Summary: In this sermon we learn how to pray for the intervention of God in our world today.
In many churches, the several weeks prior to Christmas are known as Advent, from the Latin word meaning, “coming.” This preparatory season always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Thus, today is the First Sunday of Advent.
The observance of the season of Advent can be traced to the late fifth century in Italy and Gaul, and perhaps a bit earlier in Spain. Let me mention several features of Advent worth noting.
First, the First Sunday of Advent is regarded by many churches as the first Sunday of the Christian year. Advent is a time to anticipate the birth and incarnation of Jesus Christ. Historically, however, Advent is not just the season of anticipation but the season of penitential preparation for coming of Jesus Christ.
Second, as a time for the preparation for the birth and incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Scripture readings during Advent have traditionally given special attention to prophecy, with a strong emphasis on repentance, as we shall see in Isaiah.
Third, many churches use an Advent wreath during the season of Advent. The wreath lies horizontally and is adorned with five candles. The candles often have different symbolic meanings. However, one of the views is that the outer four candles symbolize the four millennia covered in the Old Testament history, and the inner candle represents the birth and incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Fourth, the traditional liturgical color for the season of Advent is purple. The color purple represents royalty (for the coming of the King) and also penitence (as befits a season of renewed repentance).
Fifth, because of the emphasis on repentance as the proper preparation for the coming of God, Advent is actually a season of great seriousness rather than great festivity. Historically, the season of Advent was a somber, reflective, repentant season in which God’s people look forward to the time when God comes down. Christmas Day was the start of the festive time, which traditionally lasts the twelve days of Christmas, from December 25 to January 6. Christians in earlier centuries would be surprised at the current emphasis on festivities prior to December 25.
Now, it is my intention to spend the four Sundays of Advent this year looking at the Old Testament lessons which are read during the first four Sundays of the Christian year. Many churches read these Old Testament texts during Advent. The focus of these texts is on the penitential preparation of the people of God looking forward to the time when God comes down.
The Old Testament lesson for the First Sunday of Advent this year is Isaiah 64:1-9. Let me give you the context for this text.
Isaiah was a prophet called by God to preach to God’s people in the southern kingdom of Judah in the 8th century BC. He came from a wealthy family, was well-educated, and preached for a period of more than forty years.
The opening sentence of the book that bears his name, Isaiah, lists the four kings who ruled Judah during the ministry of Isaiah: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah (died 740 BC), Jotham (750-731 BC), Ahaz (735-715 BC), and Hezekiah (729-686 BC), kings of Judah” (Isaiah 1:1).
Isaiah’s ministry took place during a time of great spiritual and political turmoil.
The kingdom had divided about 200 years earlier into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. God’s people were in spiritual decline in both kingdoms. They were abandoning the things of God and were become increasingly secular and worldly.
In addition to the spiritual declension there was a great political and military threat from the Assyrians. They were expanding, and in fact they defeated Israel in 722 BC and took the people of Israel into captivity. Judah was extremely worried as the Assyrians were threatening to attack and defeat them too.
It is in this context that Isaiah preached and wrote his book. Isaiah warned the people of Judah of God’s approaching judgment because of their moral decline, political corruption, social injustice, and especially spiritual idolatry. Because the nation would not turn away from its sinful practice, Isaiah announced the ultimate overthrow of Judah (which took place in 586 BC).
Nevertheless, God would remain faithful to his covenant. He would preserve a godly remnant, and he would also send deliverance through a coming Messiah. The Messiah would come out of Judah and accomplish the twin work of redemption and restoration.
Our text today is Isaiah’s prayer on behalf of God’s people. It is a deep cry of petition and confession, which could be summarized as follows, “Oh God, come down!” Let’s read Isaiah 64:1-9:
1Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—