(Preached at Alger First UMC on 11/30/14)
Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9
Well today is the first Sunday of Advent, so we’ll be pointing towards Christmas for the next four Sundays. So today, since it’s the start of a whole new Christian year and the start of Advent, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page about what we’re really doing during this season.
Advent is not just a feel-good time of the year. Advent is not just a time to muster up all of those sentimental emotions that we all get around Christmas-time. Advent is not just a time to have those nativity scenes and cute Christmas pageants. Advent is not just a time to stress out what gifts we’re going to get our families or about how our whole family is coming over to our house and we’re not ready. All of those things have their time and place, I’m not saying they’re all bad. But this season of Advent, I’d like to invite you to widen your picture of what is really going on.
Advent is the time that we remember when God came into the world. Advent is the time that we remember the day that God saw our brokenness, saw us wandering, lost in the darkness of our sin. God saw our complete inability to fix everything that we had broken. And in Advent, we remember when God said “No more of this” and came down into the world, put on human flesh, and became one of us. We remember the day that God’s kingdom broke into the world in the body of a child. What does that mean for us? It means complete restoration. And Advent is the time of preparation for that restoration.
Now in our text for today, we can hear this cry for restoration, this desperate plea to God for God to break open the heavens, make the mountains shake and the nations tremble as God enters the playing field. But then it switches to kind of a tone of anger at God, saying that God hid Godself when we did wrong. We are completely unrighteous and sinful, and it’s because God has hidden Godself from us. And finally, there’s a tone of reconciliation, where Isaiah pleads with God to remember us as God’s children, to restore us.
I think it’s important for us to realize what the Israelites were going through at this point in time. Last week, we talked about Ezekiel and we said the Jewish people had been taken captive to Babylon, that huge evil nation, right? That exile was the crisis in the Old Testament. Yeah, the Exodus event where Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt was a big event in Israel’s history, but this Babylonian Exile is a huge deal in a different way.
This exile seemed like it completely wiped out the Jewish faith in their God. For a lot of the Jewish people, this was a huge crisis of faith, on a national level. They had all these promises coming from God that God would rescue them, that God would protect them. They were God’s chosen people, God had plucked them out from all of the other nations and chose the Israelites to be his people. And now the people of God have been taken away. God did not protect them. God did not keep Jerusalem and the temple from being destroyed and thousands of Jews from being killed. God’s chosen people have been destroyed. And what does that say about their God? How can an all-powerful God allow any of this to happen? I mean, this was a huge deal-their faith is now a mockery. The God upon whom they believe the very existence of their nation depends, the existence of that God is called into question. That’s what exile really meant for them.
So with that in mind, I think we can get better picture of what this passage is really saying. This is no weak call for help. This is a crazy, panicked, wild-eyed cry for God to act. “God, tear apart the heavens and come down here! Make the mountains tremble and the earth shake!” And if we really read it, especially in context with Psalm 80, which was our call to worship today, there’s a tone of anger towards God. Let me read verse 7 again: “No one calls on your name; no one bothers to hold on to your, for YOU have hidden YOURself from us, and have handed us over to our sin.” God it is YOUR FAULT. It’s YOUR FAULT that we are in exile, that our lives are ruined, that we are separated from our families, our country, and you.
Psalm 80 really captures that. You heard that for your Call to Worship today. Can we read it again?
Shepherd of Israel, listen!
You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
Wake up your power!
Come to save us!
3 Restore us, God!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
4 Lord God of heavenly forces,
how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
5 You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
you’ve given them tears to drink three times over!
6 You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
our enemies make fun of us.
7 Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
Do you hear the desperation there? Do you hear the anger, the hurt, the confusion, the disappointment? The Israelite people are in deep pain, they need help, and they’re letting God know about it. They NEED this restoration. They NEED some huge decisive action of God, they NEED God to step in and take care of things.
