Summary: This passage from Isaiah 64 gives us words to express our longing for God to come down and make the world right (and make us right).
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. It’s the first Sunday of a new church year.
Advent, as was said in the Lighting of the Candles, means coming. Advent signals the coming of Christmas. (Only 28 more shopping days left!) But even more so, Advent signals the coming of Christ. The season of Advent is, in some ways, the church’s way of reminding itself that Jesus is coming…and we need to be ready.
I don’t always preach the lectionary, but some days I do. Today I’m preaching the lectionary. That’s where my argument with God came in—the argument I mentioned to you earlier—the argument that kept me up all night.
I’ve been meditating on these passages all week. The 1 Corinthians passage and the Isaiah passage are from the lectionary for the first Sunday in Advent, year B. There’s a Mark passage that’s also in the lectionary for the first Sunday in Advent, year B. (The lectionary, for those of you who don’t know, is a guide that the broader church, the ecumenical church, has put together to provide for reading and preaching through the Bible over a 3 year cycle. There are 4 passages from the Bible selected for every Sunday over a 3 year cycle. The lectionary works through the Bible in sequence in some places, and the selected passages correspond to the church year in other places.)
I am going to preach primarily on the Isaiah passage. I didn’t quite know how to do it, so I kept trying to tell God I’d really rather preach on the Mark 13 passage—at least I’ve done that one before! About 8:00 this morning I gave up and said “Ok, ok, I’ll preach the Isaiah passage.” I’ll do my best to share with you what has come to me as I’ve meditated on the Isaiah passage this week.
Advent is a time of preparation. Traditionally, as the church moves through Advent, we intentionally to seek to remind ourselves that Jesus is coming and we need to be ready. Traditionally the first Sunday in Advent has been the time to acknowledge that the earth is not as it should be, creation is broken. There is darkness. There is suffering. There is sin. Jesus came, and with his life, death, and resurrection, he brought the ultimate victory. But we await the consummation of that victory, the final fulfillment of that victory. Then, as we move through the four Sundays of Advent, we acknowledge and name God’s promises. We claim those promises as we prepare for the Light of Christ to enter once again into our world—through the birth of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas, and then ultimately and finally and decisively in the coming of Christ again.
The Advent candles symbolize that transition as we light one candle the first week and two candles the next, then three candles and four candles, as the Light of Christ rolls upon us and lights up our darkness.
This passage in Isaiah 64 in some ways marks that same type of movement. Maranatha means, basically, O Lord come. It’s scriptural. It’s also a cry that the early church used as a hopeful affirmation and a greeting. The cry, maranatha, is a reminder that as Christians gather, our hope, our expectation, and our reason for being is that Jesus is coming. O Lord come. Marantha.
Jesus is coming. O Lord, come.
God’s Word is so amazing! Have you ever noticed that scripture, which is God’s Word to us, also speaks for us to God?
The Psalms are the best example of this: God’s Word on the lips of his people, lifted up to him. In so many ways, the Psalms give us the words to speak to the God of the universe with honesty.
A few examples:
Psalm 77: “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.” I wonder if those have ever been the words from your heart, as they have been from mine.
Or Psalm 29: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
Psalm 51: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid.”
Remember, Jesus himself borrowed from the Psalms to pour out the reality of his experience to the Father. Psalm 22 gave voice to his anguish on the cross, and he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”