Summary: 1) Hurry! 2) Halt! 3) Help! Isaiah models how we can patiently wait for the coming of the Messiah.
Waiting. No one likes to do it. Coffee addicts don’t like having to wait for their morning cup to brew. Kids don’t like having to wait for their birthday to come. And no one likes waiting at the hospital emergency room. That’s the worst isn’t it? The fact that you’re at the ER means that there’s a problem, and you want that problem fixed right away. But in 2013 the average wait time at Alberta hospital emergency rooms was nine hours! That’s a long time to wait with a shooting pain in your stomach, or when you’ve broken your leg. That nine-hour wait is going to be even more miserable if it’s during the night. Good luck getting any sleep in a plastic chair surrounded by other sick people.
But you know, a nine-hour wait is better than a 17.5 million-hour wait. That’s about how many hours there are in 2,000 years—the length of time Christians have been waiting for Christ’s return. And here we are again, at the beginning of another church year ready to celebrate Advent and to encourage one another: “Jesus is coming!” But when? Hasn’t the wait been long and hard enough? Old Testament believers felt the same way as they awaited the Messiah’s first coming. How did they handle the wait? That’s what we want to find out over the next four Sundays of Advent with a sermon series entitled: “Waiting with the Old Testament Church.” Today we’re going to learn about the importance of waiting with prayer.
All of our texts are going to come from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who worked in Jerusalem about 700 years before Christ’s birth. In Isaiah’s day the Assyrians had overrun most of Israel and Judah and had even laid siege to the great city of Jerusalem. As Isaiah watched the destruction, he opened his mouth in an anguished prayer. “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! 2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! 3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you” (Isaiah 64:1-3).
Isaiah wanted to know why God seemed so distant from his chosen people. Why didn’t God hurry and come to their rescue? Isaiah knew that God was no wimp. He could smash to pieces any enemy as easily as we can smash a clay jar. So Isaiah wanted the Lord to tear open the heavens and make a grand entrance, like a football team ripping through a banner as part of their pre-game hype. Isaiah wanted to see God’s power in action as the Israelites of old had seen it when God made Mt. Sinai shake. Just think of that scene for a minute. Mountains seem so immovable and permanent. It would take an enormous power to shake them. I wasn’t there at Mt. Sinai of course, but I’ve been to the Frank Slide here in Alberta. That’s where, in 1903, 90 million tons of limestone slid down Turtle Mountain obliterating the eastern edge of a mining town below. The Frank Slide is still an eerie place to drive through as boulders twice the height of your car line the highway on either side. Imagining those boulders tumbling down towards you makes you step on the gas to clear that area quickly just in case the rest of Turtle Mountain is about to shake loose!
Although the quaking Mt. Sinai didn’t come cascading down on the Israelites, the sight of the mountain shaking in God’s presence made them terrified of God’s awesome power. God would use that awesome power to benefit his people when he made the walls of Jericho tremble and then topple enabling the Israelites to take that city. Since God had used his power like that in the past, Isaiah wondered why God wasn’t causing the Assyrians to quake in their boots now. Why did God seem so distant from his people? And so Isaiah’s prayer was “Hurry!” Hurry and come down here to obliterate all the evil in the world. That’s an Advent prayer we have no problem offering is it? And in fact it is perhaps what we’ve been praying in light of world events these last couple of weeks.
But you know what they say: “Be careful what you wish for!” Isaiah had hardly gotten that part of the prayer out of his mouth when he realized that he had asked for something awful. In begging God to come down and deal with all that was wrong with the world, Isaiah was asking God to come down and deal with him. And so after asking God to hurry, Isaiah prayed, “Halt!” Listen to what Isaiah confessed: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins” (Isaiah 64:5-7).