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First Sunday of Advent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, November 29, 2020

Have Mercy O Lord for You Are Our Father

Text: Isaiah 64:1–9

Today is the beginning of the church calendar where at Advent our year begins again— full of possibilities, hope, and the assurance that all that God has promised is true.

The season of Advent is the four weeks before Christmas and a time when we reflect upon the nativity scene of the Christ child in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. We reflect upon this solution for our sins and marvel that God loved us enough to come down in the flesh and live among us, as one of us.

This reflection should never grow old or become just a part of our story, for it is the best part of our story.

This is the season where we begin to reflect on the ramifications of that love and how it changed everything. The Scriptures foretold of the coming of the Messiah and the story of the Christ child being born and growing up to be the Savior of the world. It’s because the prophecies came true, God did what he promised, that now we can look forward in the expectation and hope of the promise of our Savior’s return to restore all things and bring us into his glorious presence forever.

Advent is the time of the church year where we focus on the promise of God to come to our rescue once again, but this time restoring all things in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Philip Pfatteicher in his book, Journey into the Heart of God, writes,

Since the time of Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), Christians have spoken of the three comings of Christ: In the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time.

Today, I want to consider our need to focus on how Jesus through the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts daily. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look back with gratefulness at the coming of the Christ child, but I believe this is the way that we should wait with anticipation for the coming of Christ.

Our focus is on how we remain faithful to all that he has commanded in the meantime. It’s a reminder of the joy we have of a Savior who did not abandon us until he comes again, but who now lives and reigns in us through the Holy Spirit. We should take the time daily to reflect on the hope of the resurrection and invite Jesus to remind us that because he was resurrected from the dead, so will those who surrender their lives to him. In truth, this is how we should begin the new year and it should remain with us throughout all seasons. Daily we seek his presence and long for the time where we will behold him face to face as all things are made new.

Many times, during Advent we hear sermons or read articles about the anticipation of the return of our Lord Jesus compared to the excitement of little children on Christmas Eve as they wait for the gifts that will be under the tree on Christmas morning. Actually, I have used that same example myself. However, as I reflected on that this week, it didn’t seem adequate nor get to the heart of the matter.

What does the anticipation of the return of our Lord really invoke within your hearts? How should it change the way we live daily? Well, I’ll share with you what it seems like to me.

As most of you know last year I had a chronic medical condition that took seven surgeries to repair. The pain of that recovery was daily for almost a full year. Pain like I had never encountered before wouldn’t go away without painkillers, and even then only for a brief amount of time. Chronic pain demands your full attention and becomes the focus no matter how hard you strive to think of other things. I remembered longing for the day when the pain was gone, and I could sleep without painkillers. When that day finally came I was so grateful and relieved, and joy returned again.

That’s the level of anticipation that I have for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At its best, life here is a struggle and we constantly deal with all that it brings our way both good and bad, joy or mourning, pain, and relief. So, I find great comfort in knowing that whether I die in the faith or am still alive when Jesus returns, I will be with him, beholding him face to face. All things will be made new and everything will be made right again.

One of the great comforts that I find in God’s word is that he makes such wonderful, amazing, and encouraging promises, but he also makes them to those who had previously turned away from him or maybe worshipped the gods of other nations. If they will turn back to their God he will restore them. That never ceases to amaze me.

Our passage in Isaiah 64 is part of the lament that stretches from 63:7 to 64:12. God through the prophet is leading the faithful remnant to repentance and godly sorrow. They are calling out to God asking him to intervene from Heaven. This prayer is remembering how God had been faithful in leading Israel out of Egypt during the days of the Exodus. In their prayer, they are remembering how even the mountains shook at the presence of the Lord when they camped below Sinai. God revealed his power and majesty through fire and the quaking of his presence. The people of Israel were terrified and bowed down before the presence of the one true and living God. They were remembering the stories of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings of Israel and they reflected in verse 4,

…from of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.

