Old Testament Reading Isaiah 64:1–9
Epistle Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3–9
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:24-37
Sermon: “He is Coming”
The passage we read from Isaiah this morning is a prayer from the prophet to God. It is a Lament, a Confession and a Plea from one who sits in exile, feeling as though God had abandoned his people. He longes for God to come and save them. The prophet remembers the times of old when God lead Israel out of the land of Egypt and slavery with a mighty hand – with signs and wonders – visible in Pilar of cloud and fire. The prophet recalls the thunder, fire and smoke on Mt Sinai and the very voice of God which shook the mountains. He confesses that there is no other God than the God of Israel, but now, the nation is defeated, the City of Jerusalem and the temple within it have been destroyed and many of the people have been carried off into exile. There, in Babylon they wait and wonder why God is so seemingly absent, hidden from them.
Which of us has not thought similar things in our time as well? If in Biblical times, God intervened in history with “awesome deeds”, why doesn’t God do so today? Why would God deliver Israel from Egypt and not from Hitler’s concentration camps? Surely God notices the shifting climate and the terrible storms that have ravaged our land this past year. Surely the civil unrest, the fires, earthquakes, floods and mass shootings are of concern to God as well. God must surely see and hear the suffering from the Corona virus. Yes, We too yearn for God to heal our land and straighten out our leaders. We too could pray along with Isaiah – “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” We too want to see God straighten this mess out. Scripture is very clear that it will happen one day – suddenly and dramatically and completely. But for now we wait and we pray and we try to be obedient to God’s will.
This year, it does seem as strange as it usually does that Advent begins with weeping and lament, it’s normally jarring amidst the commercial rush of Black Friday and Cyber Monday – and all the rest, but this year is different, at least for me it feels right and proper. It is appropriate as we contemplate the coming of our Lord. This is the time of year when the Church pauses to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and peace and wholeness. God’s Peace – as we say in English; Shalom in Hebrew; Salaam in Arabic. In what ever language it is said, it is at the heart of Advent.
The very word Advent means: “He is Coming”. It’s impossible to ready for that great day without preparation – without repentance and forgiveness and being vulnerable to brokenness that surrounds us – whether here in our city – or in Jerusalem, or Baghdad, or Seoul, or Damascus, or any of the other multitude of troubled places in the world. We know that people dear to us struggle with addiction and broken families, or lack proper jobs or the means to better themselves. We know that issues of race and class divide us. We know we find a better way, but we feel helpless, maybe even hopeless.
We pray with the prophet – God, don’t you see all this going on? Where are you?
It is at this point that we must remember that God has taken a different approach to the brokenness that defines our present state. The skies did in fact open and the glory of God has shown down – but not in the smoke and fire of Mt. Sinai, rather on a simple rude manger, a weary traveling couple, an astounded group of shepherds and a small baby. God has spoken peace in person. As one who came to heal and bind up, to forgive and show love and blessing instead of blazing fire and judgement. This is the wondrous mystery of the incarnation – “Emanuel” – God with Us.
God, in infinite grace and mercy, has ordained that all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are welcomed into the very family of God. But God will not force or coerce anyone. God has shown us such wonderful, vulnerable love to come and be one with us. Jesus came to teach, serve, guide and invite any who will come to the Father through him. Faith is the only requirement. Jesus showed us the way of God by coming to us as one of us, even suffering rejection and death on a cross. God’s true power was shown by raising him from the dead and giving him authority over all of heaven and earth.
If Jesus suffered such things, but remained obedient even to death, then we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the world that treated him so badly, is still as depraved now as it was 2000 years ago. We can take great comfort however that the presence of God still abides with us now, even though the Roman Empire of that day is dust and ashes. God will remain loving and gracious even after today’s powers and principalities are similarly distant memories.
The prophet looked at the society of his day and declared that (Isaiah 64:6-7 NIV):
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins.” We look at our world today and worry. We worry about unseen viral threats; We worry about continual troubles in the Middle East; We worry about our country’s economy – or about our own. We worry about our children’s futures in an uncertain world. We know that we are not as we should be. Even our best efforts fall short – like filthy rags. We worry that our mistakes and shortcomings will indeed sweep us away. Perhaps it even seems as if God has hidden his face from us. At times, perhaps, we remember to beg God to intervene and save us.
You know what? God already has. God is doing so now and God will continue saving us as long as time endures. But God’s ways are different from ours. God’s calls us to the Heavenly kingdom and not to our own. The prophet continues his prayer with these words: (Isaiah 64:8-9 NIV) “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.”
Isaiah prays for God to reshape and transform us. To mold us more truly into the very image of God in which we were originally created. Ironic, isn’t it – We want God to solve the very problems that our sin and neglect of God’s ways produce. God has something else in mind as we heard in the Gospel reading this morning – (Mark 13:34-37 NIV)
It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” These are the words for this Season – Prepare, be diligent about the Master’s business, Keep watch and be alert. We don’t cower in fear, we wait in confident hope.
We also do not wait in idleness. Did you notice that we have been left in charge? To do as the Master would do in his physical absence. I emphasize physical absence because in a very real and spiritual sense, God has already come and is present now, as we can know if we just remain alert and watch. We have been given the responsibility to be the master agents in this world. As Paul reminded the Corinthian church, we have not been left powerless either. Hear those words again, this time from the New Living Translation: (1 Corinthians 1:7-9 NLT)  Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.  God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul reminded that congregation, as he also now reminds us, of the wonder gifts that God has already put among us. The very power of Heaven is here, we might beg that God would rend open heaven and once again visibly rule his people. One great day that will happen – when, we do do know. But in the meantime, we have been given gifts and abilities to use for the Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth: They are words of grace and Power, they are deeds of Love and mercy’; we have the knowledge of the one true God who has taken human form that we might know him more fully.
So yes, in this season of Advent, We remember his first coming and we look forward to the joyous day of his return; In the meantime, we wait, watch and work in hope and eager expectation, even as we celebrate the God who is eternally with us even now. He has come, He is Here, He is Coming – Allelluia!