Sunday, November 27, 2011

1st Sunday of Advent - November 27, 2011

This past summer, we celebrated the centennial of both Brunsville and Craig, one hundred years of history.  This celebration brought to the forefront something that we all know.  We have all kinds of stories that stretch back in time.  Some of us have families that were here from the start, back when farms were a little smaller, families a little bigger, winters a little colder.  And some of us have stories that have only come to these rolling hills in more recent times.  But the point is, we’ve got them.  We’ve got ancestors, those who have come before us. And when things are working as they should, these stories and these people help us to make sense of our lives right now.  They give us hope that adversity can be overcome, and they provide instruction for us so that we don’t have to learn the hard way, though some of us stubborn ones will insist on extra lessons. 

This idea of history is at the heart of our Old Testament lesson today.  Isaiah is a prophet who knows the history of his people.  He knows the stories; he knows the ancestors. And Isaiah is attempting to understand the situation of the people in his own time by looking at what happened to their ancestors.  He’s doing this because his people are in a tough spot. 

For one thing, Isaiah’s people were surrounded by enemies.  They had once been strong and independent, but now they had grown weak.  Some of them had already been dragged away into slavery.  More would follow.  Isaiah talks about Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed and becoming ruins.  So this is an exterior problem, a challenge that is coming from outside of themselves.  But that’s not the worst of it......

Because they also have interior problems.  They are neck-deep in sin.  Isaiah talks about how they have become unclean like dirty rags.  But what is worse, he talks about how no one is calling on God, no one is seeking him.  No one is repenting.  That’s a big problem.

So Isaiah is looking back at history to help his people.  And if we look at the chapter before our lesson, he starts mentioning names and events:  Abraham and Moses, going through the parted waters of the Red Sea, taking possession of the Promised Land.  Isaiah is looking back at the stories of his people.  He’s looking at those stories and he’s telling them to his people. 

You all know the story.  God chose a man named Abraham.  To Abraham he gave three promises: land, numerous descendants and the promise that through him and his descendants all the nations of the world would be blessed.  It took awhile for the descendants to begin arriving, but Isaac was born.  And then Jacob.  And then Jacob had twelve sons.  One of these sons, Joseph, became a very important man in Egypt and his father and brothers and all their children moved to Egypt where life became more prosperous for them while Joseph lived.  But in the generations following his death, prosperity turned into slavery.  These descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob became slaves in the land of Egypt

The parallel that Isaiah see is this: for the people of his time, just like those people of old, prosperity has turned into slavery.  What was good has turned into bad.  And like the people of old, Isaiah’s people don’t seem to have the power to do anything about it.  So what is to be done?  Well what does the story say?

The Book of Exodus tells us that the slaves cried out for help and God heard them.  God sent them a deliverer whose name was Moses.  And God used Moses to lead his people through the Red Sea and out of slavery; he led them through the wilderness and brought them to the land that he had promised to Abraham.  So the lesson of history that Isaiah draws from this is that God is the one who has the power to save.  The slaves in Egypt cried out and God heard them and God saved them.

So what does Isaiah do?  He cries out the powerful words that began our service today, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence...... to make your name known to your adversaries, so that nations might tremble at your presence!  When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.”

Here is what Isaiah is saying, “God, I know history.  I know what you have done.  I know that you have shown yourself to be powerful, mighty to save.  I know that you brought my ancestors out of Egypt. I know that you drowned the Egyptian chariots in the Red Sea.  I know that you brought my people into the Promised Land, overcoming every obstacle.  I know that you have been powerful on our behalf. 

Lord, rip the sky open and come down for us now.  Tear the clouds apart, come and help us now.  Send us a savior.”  Isaiah cries out on behalf of his people, “Send us a savior.”

Now all of what I have spoken of is history.  And today we know how God responded to Isaiah’s cry; and this response has become a part of history as well; it has become a story that we know very well.  God became human in the person of Jesus.  He tore open the heavens and came down.  He tore open the sky and came down and lived among us and died for us.  This is God’s response to Isaiah’s cry.  It is now a part of our history.

But this cannot remain history.  This saving act of God cannot stay in the past as a story of God’s goodness to other people, people of long ago.  It must not remain a dusty page in some old book.  Isaiah cried out to the God of history on behalf of his people, “Save us too!  Come to us in power like you came to our fathers and grandfathers......”  It wasn’t enough for Isaiah to know history.  He needed a savior.

Likewise for us.  It is good that we know the history of our people.  Our ancestors were slaves in the land of Egypt and they cried, “God save us!”  And he delivered them.  Our ancestor is Isaiah who cried out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down......”  And God became man and walked on earth.  It is good that we know this history, but it is not enough.  Because what we need is a savior. 

“Jesus, come to us like you came to the slaves in Egypt.  Answer us like you answered Isaiah.  Save us.  For in so many ways we are sorely afflicted.  We have fallen into slavery and sin of every sort and we cannot free ourselves.  Jesus, tear open the heavens and come down.”  This is the cry of Advent.  And the good news of Advent is this: Jesus is coming.  Jesus is coming.

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