This was the great mystery of the idolatry of Israel when they chose to worship the gods of other nations. Their gods were made by men out of gold, silver, wood or stone. They could not speak, move or perform any miracles because they were not gods. I love Isaiah 44:14–17,

He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar, and the rain nourishes it. 15Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also, he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also, he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

The prophet uses irony in an argument that showed the absurdity of their actions. Only the Lord is God. And only he can hear and save. There is salvation found through nothing or no one else and to seek it elsewhere is to invite judgment.

In chapter 64:1–3, God’s people long to experience what it would be like to encounter God in his glory again. The prayer is that God will once again show his power and glory so that all the nations would know that he alone is God. The prophet is calling out to God to see that they are waiting on him and because of that perhaps he will act on their behalf because he is the God “who acts for those who wait for him.”

On behalf of God’s people, the prophet acknowledges that they had sinned for a long time but hopefully God will see that out of sorrow they are striving to be righteous and to love the Lord and his commands once again. Maybe God will see that they are helpless like a leaf that has no way to resist the power of the wind.

They were admitting that they had been unfaithful to God and played the harlot with the gods of other nations. They were unclean like filthy rags (literally referring to menstrual cloth’s which would keep them from coming into the temple) and even their outwardly righteous deeds were polluted by their filth. In verse 7, they confess that their situation was brought about by their sin,

There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.

God had hidden his face from them, and their sin had brought about God’s righteous judgment. In their despair, they wondered if they could even be heard when they prayed, and they fell down in weakness like someone who is melting.

Charles Spurgeon wrote,

Taken together, this is a fearful description of our fallenness: You must not merely know that you are lost, but you must feel it. Do not be content with simply feeling that it is so, but mourn before God that it is so, and hate yourself that it is so. Do not look upon it as being a misfortune, but as being your own willful sin, and look upon yourselves, therefore, as being guilty sinners.

This is the sense that Isaiah is conveying to the children of Israel as he prays on behalf of them. In verses 8–9 we find their prayers turn to hope because of who they knew God to be, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This is not only a prayer of hope but a very bold one. Isaiah reminds the Lord that it is his nature and his way to show mercy because he is a perfect Father but also that they were but clay and God as the potter had made them. Just like a good father will never truly disown his children a potter cannot disown his pot. It is only there because he made it. It was Isaiah’s way of saying, “You’re stuck with us Lord.”

However, then the prophet appeals to God for mercy and more or less asks God to forgive their iniquity and let their punishment be “time served.” He is saying, “Lord don’t continue to remember our sins but please turn away from your anger and look at us again because we are your people.” Even though the prophet is waiting on God to move on their behalf again he is leading the faithful to actively seek the face of God and practice obedience to his commands while they wait.

Around 100 years later God spoke to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah using the same image of the potter and the clay. In Jeremiah 18:1–5,

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

In both examples, God wanted Israel and Judah to know that they should approach him with humility, awe and reverence. The pot that was marred was reworked by the potter into a vessel that was his delight. However, he could have just as easily thrown away that pot and begin with another lump of clay.

Instead, the potter decided that the marred pot was worth saving but what would it take to rework the clay into a vessel that delighted the potter? Picture the pressure of reforming the clay and remolding it. From the standpoint of the pot this may be a painful experience, but becoming what the potter desired was far greater than having him discard that lump of clay and turn away. Remember that a major part of the lament in Isaiah 64:7 was that God had hidden his face from them.

I decided to bring the example of the potter and the clay in Jeremiah into our passage from Isaiah 64 because in both passages the warnings were to the nations of Israel and Judah. Of course, the examples have implications for individual relationships with God, but the central message was directed at the two nations. In Isaiah the warnings were for the people of God to repent of their sins against God and his commandments and to exhort future leaders in exile to lead the faithful remnant in repentance so that God might restore them and provide future blessings.

