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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who prepare for the coming of the Son in the new liturgical year said … AMEN!
Happy New Year, sounds a little weird, aren’t we supposed to have Christmas first and then have New Year? Today is the first Sunday of the church New Year, the time of Advent, the time where we wait in anticipation, our whole life is a time of waiting in anticipation of the coming of Jesus in the clouds of His power and glory. But for now we wait on the feast, the celebration of the coming of the Christ child. The Advent of His Kingdom in the world. We joined together in the Apostle’s Creed to remember that He will come again, to judge both the living and the dead. Those who have died in Christ will be raised to the resurrection the eternal Kingdom, the New Jerusalem.
Isaiah says “Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold please look, we are all your people.” (Is 64:8-9) Ya, Isaiah is addressing the Old Testament God. Remember Isaiah 6? Isaiah is raised into the presence of God: “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips… for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!’ (Is 6:5)? From the beginning of Isaiah to the end, our reading today, Isaiah is readily acknowledging the fact that we are sinful and unclean, we are simply not suitable to be in the presence of a pure, holy, God. Clearly God has revealed to Isaiah that we are sinful and there needs to be a solution to our condition. Yahweh makes it very clear to Isaiah that the sacrifices of Israel; rams, bulls, lambs, just doesn’t cut it. Read all through Isaiah 1: 10-15. But then what does God do? He promises that they will be made as white as snow… our sins will be like wool, nice and white, cleaned, made pure. He makes it very clear all through Isaiah’s book that we are sinful, and Isaiah is completely aware of his own condition. Imagine being brought straight into the presence of our completely holy God, just being overwhelmed by His holy presence, His Holy being and our being, the complete opposite, totally depraved and sinful. It must be an overpowering experience. Many people demand that God come into their presence, we couldn’t begin to cope with that, we would be consumed by our sinfulness in contrast to His holiness, we would be completely blown away and that’s why God won’t do it.
Until we completely internalize Paul’s words in our epistle reading: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus… who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( 1 Cor 1: 4, 8) Only in Christ are we guiltless, that we can then be in the presence of the Father, totally righteous and holy, but only through our baptism-new life, we are made holy, we don’t have to be reduced to the fear and disgust that Isaiah felt. In Christ, in the Father’s presence we are lifted up to joy, we can rejoice. I have no doubt that it will be an overwhelming feeling of love and freedom in Christ, in the Father’s presence.
Isaiah is making a plea for restoration. He has been made completely aware of how unworthy he is, how unworthy we all are. Isaiah is no better or worse then we are, none of us is any better or any worse. Isaiah is making this plea that we can be restored. In what way are we restored? We can now be in the Father’s presence, we are no longer separated from Him, alienated from Him. We are alienated from Him because we are aliens in relation to Him. No we aren’t green or odd-shaped, we don’t have antenna’s in our head, but our nature, as Isaiah has been made profoundly aware of, is totally opposite to His. He is completely holy, completely perfect, we are imperfect and deeply sinful. Walter Roehrs in the Concordia Self-Study Commentary writes: “Isaiah devotes the remainder of his book to correct two misconceptions his hearers and readers are prone to harbor about the way God wants to lead them to glory.” I might add that this is the way we think today, probably more so, then what the people in Isaiah’s time thought. “It is a fatal mistake on the one hand, to … walk with God with one foot, and with the other to stalk through the sewer of sin.”1 That’s the way we think today, “I’m good enough, I haven’t killed anyone, there are others much worse than me.” So we continue to live our lives in this mind-set that I can give God what ever I decide and He has to take what I give Him and deal with it. God is not a half-way kind of guy, it’s His way or no way. How the world comes to another conclusion totally baffles me. Why should a perfect, holy God be happy with some scraps that we throw Him, bring us into His presence and just allow whatever phony, mooshy, sentimental whim we chose over His perfect being? Why would He let our lusts and greed overcome His Holiness. Through our sin, we’ve messed up what God created, away from Him, cutoff from Him. He drove Satan out of heaven when Satan presumed to be better than God, why would He let us in to do the same thing Satan did? He’s not and if you think otherwise, you’re only kidding yourself. Dr Roehrs writes: “Isaiah had to set Israel straight [and by extension us who are now Israel] on both counts. He [Isaiah] foretold certain disaster for a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity’ and so depraved as to lift ‘hands … full of blood’ to the Lord in a pose of prayer.” (Is 1: 4, 15)2 That’s us, and that’s not going to work in the presence of God the Father, but in Christ we become cleansed and pure and suitable enough to be saved to eternity in God’s salvation in Jesus.
Isaiah is acutely aware of the human condition in relation to God: “We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
So what now, what needs to happen. Can we do anything that is going to make us closer to God, to make us more desirable, more deserving of being in His presence? No… But earlier in his book, Isaiah knew that God was going to move, to do something. It was going to take about 700 years, for us that would be intolerable! We want the solution, we want it now and well, if you can’t make it happen on our time table, we’re just going to have to get ourselves a new “god”. But in God the Father’s time, it is perfect, complete, not a band-aid fix, an eternal, complete, perfect fix: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6) I like what David Johnson says: “…Advent is not just anticipatory of a saccharin sweet nativity story, but bona fide bitter judgment against sin! Heaven and earth collide and are mingled in Jesus! God and man! Jesus is wrapped in human flesh; the world is wrapped in divine grace…”3 The seasonal color for Advent is usually blue, although purple is acceptable also. What other season is purple the seasonal color? Lent. The blue, and some say it’s bluish-purple, is a symbol of waiting, it represents Mary waiting with the rest of the church for her child. But the more traditional color is purple and like Lent means a time of repentance, in the sense of preparing for the coming of the Savior in repentance, being prepared for Him by repenting of our sins. That’s why we don’t normally sing Christmas carols, which are celebration, we are faithfully preparing and repenting so that in the Christ Child we are saved and we spend the Christmas season in joy and celebration. Spend the Advent season raising up your sins for forgiveness, clean out your heart, like you clean your house on Shrove Tuesday and you will be prepared to receive the child on Christmas Day as we receive the risen Christ on Easter.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.
1Roehrs, Franzman Concordia Self-Study Commentary p 490
3David A Johnson Concordia Journal Fall 2014 p 322