ADVENT 1, B – December 3, 2017

SCRIPTURES: Psalm 25; Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 11:1-10

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. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Isaiah 64:4-5

 

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. It is the beginning of a new year in the Church of Jesus Christ, and in less than a month it will be the beginning of a new year in our world. But, oh, if only things really were new, or were at least improving! Instead, our world seems to be getting worse… and by leaps and bounds. Recently we’ve been served up a number of quite shocking examples of its corruption:

Ø  In the entertainment industry: Harvey Weinstein.

Ø  In government: Al Franken; John Conyers; Joe Barton of TX; Tim Murphy of PA (members of both political parties).

Ø  In journalism: Charlie Rose & Matt Lauer.

Ø  Even the humorist Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame.

Before them was Bill O-Reilly… Bill Cosby… Bill Clinton (is it the name?)… I could go on and on. They are examples of the destructiveness of the lust for self-satisfaction and power. Add to their corruption the divisions that are roiling our society over wealth, and race, and politics, etc… and you want to cry out with Isaiah, “Oh that you, Lord, would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” If only God would be more visible among us, as He once was. Things would be better! 2,700 years ago Isaiah felt the same way.

Well, you can cry out and hope all you want; but you still have to go on and live your life. How can you do so and be confident that you will not be torn apart, or tear others apart?

Begin by recognizing the reality of people’s desires, and especially of your own desires. The desire for power and control is strong within us. The men I named are just a few examples of it. Their sexual sins were an expression of their desire to control and use others. The desire for righteousness, a desire of us religious people, is related. Now, we should desire righteousness, right? That depends. If you think righteousness is people thinking and behaving in ways that you think are good and right, then it is self – your own desires – that is your focus.

Isaiah makes one thing very clear: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Take this to heart. When you become discouraged by the sinful selfishness that is roiling our society and are tempted to point fingers – and there certainly are sins, and sinners, that need to be pointed out and brought to light – begin by remembering that you are just as sinful. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Our sins corrupt even the good we intend to do!

Why is it so important to realize this? It is not to keep us from ever making any judgments. No, there are certainly actions, and words, and ideas, and even people that need to be judged as wrong, and even dangerous. The standard for determining them, however, must not be self: your own thoughts and feelings and desires. God alone is holy and righteous, and so His works and words and teachings are the only true source of righteousness. Every other source is corrupted by sin.

Ok, so: Isaiah says God meets him who “joyfully works righteousness.” Where’s the joy in confessing that you are just as sinful as Matt Lauer? If you sin even in the good you do, why bother doing good? Well, if you realize that you sin even in the good you do… then you’re freed from focusing on what you do! Instead of looking at yourself, look upon your Lord Jesus and put your trust in Him. See how He humbly came to the sinners of Jerusalem; to people just like us! He did not come in judgment, to point out their sins, but to bear their sins and lay down His life for them, and for us all. This was the will of His righteous Father. God sent Him for you and receives you because of Him, and not yourself. Christ is our righteousness! Look to Him, and be joyful!

What does this mean for your life, for living your life and going forward in this new year so that you are not torn apart and do not tear others apart? Well, since God “meets him who joyfully works righteousness, who remembers [God] in [His] ways” – remember God’s ways. You will then be able to joyfully live and work righteousness.

Remember God’s ways. Notice that Isaiah didn’t say “see God’s ways.” God’s ways most often cannot be seen clearly; Jesus is the best evidence of this. Did He look like a king, like the very Son of God, when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey? Sure, the people greeted Him as their king. But, a few days later they reviled Him as a criminal and crucified Him. If He had shown His power His kingship would have been acknowledged by all and He would not have been crucified. He did not come to rule over us, however, but to humbly serve and save us from our sins by making them His own and dying for us. Jesus came to rule over our sins, that He might then rule in our hearts. Only by hiding His power could He do this.

Where is His power for you hidden now? The apostle Paul tells us. In his first letter to the Corinthians he paraphrases Isaiah’s words, “no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you,” saying, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) He then goes on to say, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit… Now we have received the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Cor. 2:10, 12) You received God’s Spirit when He baptized you and took you as His child. You are not the same old sinners but are spiritual people! God is your Father, and He speaks to you in His Scriptures.

But, as your God is hidden, so will the holiness of His Spirit be hidden in your life. Realize that you will often not see God’s ways in your life, or even carried out by you in your life. You’ll see sins in your life. Of course you will! “We have all become like one who is unclean.” (Is. 64) But, behold, your King has come to you! He has ruled over your sins by putting them to death on the cross and has given you His Holy Spirit! Your sins don’t define you, then. Your Savior and King does!

He calls you children of His Father. His Father hears your prayers, knows your worries and your needs, and holds you in His hand. As your Father He is the potter and you are the clay, the work of His hand.

Rejoice and be glad, then, you sinners; you children of the heavenly Father. Your King comes to you… joyfully! Welcome Him and joyfully do the works He gives you to do, to the honor and glory of His name. Amen!