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).