Jeremiah was written to the people of Judah and Jerusalem who were in exile because of their continual sin. Jeremiah reminded them of the reasons for their trials and to assure them that upon repentance God would restore and provide future blessings. The frustration that the prophets must have felt was that even though both nations had been warned by many prophets sent from God, they continued to ignore the warnings and eventually the potter discarded the marred vessel, at least for a time.

My friends, I can’t think of a more appropriate example for the people of God in the United States of America today. The foundation of our country was built upon the law of God found in his Holy Word and even though many of our leaders were not Christians, they saw that God’s law was the best way to form a nation that wanted to live in peace.

Down through the years we have had powerful men of God speaking prophetically of our need to be faithful to the Word of God and to surrender our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We have had several “Great Awakenings” in America over the course of our history. These were times when through powerful preaching men and women had a renewed sense of their sins and the absolute need of salvation found only in Jesus Christ through his work on the cross. There were men like George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennant, Dwight L. Moody, A.W. Tozer and many others.

Each time it reset the course of our nation back to the foundation from which we were formed. We desperately need another Great Awakening in our country today. It can happen if the remnant, the people of God will fall to our knees in repentance of sin and lethargy asking God to form us into a vessel that is useful in the hands of the potter, our Creator God.

This is essentially the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 80:3–7,

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!  O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Again, the appeal to God is on the basis of their relationship to him as their Shepherd. There is the hope that because of the Shepherd's love of his sheep that he will restore them to past glories and will once again look upon them with favor so that they will be saved. Like our passage from Isaiah 64, the Psalmist is actively petitioning God to forgive and restore his people. They were confident in the character and nature of the Good Shepherd and found hope in his mercy because they remembered that he is the God who never changes or ceases to be faithful to his promises of mercy to those who follow him in faith.

In our Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 1:1–9 we find the same sense of God’s mercy and faithfulness in providing all that is needed for his people to live before him in faithful obedience. Paul was writing to a church that was in grave danger of apostasy. There was a great deal of bickering and division, misunderstanding of the sacraments, disorder in their worship, heresy, and extremes of moral corruption. In the midst of this they had grown proud of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that were operating in the church of Corinth. In their own minds they were spiritual superstars, and the apostle knew what would happen if their focus shifted from the glory of the Lord to their own glory.

Paul wanted them to not be satisfied with the progress that they felt they had made but to be hungry for all that God had for them. There was much to do in growing the church in a culture that was largely pagan and morally corrupt. They needed to repent of their sins and apply themselves to the task given to the church as they eagerly waited for Jesus to come back. Before he deals with all the serious problems within the church, Paul reminded them of where their devotion should be. If they would turn back to Jesus in repentance of sin, and renew their commitment to God, then all the problems could be dealt with.

Let’s read a portion of our Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 1:4–9.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in the church at Corinth gave Paul confidence that God would keep them safe until the end of the age, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. His confidence was not in them but in the God who is faithful, the one who had called them into fellowship with his Son. This is the same reasoning and hope that Isaiah had in appealing to God to have mercy and re-establish Israel as his people even though they had sinned greatly. This is also the same hope of the Psalmist in Psalm 80 where the truth that God was a merciful shepherd was counted on as a reason to hope in his mercy.

Today, we find ourselves in the same situation as the nations of Israel and Judah in the time of Isaiah and Jeremiah and the days of the Apostle Paul and the church in Corinth: spiritual darkness, extreme moral corruption, political corruption, and the faithlessness of the organized church. The solution to the problem has not changed one little bit. Recognition of sin and the response of repentance is always the beginning. In Advent we are reminded that God kept his promise in sending the Messiah to pay the just penalty of our sins. He is the God who is faithful and never changes, so we know that Jesus will one day return for his church bringing with him those who have gone before us. On that day, all things will be made new and God’s justice will be rendered.

In the meantime, let us be found faithful in the calling that God has upon us as individuals and as the church. Remember the exhortation from our Gospel reading from Mark 13:33–36,

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.

Let the Lord find us faithful and awake at his coming. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Let’s pray.

©2020 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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