November 29, 2020: 1st Sunday in Advent

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we anticipate Your coming we also begin the process of getting ready for it by sweeping our hearts clean.  We know that now is the time to turn over a new leaf.  Now is the time to bury our shameful sins in Your grave.  Now is the time to repent and begin a new life of joy and oneness with You.  Today enable and empower us to begin that process.  Amen


TEXT:  Isaiah 63: 16,17; 64: 1-8

Dearly Beloved Sinners Who Are Longing For Something Better:

          Almost everyone engages in stereotyping other people.  It’s not fair.  It’s not right.  We hate it when people do it to us.  And yet, that beat goes on.  I smile inwardly when someone I don’t know finds out that I’m a pastor.  Immediately you can see them beginning that process of stereotyping.  They expect a limp handshake and pious platitudes.  They also expect me to be a doormat for them when it comes to their troubles.—Giving them a pat on the back when they recount them to me.  However, when I give them a firm handshake, look them square in the eye and tell them: “Yes, it sounds like you’ve got a problem, now what are you going to do about it?”  At that, they look bewildered.  Suddenly their stereotypes are shattered.

          Fact: most people admit they have problems in life and know exactly what those problems are.  Fact: most people don’t want to do anything about solving them because it means changing their ways and violating their comfort zone.  Fact: most people would rather moan about them or tell others of them than actually turning over a new leaf.  Fact:  to really change it usually takes a person hitting rock bottom emotionally.  Fact: handing out pious platitudes and telling them: “Oh, it will be alright” when it won’t, is wrong and I won’t engage in such behavior.  I’m a preacher, a pastor, a Christian who knows right and wrong and I’m not an enabler.  So, on this first Sunday of Advent, as we prepare our hearts to meet Christ in a manger, and more importantly to have Him meet us, we all need to ponder the words of Isaiah with this question in mind:



          Isaiah is an old man.  He’s looking back on his life’s work of preaching Godly truth to combat human error and arrogance.  And he sees that, more often than not, his work seems to have been in vain.  For the nation of Israel is straying away from the Lord more now than they did when he began.  In frustration he sums it all up when he writes: “You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.  Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?  Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your inheritance.”

          This lament is not a blaming of God for all Israel’s problems.  A quick look at the Hebrew text reveals that a better translation would be: “Why do you let us fall into error and why do you harden our hearts after we have already done so?”  In other words, God is not to blame, man is.  That distinction is just as vital today as it was in Isaiah’s time.  People get drunk.  People cheat.  People lie.  People let their emotional pride destroy relationships.  People put the worst construction on the words and actions of others. And then, when heartache and depression ensues, they usually blame God for it instead of taking personal responsibility. 

          God’s ways are pure and right.  They are just and holy.  They are loving.  “He does not want even one sinner to perish.”  And He proved that point by sending us a Redeemer, One Who came to buy us back from the sickness of sin, with His life.  He sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross to save our souls and make our lives complete.  The problems we face are our own making, not God’s.  So, instead of blaming Him or getting angry or upset with Him, we should get angry and upset with ourselves.  We don’t though, do we?  And because of that, eventually God actually does sometimes harden people’s hearts.  For if we fail to engage in repentance and fail to embrace humility, after while even God’s patience can run out.  And lest you think this doesn’t happen today, recall the days after 9-11.  Recall how people turned to the Lord and flocked to churches because physically, mentally, and emotionally they could not handle the pain.  And then, after a couple of weeks, they went right back to same-as-usual.  Yes, what does it take to create humility?  What does it take to create it in you?


          This phenomenon of human forgetfulness is touched on by Isaiah in the next paragraph.  He recalls Israel in the wilderness where God led them with a cloud of fire and smoke.  He recalls the earthquakes, the Red Sea flood that saved them, and their God-lead triumph over countless enemies.  But, how quickly they forgot!  “For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.”

          And now, now Isaiah lifts up his eyes toward God’s innate goodness.  He lifts his soul up toward God’s wonder and majesty.  “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 you ways.  But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry.  How then can we be saved?”

          That, my friends, is the age-old lament of all God’s children.  How then can we be saved?  It’s an Old Testament harbinger of St. Paul’s New Testament lament: “The good that I want to do, I don’t do.  But the evil that I don’t want to do, that I keep on doing.  O, wretched man that I am!  Who can save me from this body of death?”  And of course, Paul also supplies the answer: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”


          The hallmark of a Christian is humility.  It is a dissatisfaction with our personal attempts at righteousness or goodness before God.  It is the admission that no matter what we do, it is tainted.  It is like a filthy rag before God, ready for the trash heap of history.  It is the realization deep inside that without His love in Christ we would shrivel up inside and true self-sacrificing love would die.  Be honest with yourself.  Do you really want to hold your life up to God Almighty as the reason why He should bless you and take you into heaven?  Such arrogance is akin to spitting in His face, isn’t it?  Likewise, dictating to Him and telling Him what it would take to make you happy, content, and fulfilled—all based on human stereotypes of success—that is pure arrogance.     No, the humble believer confesses with Isaiah: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” 

          This Advent season embrace humility.  Let God be God in your life.  Listen and act on His commandments.  Don’t be angry if He allows sadness to occur, learn from it and accept it as a way to make you rise above human stereotypes.  Just as in Christ, God broke the stereotype of: “you do this for Me, and I’ll do that for you” by freely and lovingly having Christ do it all when it came to forgiving us and saving our souls, so rise above the pain and suffering of the here and now by always pleading His tender mercy.  Yes, humility is letting God be God and not second-guessing Him.  Learn that lesson anew through faith-filled repentance and you truly will have a blessed Christmas season and a blessed lifetime.  You see, true peace only comes when we cease fighting against our God.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

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