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Watch, Wait, Hope

Date: 
December 3, 2017
Speaker: 
Rev. Terry Martinson
Reading: 
ISAIAH 64:1-9

INTRODUCTION

  • Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard weaves the following tale which may add to our understanding of this holy season:

A prince wanted to find a maiden suitable to be his queen. // One day while running an errand in the local village he passed through a poor section. As he glanced out the windows of his carriage, his eyes fell upon a beautiful peasant maiden. During the days that followed he often passed by the young lady and soon he fell in love. But he had a problem. How would he seek her hand in marriage? // He could order her to marry him, but even a prince wants his bride to marry him freely and voluntarily and not through coercion.  // He could put on his most splendid uniform and drive up to her front door in a carriage drawn by six horses, but if he did this he would never be certain that the maiden loved him or was simply overwhelmed with all of the splendor. // The prince came up with another solution. He would give up his kingly robe. He moved into the village, entering not with a crown but in the garb of a peasant. He lived among the people, shared their interests and concerns, and talked their language. // In time the maiden grew to love him for who he was and because he had first loved her.

  • This is the story of this holy season… the story of God coming down to us as one of us… to live among us… to win our hearts not with power or splendor, but with unconditional love… (Harding)
  • Advent, which begins today, is a season of expectation, anticipation, and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus…
  • The themes of Advent are HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE – symbolized by the four candles on the Advent wreath, but the bywords of Advent are: WATCH, WAIT, and HOPE
    • Advent has always been a season of watching, waiting and hoping… and today we still watch, wait and hope…
    • Our hope is in Jesus Christ… the hope that The Messiah will be born in our lives again and dwell in our hearts once more… and that the fulfillment of this hope will restore us to wholeness…
    • Advent is indeed a season of possibilities…
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred Lutheran pastor, while imprisoned by the Nazis, wrote a letter before Christmas in 1943 in which he said, “Life in a prison cell reminds me a great deal of Advent… one waits and hopes and putters around, but in the end what we do is of little consequence. The door is shut, and it can only be opened from the outside.”
    • God is faithful…
    • God will open the door and come to us…
    • For now all we can do is watch, wait and hope.  (Self)

 

ISAIAH AND ISRAEL

  • On this first Sunday of Advent the scripture reading was from the Prophet Isaiah.
  • A prophet is a spokesman for God and sometimes a spokesman for God’s people…
  • Isaiah was a prophet of Israel about 700 years before the birth of Christ…
  • The people of Israel were living in dark, desperate times - times not unlike our own…
    • Jerusalem had been conquered… the temple had been destroyed… and the people of Israel had been deported to Babylon where they were held as prisoners in exile…
    • No longer was Israel a proud nation standing on the promise of God…
    • No, Israel was in the midst of a deep spiritual crisis and a grave political crisis, and God’s people were at the end of their hope.
  • They longed for “the good old days” when they experienced God’s presence…
    • They remembered how God was present with Moses, Joshua, and King David as Israel was becoming a nation… but where was God now?
    • Where was God when they needed God the most? Where was God in their time of desperate struggle?
    • They looked high and low, but God could not be found… for so many years they had known God’s presence, but now they felt abandoned… it was almost as if God had disappeared…
    • O, how they longed for God!

 

THE PRAYER OF ISAIAH

  • Isaiah, the prophet, becomes Israel’s spokesman… Isaiah was hungry to see God come down… too long had Israel been waiting for God… so Isaiah approaches God in prayer…
    • Not just an ordinary prayer, but a most impassioned and earnest petition…
    • Isaiah, with great intensity, prayed for God to visit his people again…
    • “Don’t just look down,” Isaiah prays, “but tear open the heavens and come down… come down as you have before.”
    • “Do something dramatic – earth shattering, God.”
    • “Do something that will make the ocean waters boil and the mountains shake… You’ve done it before, God! Do it again!”
    • “Oh, Lord, if only you would come down to us again in power. Show our enemies who you are! Remind us again of your great power and might.”
    • “Your remoteness, your apparent indifference, your silence, O Lord, must end! Tear open the heavens and come down!”
  • It doesn’t sound too much like a Christmas prayer, or does it?
  • Isaiah’s impassioned plea is followed by a careful reflection that turns his prayer of petition into a prayer of confession…
    • “Without you, Lord, we are a hopeless people.”
    • “Because you have withdrawn from us we have become a sinful nation… or perhaps it’s the other way around – is it because of our sin that you have fallen silent?
    • “Whichever way it is, we need you… for we have become like filthy cloths and faded leaves… without you our lives are empty and meaningless.”
  • Then Isaiah rebounds with words of great faith…
    • The most important word in Isaiah’s prayer is the word YET! (Isaiah 64:8)
    • “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father!” Nothing else matters! “Nevertheless, you are our God!”
    • Isaiah reaffirms God’s presence.
    • “You are the potter… you are the one who is shaping our world.”
    • “You, O Lord, are the One who can restore us… you are the One who can forgive our sin… you are the One who can make us as you wish. You are the potter. We are the clay. Our lives are in your hands, O Lord.”
  • As Bonhoeffer said, “One waits, and hopes, and putters around, but in the end what we do is of little consequence. The door is shut and it can only be opened from the outside.” All we can do is watch, and wait, and hope.
  • YET, Isaiah had faith… faith in the living God who indeed would tear open the heavens and come down… faith in the living God who indeed would restore Israel as a nation… faith in the living God who would indeed set his people free from the crisis of their sin and captivity and mold them again into his people…

 

OUR PRAYER

  • Could Isaiah’s prayer be our Christmas prayer?
    • Are we as hungry as Isaiah was to see God at work in the world?
    • Are our prayers as impassioned as Isaiah’s prayer?
    • Do you ever pray with the intensity with which Isaiah prayed?
  • For us, too, times are difficult… the world is not at rest… we are surrounded with a multitude of crises… our lives reflect our struggle…
    • Yes, there are times when God appears close at hand, but we also experience times when God seems so very far away…
    • In the past year have you uttered these words, “Where is God?”
    • Like Israel, we need God to do something earth shattering… something that will change the world… we need God to tear open the heavens and come down to us…
  • It seems as if all we can do is watch, wait and hope… and make Isaiah’s prayer our own prayer – an Advent yearning – a journey toward honesty, responsibility, confession and repentance that leads to hope and renewal.

 

CONCLUSION

  • On this first Sunday of Advent we find ourselves in the “waiting place.”
  • “Tear open the heavens and come down…”
  • “We will watch, wait and hope, for we know that you are God!”
  • Advent is God’s hope-empowering message to us! The gift of Jesus Christ is God’s answer to our prayers. God has not abandoned us… God has not forgotten us… God has not forsaken us…
  • Jesus is God’s word of hope!
  • May we celebrate all that God has done… is doing… and promises to do!

 

Sermon Seeds

  • Interpreter’s Bible – Isaiah 64
  • What Are You Waiting For? – a sermon from Preachersmagazine.org
  • The Waiting Place – a sermon by William Self
  • Shaping Prayer – a sermon by Thomas Hall
  • Advent Through The Eye of a Prophet – a sermon by Joe Harding
  • Getting Ready for Something Big – a sermon by Kenneth Sauer

 

Worship Bulletin

Worship Insert