In a way, we’re all in exile today. In a way, we’re all in the same situation the Israelites were in. We might not be physically separated from our families or our homes. We might not think that we are that separated from God. But let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s take an honest look at our situation today.
This world is broken. Look at what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri. I don’t know how much you all know about it, but I think we probably all know that there have been some pretty crazy things happening over there, with the police officer Darren Wilson who shot Michael Brown not being indicted. There have been a lot of fiery words shot back and forth between sides over this situation, but I think what we can all agree on is that it points to our state of exile. It’s incidents like this that point to a much larger issue-there is something deeply broken in this world. The barriers of race still divide us, to the point of hatred and violence and death. The mother and father of Michael Brown have not only lost a son, his killing was the catalyst that started all of these riots and a big controversy that has shook the nation. There is something in us that tells us that this is not supposed to be happening. There is something in us that screams “The world isn’t supposed to be this way!”
I think this truth hits even closer to home. There have been three deaths in our church family in the past week. And one of the questions that we have to come to terms with when faced with the death of those close to us is “Why did this happen? Why was this person or why were these people taken away from me?” And there’s no answer to that question. And that’s not just because I’m 22 years old and haven’t even graduated from college yet, there is no easy answer to those questions no matter how old you are, no matter what you’ve seen.
It’s times like this that we can see how much we need this restoration. It’s times like this, when we keep hearing of these deaths, that we scream “The world isn’t supposed to be this way.” The world is broken. We are broken. We are sinful, through and through. No matter how much we try to cover it up with good deeds, no matter how much we try to hide it behind our smiles, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. And we all know it. We try to fix it, but we just keep leaving a trail of destruction behind us. Broken relationships, broken dreams, broken lives, broken homes. This is our story. We are broken. And we stand with Isaiah, yelling for God to show Godself like God used to, in pillars of fire and in earthquakes and floods. We yell at God for letting it get this bad. We have all become unclean, all our righteous deeds are filthy, dirty rags, we wither like leaves, and it’s all because you left us God. And we plead with God to remember that we are God’s children. Father, don’t hold our sins against us forever.
But in Advent, just as we remember how deeply we need restoration, we also remember that this Restoration is coming. The birth of Jesus Christ ushered in a new age. God sent himself down to earth as a human baby, and when God was born, the kingdom of God began to come into the world. Restoration began.
But why don’t we feel restored yet? Why are we still broken? Because the work of restoration takes a long time.
We are like an antique chair. The chair was beautiful and ornate when it was originally made. The dark brown polished wood shone in the light. All of the carvings and etchings and woodwork were perfect. The upholstery had all of these beautiful, brightly colored patterns on it. It was even comfortable to sit in, well-padded.
But then the chair was put in the attic. The owner died or moved away and had to sell it. And someone bought it thinking that it would look nice in their house. But then it just ended up in the attic or in the basement, with all of the other useless knickknacks. No one saw it for years. The colors faded. The wood became chipped and worn and dusty. One of the legs was about ready to fall off. Some of the upholstery started tearing loose, the stuffing started spilling out. It looked nasty.
But then, one day, someone ventured up into the attic and they saw the chair. And they saw all of the faults, all of the damage done to it and how it had been forgotten for years. But they saw past all of that and they could see the beauty that this chair had had when it was originally made. And they saw that that beauty was still there, they just had to bring it out. So this person brought the chair down from its exile in the attic and began to restore it. They sanded down the wood, carved and etched it like it was before, and polished it to a shine. They got new padding and new fabric and reupholstered it with designs and patterns that were even more colorful and more beautiful. They reattached the broken leg. And they sat the chair in their living room for all of their family and guests to see how beautiful and comfortable it was.
That’s the kind of restoration that God wants to do with us. That is the kind of restoration that the birth of Jesus Christ ushers in. That is the kind of restoration that we need to prepare ourselves for. Hear me-this restoration is coming. I guarantee it. And in this season of Advent, we are going to prepare ourselves for this restoration.