Nov 30, 2020
Join us as we explore God’s ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
Can you believe Advent started? The year rushed by very slowly, one day at a time with everything that plagued us over the last eleven months. But Advent is here. A time to look backward and celebrate the time when Jesus, the Messiah, came to live among us. He showed us the living God's character and sacrificed himself to pay the penalty for our sins that we might find forgiveness and life everlasting with him.
Advent also celebrates looking forward to the time when Jesus, our Messiah, will return to take us live with him for eternity. He will reign for a thousand years, renew all creation, and set the world right again. Those who believe in him for salvation will live with him throughout eternity renewed with our original purpose restored, to care for his creation forever.
Advent is a magnificent time of celebration in the Christian community and begins the global church calendar year. The first Sunday of Advent marks the recognition that God came to dwell with us and the assurance he will come again to take us home to live with him forever.
Each year, the lectionary begins Advent with scripture in mind that points to these recognitions. This year, the first lectionary scripture from the Old Testament comes from Isaiah, chapter 64. Isaiah describes events current in the prophet's time but could also describe today's events in many respects. The particular section we will explore today, though, makes a request that could be somewhat terrifying for many, if not all of us.
So, what was Israel like in Isaiah's day? First, Jerusalem held a powerful position in the world. The kingdom was prosperous by ancient standards. Yet, because of their strategic location, everyone wanted to possess that little piece of land. It was the crossroads to the north and south and west from the Mediterranean Sea. If you owned the mountain passes in and around Jerusalem, you held the region's military advantage.
As the crossroads, it also became wealthy with her ability to trade because every civilized nation passed through the region. If you wanted to charge tariffs for travel through the country, you suddenly had an instant income without much work. The country had money.
Of course, the problem with sitting on strategic property was that every other country wanted to own it. Israel faced lots of invasions. And since the northern and southern kingdoms split, they no longer had David and Solomon's kingdoms' strength. By the time Isaiah prophesied under King Uzziah, the northern kingdom was in shambles, and the southern kingdom was closing in fast.
With Jerusalem as its capital, Judah was rich, but not in ways it should have been. It had money but no character. Isaiah told of a Messiah who would come and rule the nations. One who would finally fulfill the promise God wanted to be done through Abraham's lineage. Israel's mission had always been to bless the other nations of the world, not to overpower them or become rich at their expense. God wanted Israel to show the other nations his love. Show them how to live together in community. Call them to repentance and live together in peace.
Instead, Isaiah saw oppression from the priests and kings who ruled over the people. He saw inequality in their justice between the rich and the poor. Isaiah cried out for the nation to care for the widows and orphans, those who could not care for themselves in that society. He pleaded for the nation to return to the roots of their worship. Isaiah also warned of the consequences of not heeding God's command for doing so – ruin, destruction, exile, death, the curses foretold to Moses centuries before.
Ancient Israel sounds a lot like us, doesn't it? We look for the Messiah's return. We long for freedom for oppressive governments, equality in justice between the rich and poor, care for those who cannot care for themselves, return to worship the living God. We pray for the fulfillment of the church's mission – to show the world who Jesus is, show his love, how to live peacefully together, to come to him repentantly. And we often pray, "Why are you waiting so long? Come soon!"
Then we come to Isaiah 64. Listen to these words.
If only You would rip open the heavens
and come down to earth—
Its heights and depths would quake the moment You appear,
Like kindling when it just begins to catch fire, or like water that's about to boil.
If only You would come like that so that all who deny or hate You
Would know who You are and be terrified of Your grandeur.
We remember that long ago You did amazing things for us
that we had never dreamed You'd do.
You came down, and the mountains shook at Your presence.
Nothing like that had ever happened before—no eye had ever seen,
and no ear had ever heard such wonders,
But You did them then for the sake of Your people, for those who trusted in You.
You meet whoever tries with sincerity of purpose to do what You want—
to do justice and follow in Your ways.
But You became so angry when we rebelled and committed all sorts of wrongs;
we have continued in our sins for a long time. So how can we be saved?
We are all messed up like a person compromised with impurity;
even all our right efforts are like soiled rags.
We're drying up like a leaf in autumn and are blown away by wrongdoing.
And it's so sad because no one calls out to You
or even bothers to approach You anymore.
You've been absent from us too long;
You left us to dissolve away in the acrid power of our sins.
Still, Eternal One, You are our Father.
We are just clay, and You are the potter.
We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth.
Don't be so angry anymore, O Eternal;
don't always remember our wrongs.
Please, look around and see that we are all Your people. (Isaiah 64:1-9 The Voice)
Isaiah asks for God to return as he did in ancient days. We sometimes do that, too. But Isaiah recognized what that meant. I'm not sure we do. We too often think in terms of a soft, gentle, teddy bear kind of God that will just pat us on the head and tell us everything is okay no matter what we do. He isn't that kind of God. One day, he will make everything right. As a God of love, he is also a God of justice. The two go hand in hand. He must take care of evil and sin at some point or he is not a God of love.
So, when he returns to fix the world's evil, what will he do? Isaiah describes his ancient justice and might pretty well. He ripped the heavens open and made mountains shake. His grandeur terrified those who saw his miraculous appearances. If you've been in 5 or 6 or 7 magnitude earthquakes, you understand what mountain shaking means. If you've been in the middle of a tornado, you know how you might describe the raw power of an angry God. If you've faced the rouge 100-foot wave in an ocean storm, you can understand the fear of God touching earth to cleanse evil from its face.
In ancient times, the Hebrews record times God punished sins immediately and harshly. Today, since his sacrifice on the cross, we experience another side of God's love and justice. His grace and mercy extend to us, but he has not changed. He gives us the opportunity to change, repent, follow him, and do his will. But he has not changed. God is as angry at sin and the ruin of his perfect creation as he was with Adam's first act of disobedience. God is also sad at our absence and unfaithfulness as he continues to call to us in a hundred different ways.
I like the analogy Isaiah uses to help us remember our place in the universe. God is the creator. He is the potter; we are just a lump of clay in his hands. But as the master potter, God made this lump of clay something of worth. He remembers us because he made us. He listens to our pleas because he made us. He cares for us because he made us.
This first week of Advent, celebrate the fact that Jesus, the Messiah, came to live with us. He calls us to repent and follow him. Then and now, his message is the same, believe in him, and you will have eternal life. Then remember he will return. When he does, the mountains will shake. He will come as a consuming fire. Jesus, the Messiah, will set all things right again, renewing his creation and restoring those who believe in him for salvation.
Advent begins the church year. Whatever has happened this last year, let's give it to God, and let's give this next year to him as well. He can and will make all things new. I'm ready for a renewed and restored world, but we have a lot of people who need to hear about God's love and salvation so they can join us in that renewed creation. Let's start the year right by telling them.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked THE VOICE are taken from the THE VOICE (The Voice): Scripture taken from THE VOICE ™. Copyright© 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.