Sermon, Advent 1, Sunday November 29, 2020, St Petri

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 for ever.
Oh, look upon us we pray,
for we are all your people.

This feels like it is dragging on now. This lockdown-open up, lockdown-open, COVID this and coronavirus that, cluster here and quarantine there. It is dragging on now.

Like a painful dicky knee or a being on a holiday you don’t really want, it is dragging on. We wish this would be the last of it, but we know that will probably not for some time. We grit our teeth as we watch and we wait…..

But friend, maybe there is gift of God here for us this Advent. Maybe we enter into what we usually miss in God’s Word in Advent.

Let me explain….

Advent is here. It is that time of listening to Jesus’ call to watch and wait for him. Nice idea. Must be important to someone….

But do we ever feel that longing? Do we feel the weight of Jesus’ words of longing? I am not sure we do – not like the psalmists and prophets do.

In our days, Advent works like a gradual build up to the much-loved moment of Christmas. For many, and for many a family, retail business, hospitality and accommodation outlet, the expectation builds toward that peak time of connectedness, holidays, much needed income – Christmas; especially this year after all the shut downs etc….

Now of course, there is nothing wrong with business or family or holidays! But there is something else in these Advent bible words we often miss. It is a deep longing.

The psalms speak of it. The prophets speak of it. Jesus himself speaks of this longing for the final and full completion of all things – that apocalypse, that final resurrection; the Messiah’s final appearing for all to see that ends all suffering.

After the year we have experienced, maybe we are closer to Jesus’ longing than we have been for a generation or two?

I was talking with my mate last week. His mother-in-law had just died. We had spent some time together with his wife and father in law in the hospital. As we came out to leave, we couldn’t help but notice the long and constant line of cars in the drive through COVID testing station set up right at the front door of the hospital.

As we pondered the life and death we had just shared and surveyed the scene before us; person after person getting a COVID test, my friend said that he has been telling his three high school and young adult aged kids that this is the first time in his 50 years that his and their Western way of life has been significantly challenged.

He was not around for the Depression, or WWII. He did not really understand Vietnam. He did have a moment of worry about having to sign up for military service when Operation Desert Storm happened in the first Gulf War in Iraq. But that was just a fleeting thought and the whole thing was a long way away.

But this pandemic has been close, personal, invisible, everywhere and genuinely disruptive to his life. He said that he has not really known what to do with it; how to respond to it.

The older people did know more than us, we concluded. They seemed to respond more easily. They have been there before. But not us.

But maybe we now ‘know’ our disease, our troubled world, our limited effectiveness to stop suffering and injustice more deeply.

Maybe we have been confronted in a new way with the ugly truth that that we seem very good at making these things happen, despite our best effort to be positive, our best science, our best entrepreneurial spirit?

Maybe we can truly join the prophet this today:

[a]Oh, (God), that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains would tremble before you!
……come down to make your name known to your enemies
    and cause the nations to quake before you!

6 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.

Maybe this Advent and Christmas will draw us deeper into Jesus’ hope because of the year we have experienced and his Word now speaking into that experience?

  • We know our weakness and limited skills.
  • We know Jesus’ sure hope.
  • We live in the middle; we now we know it; feel it – and as a result we are closer to Jesus’ heart for us and his world. I hope so.

We know the story. We know the hope of a joyful end, a holy and loving God, a Saving Jesus.

We know hope: the hope of the apocalypse – the final and full appearing of this Messiah Jesus for all to see and know and tremble and rise.

We know that there is better for our time now. There is another way to be fully human and fully alive – not by power and greed and force and fixing our own diseases, but by humility and serving and loving as we are deeply loved. That is our freedom and faith in Jesus. He is our constant forgiveness, and he is our hope.

And we know our need. Our normal comfortability has been challenged. Our lives have been disrupted. Our mortality has been on the world stage.

If this year has taught me one thing it has reaffirmed in me the deep conviction that we human beings, and this planet earth have a deep need to be rescued from our own disease – spiritual, physical and mental.

It has also taught me that being a Christian is hard. There is this huge tension we live in. We live in all this disease and unease with all of its heartache and pain all the time.

But we live in the hope. There will be an end to this. And it will be a very good end and that end is not far off ‘over there’ or ‘up there’, it has already begun. Jesus has had his first apocalypse – his first appearing. It is what Christmas celebrates. He is already here – in part – as in a dimly lit mirror.

Because we are here and Jesus is here, maybe this Advent will build to a different Christmas – a ‘two for one’ Christmas – one that celebrates the first apocalypse – the arrival, the glory, the angels, the beauty and the delight of a new born in our midst.

And yet, also a second apocalypse; a deeper awareness of our hope in this baby’s second appearing – his full saving, his grand final appearing for not just those of faith in him but for everyone to finally and fully see.

This Christmas may be a very full ‘two for one’ deal. Gawking in delight at the first apocalypse – the first appearing with the baby in the manger and, deep longing for The Apocalypse – the final appearing; this Saviour finally saving; fully appearing and fully completing what he has begun.

We come to God and truly feel and know the lungful prayers of the ancient people. It is from Psalm 80;

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
     before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us! (Psalm 80:1-2).

 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

Would you pray this longing in this ‘two for one’ Christmas?

Would you make this prayer your prayer this Advent, not only for your own sake, but for this community’s sake, your brothers and sisters in the household of faith’s sake, for this environment’s sake, for Jesus’ sake?

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

It is going to be my prayer this Advent.

Restore me, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that I may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

Come, Lord Jesus, come.