1st Sunday in Advent (B)
November 29, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from Isaiah.
Today we sang one of my favorite hymns, O Come O Come Emmanuel. I love how we get to work our way through the hymn as we progress through the season of Advent. It’s a hymn of joyful prayer with a feeling of expectation and hope. We pray that He’ll come and then, in the refrain, we confess He’ll answer our prayer. We ask Him to rescue us, which He did and which He’ll do again.
O Come O Come Emmanuel is a peaceful hymn, so it seems out of place when compared to what Isaiah prays today. Where we pray for God’s compassion and rejoice, Isaiah prays, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” Isaiah asks God to show His power to make wood instantly burst into flames and water spontaneously boil. Like us, Isaiah is asking to be ransomed. Unlike us, he’s asking God to come down in all His fury to punish the enemies of His people.
Do you ever think about God coming in that way? I doubt any of our prayers ask for that either. Don’t we to focus on the innocent little baby in the manger? That’s what we see in pictures isn’t it? Jesus as a cute baby. Jesus as a tender man with the little children. Jesus as a peaceful man healing the sick who flocked to Him. But don’t forget Jesus is also God, and when God reveals Himself, it’s not necessarily what we have hanging on our walls.
To see God’s power, we can start on the very first page of the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” By just uttering the simple phrase, “Let there be…” God put His fingerprints on everything from the largest star to the smallest electron. A few chapters later, God washed evil from the world with a worldwide flood. Sodom and Gomorrah erased from existence by the fire and sulfur that rained down from the heavens. On Mount Sinai, the Israelites saw clouds and lightning, they heard horns and thunder, and anyone who touched the mountain would instantly die. At Jericho, God pushed the massive stone walls over with just a thought. God made no secret of the fact that those who rejected Him faced terrible punishments.
Then Jesus comes and everything is different, right? Well, not really. While Jesus didn’t always reveal His divine power, He certainly pulled back the curtain. He commanded the demons to go back to hell, and they did. He healed fatal diseases. He restored rotten flesh. He gave life to a dead child simply by saying, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And don’t forget the time He made a whip out of robe and trashed the tables of those making money in the Temple. This wasn’t gentle Jesus; this was the Son of God furious at the defilement of His Father’s House and showing His authority over the guilty.
If you’ve been in church the last few weeks, you’ve heard from the Gospel readings what we can look forward to when Jesus returns on the Last Day. Those who are sleeping spiritually will be rudely awakened. People separated into piles of sheep and goats, with the goats sent to an eternity in Hell. Earthquakes, stars falling from the heavens, the moon being extinguished, and Jesus says when He appears, “all the tribes of the earth will mourn, [for] they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
This kind of makes you wonder if we do want God to come back. We all want to die peacefully and go to Heaven to see God, but can you imagine facing such incredible power? We’re warned to stay awake and prepared for His return, but I know that I haven’t done a very good of that. I’ve spiritually dozed off and so have you. Can you imagine facing the Judge after He’s found you sound asleep? Isaiah wants God to come and punish Judah’s enemies, to show the world His power. Is that what we want? Well, maybe not, because that includes us, who are enemies of God by nature.
Isaiah does though describe the natural condition of all people, including you and me. He says, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you.” Every Sunday, and every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re confessing that we have failed Him. We’ve slept, we’ve become unclean and we don’t hold on to Him the way we should. When we think about our sins, the thought of Jesus coming back causes a little hesitation.
It’s clear from the Bible that God is all powerful and there’s nothing He cannot do. It’s also clear that He’s loving, compassionate, and forgiving and there’s nothing He won’t do for His people. Isaiah says, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him.” If we hadn’t heard from the prophets of the Old Testament about the Messiah being born, who would’ve ever looked for God come down as a baby. Yet, that’s what God planned and that’s what He did. The Son of God came down as a human being so that He could bring peace between us and God. Jesus grew up and spent His entire life and ministry fixing the relationship between the all-powerful God and us, the poor miserable sinners.
That the Advent season begins with the Palm Sunday reading strikes me as a little odd. They don’t appear to have anything in common. But when we look closer, what do we see? The humble baby all grown up approaching the purpose of His life in a humiliating death on a donkey. He came to Jerusalem on a donkey to finish what He started in a donkey’s feeding trough. The donkey showed that the Son of God wasn’t born to rule over the world; He was born to die for it. What kind of all-powerful God dies for His creation? Only one. Our God gave His life for yours. He ransomed you. He delivered you. This means you don’t have to fear His coming. Rather, you can look up, watching for the signs of His glorious return. “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates! Behold, the King of glory waits. The King of kings is drawing near; The Savior of the world is here.”
It’s amazing that God, who created everything with a word would come to us as a baby and an innocent man crucified by those whom he created and provided for. Yet here we are in His house, or watching on a screen, and we see how He continues to come in unexpected ways. Advent you see isn’t just about the birth of Jesus or His return on Judgment Day, it’s also about He prepares us for all the days leading up to His return. He comes to us whenever we hear His Holy Word. When we hear His miracles and His blessings, when we hear His promises, it’s Him, speaking in our ears. When we kneel or stand at the altar, it’s Jesus who gives us His holy body and blood. When we hold a baby over the font, or an adult bows their head over it, Jesus speaks through His Word to wash their sins away.
It’s through these unexpected means that God molds us to be His people. Isaiah says, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” In His hands, which are sometimes gentle and sometimes firm, He prepares us for His return. He molds us and smooths out our sinful flaws. He uses the events in our lives to make us what He wants us to be. He forms us into His people, who have been ransomed from captivity. And as He works on us, as He shapes us with the Scriptures and the Sacraments, we see the words of the Epistle come true where Paul says, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t come to strike you dead with fear. He came to save you, to preserve you, and to ensure that at His final Advent, at His final coming, you will not be afraid, you will rejoice.
We prayed earlier, “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” He has stirred up His power and you are rescued and ransomed from captivity to sin. So don’t be afraid! Sing, O Come O Come Emmanuel with joy in your heart, because when He does nothing will be the same. Just as nothing has been the same since He came the first time.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen