Advent 2019 Pastor's Note

Advent 1: Come

A Word About Isaiah

“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord”.  This verse from (Isaiah 2:5) is our theme for Advent.  Each week a phrase from this invitation from the prophet Isaiah will frame our preaching. Let me give you a bit of background on Isaiah.

Isaiah is one of the great prophets of the Old Testament who was prolific in offering oracles and visions in his preaching.  We don’t know much about Isaiah personally, except that his name means “the Lord gives salvation.”  That is certainly one reason Isaiah’s words are read during Advent – as we wait and watch for the Lord, who gives us salvation in the coming of Jesus Christ. When we heard today’s opening verse from chapter two in Isaiah, it read as follows: “The word that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.”  That’s odd.  The word that Isaiah saw?  To see a word? But, if you go home today and read chapter one of Isaiah in your Bible, you’ll graphically SEE what Isaiah was SAYING.  Isaiah painted word pictures about the sin God’s people were living in.  God’s people were immersed in a style of living that swirled with violence, bribery, unfaithfulness and abuse of the poor.

At the same time this lifestyle was becoming the norm among God’s people in the land where Isaiah lived, a powerful foreign enemy was encamped just outside their nation’s borders, ready to attack.  During Isaiah’s ministry, the Assyrian army prepared to attack Jerusalem and the remaining land of Judah.  Assyria was already conquering and devastating God’s holy land, Israel, to the north, in battle.  Now that same army prepared to conquer God’s people, the people to whom Isaiah spoke, in the south.  God’s people have just realized the dire situation they are in.  Naturally, they bring their fears to Isaiah for God’s attention. Isaiah’s listeners think that, in this moment of crisis, it is up to God to do something about this.  In reply, Isaiah announces that God has done something; through this foreign threat, God is confronting his people with the consequences of their disloyalty and disobedience.

The people respond by arguing that they have kept worshiping God and have never turned away from their faith, so why would God be judging them?  To which Isaiah replies that God says he’s fed up with their worship.  Not because its insincere.  But because God’s people have mistakenly relied on worship alone as the only activity that keeps them connected to God in their lives.  They’ve put in their time at worship and then have gone back out into daily living to tolerate injustice, exploitation and oppression in their midst.   In this way, they’ve have made light of their relationship with God who chose them and made them his own.  It’s this disconnect between worship and daily life that’s brought God’s judgement.

A Welcome Invitation

We know that disconnect too.  Our worship at church is sincere, beautiful and inspirational.  I love our worship together here at Good Shepherd, especially in this season we are entering!  Yet, you know as well as I do – that we leave this hour together professing our love of the Lord, only to immediately re-enter daily life where injustice, exploitation and oppression seem to rise up at every turn.  We experience these things.  We perpetuate these things.  We tolerate these things.  When we leave this holy worship time, what we dream and hope for ourselves about how we might live differently as God’s people —- that vision gets sucked right out of us into a different reality.   Isaiah’s announces that God sees and judges this gap in our lives, where we aren’t at all who either we or God himself wants us to be.  Which brings us to the phrase, actually the word, that is our focus from Isaiah today.  The word is come.  It’s Isaiah’s invitation to us from God.  “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

“Come” is also a word spoken by God just a few verses earlier than these words of Isaiah today.  To a people who could participate in seemingly faithful worship one minute but then could turn back to their daily lives of sin and tolerance of sin, God says, come.  With that word come, Isaiah offers a glimmer of hope from God.  Isaiah preached, “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  (vs 1:18)    This is our Advent invitation from God for today and the weeks ahead.  “Come”, God says.  Let’s argue this out.  Come to me, says our God.  Examine yourselves.  Take a look at those disconnects in your life.  Now is the time to come into my presence, says our Lord.  Come, sit still for a while.  Look at the word pictures that form your life right now to see where your HEART of faith says one thing, but your LIFE says another.

In Advent, we Christians are invited into a different experience than our cultural frenzy that spins outside these doors.  As people of faith, God says come – before you shop and bake and rush around like crazy people preparing for Christmas – come.  Come and take some good long look at yourself.  See and confess the disconnect that you live in every day.  Then offer that to me, says our God.  Repent.  See who you really are and then hand the messy sinfulness of it over to Me.  Because I am your Lord and I can do something about this.  Though your sin be scarlet, I’ll make it white as snow.  And there is the great good news, of course!  We are cleansed by God’s doing, not our own.  As Isaiah’s name itself reminds us, “the LORD is our salvation”.  Advent is this time to come, to receive together God’s saving news, which not only Isaiah envisioned, but God himself has brought to us in Jesus Christ.

Coming into Focus

In Matthew’s gospel today, the word come is repeated over and over speaking about the coming again of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.  These word pictures from Jesus himself in Matthew, remind us that it’s time to prepare our lives for the coming of the Lord.  As I said in the children’s message today, the word come or coming in the Bible means something like coming into focus.  It is like something in the distance coming nearer and nearer – so it can be seen more clearly.  Or it’s like the eye exam I had this week.  I have terrible distance vision but it’s great when the ophthalmologist switches lenses on me and asks, which is clearer – option 1 or option 2.  What is to be seen comes much more clearly into view with the right lenses.  And so, the word come or coming bridges both our gospel and our reading from Isaiah today. God is coming more into focus.  God came in the birth of Jesus, Gods’ Son.  God’s Son will come again at the end of history in the second coming.  And in the present, God comes to us daily for people who have eyes of faith to see.  God is forever coming closer and closer and closer.

So, we sing today, not in fear but hope.  Listen to all the titles of the songs we sing today in worship that have the word come in them:  O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.  Even So Lord Quickly Come. We long for and pray for the coming of the Lord more fully into our lives because the Lord is our salvation.  As our salvation, because Jesus Christ was born into our lives and is coming again, we are on our way, through God’s transforming power, to belong ever more deeply to the Lord forever and ever. Until that final day of our ultimate salvation, Christ comes among us this day as the word and meal that strengthens our faith in the promises of God.  These gifts renew us, so that upon leaving our worship, the gap between what we’ve received here – and how we live out there – can now become smaller.  God’s nearness changes our lives.  As it does, others can see and hear what God is doing within us.  It is our hope that they also sense God coming nearer to them too.  What was begun in Jesus is not yet complete until all know that THE LORD is our salvation.

All of which leads us back to our passage from Isaiah.  In this WORD that Isaiah SEES – Isaiah invites us to come and lean into a future that God is bringing ever closer toward us.  One day God will be the center of the universe.  All peoples will come to walk in the light of the Lord.  People from every corner of the earth will flow toward God’s mountain to learn what God uniquely has to teach.  God will guide people into agreeing with one another in order that their swords will be beaten into plows.  In this future, God’s peace reigns and God’s light shines forever. Until that future fully arrives, as people of faith, we come together and long for that day.  And as we do, together we pray – AMEN, COME LORD JESUS.  Thanks be to God!