Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 3, 2023

Isaiah 64:1-9 Commentary

What are you waiting for?

At the beginning of Advent, we turn our hearts toward the practices of waiting and anticipation. Though I suppose a lot depends on what it is you are waiting for: for out of town guests to arrive, best get busy preparing extra linens and stocking up on meals.  Waiting for a baby, well, I guess it’s a lot of the same, actually.  But if you are waiting for (even begging) God to rip open the heavens, setting fires and instigating earthquakes on God’s way toward judging the whole earth?  That is more of a duck-and-cover kind of waiting.

The first Sunday in Advent, with its emphasis on “hope” does this to us every year. The hope we find in these Scripture text is not of the cozy, festive, cheery sort we expect to find in the lead up to Christmas.  Instead, we remember that what we are waiting for is … judgment.  Our hope begins with a baby in a manger but it finds its completion in a King who will judge the whole earth, putting every broken thing back together and setting all things right.  When we sing our Advent hymns this year: Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, let us remember that this is what we are wishing for.  All of a sudden, these sweet songs of expectation and longing become fierce laments. In naming the deliverance we need, we are, at the same time, chronicling all that remains so wrong with our world, with our enemies … and with us.

Be careful what you wish for

Requesting God to come down here and set everything right when we know well and good that we are part of what is wrong down here would be foolhardy. Except for Jesus.

Verse 5 in this text demonstrates a shift in pronouns, from “you” (as in, “here is what we want you to do”) to “we” (as in, “we are not ok”). Walter Brueggemann writes, “These verses change the tone of the prayer and admit that the current trouble in Israel is deserved trouble.” Here is the question the prophet poses: “how then can we be saved?”  Anticipating not only the Christmas story but also the Good Friday and Easter stories, we can name our sin and folly. We can reach out to God because Jesus Christ has born the penalty, has stood in solidarity with all the injured, abused and shamed. He has won victory over sin and shame, death and punishment.

There is much that remains a mystery about when and how the day of judgment will come. But because of the first coming of God in Christ our Savior, we needn’t fear the second coming of God in Christ our King.  To wish for God’s return is, therefore, a beautiful and brave statement of trust in all that Christ has done, is doing and will do for those who trust in his name, who hide themselves in his love. Again from Brueggemann, “The two metaphors, father and potter, affirm that in the end Yahweh has total responsibility for Israel and Israel is completely dependent upon and derivative from Yahweh’s initiative.”

An Angry God?

It is out of fashion in many circles to think of God as angry. Perhaps long gone are the days when “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” would draw much of a crowd. But we cannot read Scripture honestly and avoid the conclusion that some things make God angry.  Our sin makes God angry.  God hates the way sin contorts our souls, distorts our vision of the world, retorts God’s claims of both sovereignty and love.  However, this is often where claims of God’s anger begin and end.  God is angry with you but, on the cross, God the Father was angry at Jesus instead.  Now God is no longer mad at you.  That paradigm is certainly true and agrees with the prophet here in this text, who writes: “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.”

But God is also angry about the sin you have endured.  In a world broken by sin, cells go rogue and cancer invades the bodies of people who have not earned this suffering.  In this world, systems and institutions are built by sinful people with sinfulness built right. People who live in those systems and institutions today experience injustice, oppression and dehumanization through the system, whether any individual intended it or not.  And in this world broken by sin, sexual abuse, physical violence, emotional and psychological manipulation leave a trail of wounded people and God is mad about that too. It is also the case that God is angry with you, “with” meaning “alongside” not “at.”

And this is the anger of God that is on display in the ripping of the heavens, the quaking of the earth. A God who is eager to be with and come alongside those who are also angry about all that is so wrong with this world.  A God who is eager to come and make all things new.  In this respect, we can be grateful — even hopeful — for God’s coming judgment day.

Worship Idea

Our Advent expectation is a strong and determined hope, the kind of prayer best expressed through gritted teeth. If there is some flexibility in your worship structure, you might consider singing a traditional Advent hymn early in the service and then circling back around to it after the sermon.  Interspersing the lyrics with a comprehensive prayer acknowledging wars around the world, natural disaster, poverty, hunger, abuse.  Then, when we sing some version of “Come, Lord Jesus” we apply it beyond the notion of Jesus living in our hearts to give us a good feeling this Christmas season.  We join the prophet in asking God to come again and make all things right.


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