Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Bethany Bullet - December 2, 2014

Advent is a time for waiting.  We wait for the celebration of the birth of the Christ child.  We wait for school to be out for a few weeks.  We wait for our loved ones to visit.  We wait to unwrap presents beneath the tree.  Here in the west we wait for rain.

Many wait for healing, some wait for hope, we all wait for Christmas. 

But Advent is more than that.  In Advent we wait for the return of the King.  We wait for heaven to break open like it did so long ago and for Christ to come down to earth again.  We wait for God to do what He has done before.  We wait for the salvation of the world to come and take us to be with Him in paradise. 

In this season of Advent we cry out, “When, Lord, When!” 

As a child, I remember that Advent was the longest season of the church year.  Now granted, last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday or the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, but the months of Pentecost pale in comparison to the slow weeks leading up to Christmas, especially for a child.   

When will it be Christmas?  When, Lord, when will this season be over?  When, Lord, When will this sermon be over?

One particular Advent season, when I was about 12 or 13 I vividly remember the days dragging on.  That year, my sister and I asked for an Atari video game system for Christmas.  Now, kids, this was not anywhere near the quality of a PS4 or Xbox360.  It makes Minecraft look like an HD video. 

Early in December, we did some snooping around the house and found a receipt that we were pretty sure was for the Atari.  We were so excited!  But how could we wait?  It was excruciating!  Finally after what seemed like months, Christmas Eve came.  That was the longest day I have ever experienced in my life!  It was the day the Earth stood still!! 

I would look at my sister and she would look at me and the excitement and anticipation was palpable.  Christmas Eve service was so incredibly long that year.  We sang every Christmas carol known to man, even the ones you don’t know all the words to.  Whoever sings “Lo, How a Rose Ere Bloometh”?  And what does that mean anyway?  When, Lord, When will it be time to open presents?

Eventually it was time.  It was our family tradition to open presents on Christmas Eve after Church and we dashed home as fast as our little feet would go.  Our hopes and dreams were met in Atari that night!  It was glorious!  We burned our retinas out as we played the few games we had on the giant console television until the sun came up Christmas morning. 

For many, hopes and dreams are dashed on the rocks of hurts and disappointments.  The cry of “When, Lord, When!” is not only an Advent phenomenon. 
·         When will the pain go away?
·         When will the cancer be gone?
·         When will the job offer come?
·         When will I find that special someone?
·         When will I finally beat this addiction?
·         When will I stop feeling so bad?
·         When, Lord When?  When will you do as you have done? 
For the people of Israel, they asked that same question over and over again.  In the time of Isaiah the prophet, things were not going well for the people. 

King Hezekiah peered out from behind Jerusalem’s walls only to see the Assyrian army massed around his city.  All appeared to be lost.  No nation had been able to resist the military might of Assyria. 

Although Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2), the Assyrian forces appeared to be irresistible and the destruction of Jerusalem inevitable. 

The King of Assyria had marched across the rest of Judah without much opposition and now the Assyrian commander taunted Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem and threatened them with sure destruction.  The hopes and dreams of the people were smashed in an instant. 

Scripture records the reaction of Hezekiah and Isaiah in that dark hour.  The writer of Chronicles recorded, “King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this.” (2 Chronicles 32:20)

In such ominous times, God’s believers always turn to the Lord in prayer.  Even when God appears barricaded in heaven, ignoring the suffering of his people, God’s people, in Faith, pray. 
All appeared hopeless. Heaven was silent, yet faith held to the promises of God.  Our text from Sunday is from the 64th chapter of Isaiah and is a prayer of the prophet during these trying times.
“If only you would split open the heavens and come down!  The mountains would quake at your presence.” (Isaiah 64:1)

That was Isaiah’s cry that day, and the prayer of Hezekiah in the face of certain danger and destruction.  It was a desperate plea to the God of heaven. 

