The First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9

The road to Bethlehem, that is the moment when the Christ child can be born in the manger within our own heart, begins with recognition of how we so desperately need God and how we have failed so miserably in being who we ought to be.

 Isaiah 64: 1-9

[a]Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
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[b] our sins.

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.

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.

Where the Road to Bethlehem Begins

 Introduction…

We spent Friday putting up the Christmas Tree, getting the train out to put it up around the tree, bringing up boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations and putting out the Nativity Scene in the front yard.  Just thinking about it made me tired and grumpy.  Thank goodness grandson Drew came by to help.  Even with his help we were still exhausted.

There is a lot to do once Advent arrives and we start getting ready for Christmas.  It is a season of preparation, as we get ourselves ready to celebrate again the birth of the Christ.  But it’s not the physical getting ready we want to focus on today…it’s the spiritual preparations required from us.

It’s a long road to Bethlehem, a long road indeed.  As we begin the journey that will take us the next four weeks to complete let’s begin thinking about what that journey will entail…and what it will require from us.

 

The Scriptural background…

The scripture today is taken from a time when God’s people longed for Him.  They felt his absence and they hungered for a sense that He was still with them.

They knew from the stories of their elders that once the people had been close to God and God had been close to them and they lived in mutual and joyful relationship with one another.

But now, they lived in a different time, a coarser time, and the people knew not God and God knew them not.  They were estranged from God.  He seemed so very far away.

They knew the right things to do, the right way to behave, the moral and ethical basis of daily life yet they lived apart from God, estranged from his ways, indifferent at best to His presence and they missed God, they longed for Him, they yearned for a renewed sense of His presence among them.

They remembered how good life had been with God in their lives and now they were distant and cold and hurt and lonely and they pleaded to God to become known to them again, to walk among them again and they pleaded with God as a child pleads with his mother or his father “Do not be angry beyond measure, LORD, do not remember our sins forever, Look on us, we pray, for are all your people”.

My, how some things never change.  In an age where we like to remind ourselves daily that nothing stays the same, that everything changes, we can’t help but be awe struck about how, no matter how nothing stays the same, some things never change.

 

  1. We are living in a period in time very much like the time of Isaiah aren’t we? I think so.  History repeats itself.

We are a people that have forgotten God.

We are a people that chases after, lifts up, worships all kinds of false Gods and idols.

We are a nation that is at its best losing our moral compass or as some fear has already lost it.

We are a people that prize

many things above being the right people,

doing the right thing,

following the right values

and instead we chase after all the wrong things,

lift up the wrong example, making rock stars, movie actors and musicians the role models for our children and then wonder how they lose their bearings later in life.

Fewer and fewer call on God’s name.

We’ve driven him out of our schools, our courthouses, our political discourses and boxed him into a single time period Sunday morning, (or its equivalent for people of other faiths), particular place (houses of worship) and banned Him from the rest of the week and all the other places in our lives.

We’ve lifted up the almighty dollar as everything and we sacrifice our true feelings and viewpoints on the altar of political correctness.

 

How very similar our times are to Isaiah’s times.

Once we walked with God but not so much anymore.

Once we expected our leaders to be people of God but not so much anymore.

Once we wrote our laws and framed the discourse in our society around what we perceived to be based on our faith and in the name of our Lord but not so much anymore.

Like the people of Isaiah’s day we have become a people that once knew God and knew He walked with us in our daily lives but that was once…and it’s not today.

“7 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[b] our sins.”  Isaiah 64:7

 

  1. Which brings me the second observation for today…we have given over to our sins.

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.                        Isaiah 64:6

We are all sinners.

We have all fallen short of being the kind of people we want to be and should be.

No one is without fault.

Yet, we continue to search for the speck in our neighbor’s eye while not acknowledging the beam in our own.

Yet, we continue to blame others for our faults and sins, barely, if at all, able to accept responsibility for our own actions and attitudes.

 

It’s not just that “we the people” have fallen away from God, more to the point, “me the person” has done so as well.  It’s one thing to rant about we the people, it’s quite another to note “we the person”.  It gets personal at that point.

It’s not enough to recognize that our nation has drifted away from God, it’s that all too often we have too.

It is we who make coming to church to worship with others a matter of convenience and dependent on whatever else is taking place or not taking place in our lives.

It is we who ignore the poor and obsess in our own wealth, our own pursuits, our own lack of caring and self focus.

It is we who start fights and then back away and let others clean up the mess or spill their own blood while we stand by and watch.

It is we who lie to ourselves about who we really are, what we really believe in and how we really give God priority…or don’t.

It is we who avoid responsibility for ourselves while placing the blame for what is wrong with us or wrong in our life on someone else, anyone else, everyone else.

It’s not just that our country has moved away from God, it’s that we ourselves have.

 

III.  Which brings us exactly to the point for today.  The beginning point of being able to actually experience for ourselves the joy and the majesty of the birth of the Savior is the recognition of our hunger for God and our need to repent of our own state of affairs.

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 64:8,9

 Yes, that is precisely the point.

The long, rugged, sometimes lonely road to Bethlehem, begins with both the recognition of our own sin and our own need to come closer to God once again.

We need God.

We need God to be close to us.

We need to feel close to God.

We have a fundamental hunger to walk with God and when we have gotten off the path and no longer walk with him the road gets all the harder and the way all the fraught with danger and the walk all the lonelier.

The Bible says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”   Psalm 42:1

We may walk without God for awhile in our journey but I believe there is within the heart of all a need, a desire, a hunger, a thirst for God that can never be filled, never be quenched, never be satisfied apart from God.

Hungering for a sense of God in our life is as fundamental to most people as thirsting for drink and hungering for food.  We all need and hunger after God.

 

And so the long hard road to Bethlehem, a metaphor for the place where Jesus is born begins with a recognition of our own state of affairs and knowing how basic our hunger for Him is and in the journey then we begin to find our way back to God.

You can’t be found if you don’t know you’re lost.

You can’t be redeemed if you don’t know how lost you are in the first place.

You can’t find God until you know you are looking for Him.

 

This is the point of the Advent journey.

Today we begin a journey of some 4 weeks.

 

Closing,

If putting up the decorations in preparation for Christmas is exhausting don’t even mention the work required in a spiritual sense in preparing ourselves for His birth in our heart.  It’s a long road to be sure.

For you to find your way to a place where the Lord may be born again in your own heart and present in your own life the journey must begin with a recognition of how far from God we are, a deep awareness of our hunger for a real relationship with God and a prayer to ask Him to show himself again to us.

It’s a long road.

Frankly, I wish it were but I can’t tell you it’s an easy road.  It’s a long, hard, lonely road to tell the truth.

But it’s a road worth taking.  It’s a journey worth beginning.

Whether it’s a month of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and I’m getting my two front teeth for Christmas or a real journey of spiritual substance and nurture, of coming closer to God and a renewed sense of His presence in your life is ultimately you much decide for yourself.

But, it all begins with recognition of who we really are, hunger for something more and desire to be with God in deeper and more significant ways than ever before.

The long, rugged, sometimes lonely road to Bethlehem begins with both the recognition of our own sin and our own need to come closer to God once again.

Let the journey begin!