prophet’s life work was to stand in the middle between God and the people no matter how far they strayed. And being in the middle is figuratively and often literally heart wrenching! It tears at your soul and you feel like you stand alone between two train locomotives heading in opposite directions – God going one way, the people, YOUR people going the other and you are trying to hold on to both for dear life. It is way beyond any human power or cleverness, but you sense
that In some way the rift is going to happen no matter what you do.
So, in this meantime – while the prophet is longing for something to intervene before it is too late, when he/she longs for the people to change their ways and at the same time longs for God to do something dramatic to use God’s power to shake up the stalemate and heal the wound – in the meantime what do you do? You pray!!! What else???
Isaiah 63 and 64 form the words (the prayer) of a prophet like Isaiah. Here are snippets. Read the whole thing for yourself some time.
BITS AND PIECES FROM ISAIAH 63
I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
the deeds for which he is to be praised,
He said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will be true to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
Where is he who set
his Holy Spirit among them,
Look down from heaven and see,
from your lofty throne, holy and glorious.
Where are your zeal and your might?
Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us.
But you are our Father, and we are yours from of old.
This is the prayer of one whose heart is torn but who has been rendered powerless and can do nothing but WAIT! This is the story of Advent – this standing in the middle LONGING – WAITING – HOPING! It is so graphic an illustration of our lives during those times when it feels like we are drowning in the NOT YET! -when we feel abandoned by the God who gave us life, when anger and despair threaten to multiply and dominate our inner landscape, when we feel like God isn’t talking anymore and our hands are tied behind our backs.
It is so easy, then, to understand the intensity of the prophet’s prayer as he spills his grief and longing out before God:
Isaiah 64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
Don’t you feel his pain? Doesn’t it remind you of times when you felt the heavens locked up tight as a drum and God was invisible? Don’t you remember LONGING for some evidence that God even exists? “God, just show your face a little!” Only a couple of verses beyond the ones read to us this morning is this plea: “After all this, O Lord, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?”
This is Advent. This is waiting when there is no response. This is the anguish of the prophet and God’s people. This is when a sliver of hope is all we live on until we hear the words finally: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”