These are the words of a believer facing difficult troubles and yet clinging to God’s promises of power and grace. 
At times it seems like all is out of balance.  Evil seems to triumph.  Good retreats in the face of persecution.  God’s enemies smugly defy God, and no one can restrain them. Isaiah turned to God and asks him to step into history and correct the imbalance. 
    “Come down to make your name known to your enemies.
    The nations will tremble in your presence.”
  (Isaiah 64:2b)

On that day God delivered his people from Assyria, but it wasn’t long before another earthly power took God’s people into exile in Babylon. 
“When you did awe-inspiring things that we didn’t expect,
    you came down and the mountains quaked in your presence.
No one has ever heard,
    no one has paid attention,
        and no one has seen any god except you.
            You help those who wait for you.”
(Isaiah 64:3-4)

God had demonstrated his grace in the past.  God had done awesome things that no one could have expected.

Who could have thought that God would deliver his people by separating the sea and leading them safely to the other side? 

Who could have predicted that the pride of Pharaoh’s army would be drowned in the Red Sea?

We know that we are still in bondage. We are trapped by sin and give in to temptation.  Isaiah cries out:
 “Can we still be saved?
We’ve all become unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like permanently stained rags.
    All of us shrivel like leaves,
        and our sins carry us away like the wind.
No one calls on your name
    or tries to hold on to you.
        You have hidden your face from us.
        You have let us be ruined by our sins.”
(Isaiah 64:5b-7)

When, Lord, When will you deliver us?  When will you do as you have done?

Just as no human could ever imagine the Exodus, so no human could ever imagine the deliverance God has provided for his people.  God’s entire plan of salvation lay outside the scope of human thought and imagination.

Who could imagine that God would send his one and only Son as a substitute to redeem the world from sin and deliver all humanity from death?

Who could have ever imagined that God would accomplish this by sacrificing Jesus on the cross?
What human mind could have anticipated the empty tomb?

Would any single human imagine that by faith we could become an adopted child of God?

The wisdom of God’s gracious plan lies beyond the imagination and thought of the most gifted human mind.  If anyone is to understand God’s grace, God himself must impart that understanding.
God’s deliverance always goes beyond the human intellect can imagine by itself. 

While God’s people were captive in Babylon, the faithful turned to the Lord in prayer and asked for deliverance.  Without the promises of God through the prophets, including Isaiah, not one of them could have imagined that God would break the power of imperial Babylon and free his people.

Those who tenaciously held on to the promises God had spoken knew God’s deliverance was to come.  Isaiah held fast to the principle that God would act on behalf of all those who wait for him (see Isaiah 64:4b).

Our sin still separates us from God, yet faith turns to God and depends on his gracious promises.  This turning to God in spite of sin finds power to pray, trusting in the promises of God. 

As believers we have been taught to pray “In Jesus’ name.”  God has no reason to listen to our prayers.  Yet, when we come to him we do not come to him on our own.  We come to him in the name of Jesus, who has shed his blood to wash away our sins.  God invites us to pray to him and ask “When Lord, When!” 
When dreams are shattered and hopes left unrealized we tend to cry, “When Lord when will you do as you have done?”   Advent is a cry of yearning God to act in the present and near future as He has acted in the past in order to restore His people from ruin and conflict and to be present in provision and restoration. 
God has provided provision, restoration and deliverance for you.  His answer to your cries is yes in Christ. He comes to you in His Word, in water and wafer and wine and in the hands of your neighbors and friends.

“When, Lord when?” this very human cry of desperation is often met by human action.  God comes, bestows, blesses, arrives and answers the when, most often through His servants who go to work for Him.  God works through means and he works through the hands and feet of his people to answer the question of when. 

This Advent the Blue Box will be in the Narthex each Sunday so that through our action, a financial gift, God might work in mighty ways and answer a cry of “when?” with  a “now” made possible by our action. 

Today we collect for people in Western Africa crying out, “When Lord, will this disease epidemic end?” we will be collecting for Stop Ebola Now.  This medical mission sends supplies directly to the countries battle this disease, where so many are crying out WHEN!  When will this all be over?  With confidence, we can help make a difference and be messengers of the Gospel by providing the answer “Now!”

Next week you can bring the “Now” to someone you will never meet who cries out “When?” with the gift of blood donation.  You can see the CHIMES for more information.
For we know that all the promises of God are yes in Christ!  As God’s called, redeemed and forgiven people, the answer to When is in the person of Jesus, and he is here now to bring help and salvation to all.  When, Lord, When? Now! 

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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