Advent 1, November 30, 2014

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church 

November 30, 2014

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 25:6-26:4

 

It is good to be back with you.  Last Sunday I was in North Carolina with my father, checking on my mother and spending time with family.  All is well as it can be with my mom.  She is in a nice nursing facility and the staff appear to be kind and consciousness.  You can’t ask for much more.  I also got to see my grandmother, along with my brothers, sister and uncle and they, too, are doing well.  The winds were not good for fishing, but I did take a long paddle on a creek that I haven’t paddled in over 30 years.  It was interesting to see the changes.

I came back to town and find the sanctuary and grounds all decorated!  Thanks for everyone who participated last week and helped spread the holiday cheer.  I know there are some additional decorating that will be done on Wednesday of this week.  This sanctuary will be beautiful on Christmas Eve!

It’s Advent; the season we flood the night with lights and deck the halls with greenery as a reminder that although winter is upon us and the days are short and the nights long and the trees bare, that is not the permanent state of being.  For into darkness comes the light of Christ.

The four Sundays of Advent is a time to be reminded of the years the Hebrew people waited for a Messiah as we, too, await the Messiah’s return.  These are also days of anticipation.  Our children and grandchild are anticipating the Christmas gifts as they begin to appear under trees.  But during this season, I want us to focus on some of the non-tangible gifts offered to us during the holidays.  Today, it’s the gift of anticipation.  Is this really a gift?  What do you think?  Let’s look at our passage for the day and see what insights it might gain into what to means to anticipate great things from our God.   Read Isaiah 25:6-26:4.

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When I was a child, the anticipation of Christmas began around the time of the World Series.  Back then, most of the games were played during the afternoon.  The boys on bus 6, the flat nosed yellow bus that made the run from Bradley Creek School along Greenville Sound and Masonboro Loop Roads to Myrtle Grove Sound, would clamber for a seat in the back.  Someone would have a nine volt transistor radio and we’d huddle around to hear what the score might be.   Could St. Louis pull it out and beat Detroit?  Did the Met’s really make the series and did they stand a chance against the Orioles?  (It just didn’t seem right pulling for a New York team, but everyone loved the Mets.)  And then, in another year, there was the Reds, with Johnny Bench and Pete Rose…  We’d catch up on the game and when we reached our stop, we’d run home to watch the rest of the game on a black and white TV.

The World Series was exciting, an excitement only to be broken the day we’d run into the house and spy the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog sitting on the kitchen table.  It seemed to appear right toward the end of the Series.  Oh, the toys.  The World Series quickly faded from memory as we make out our Christmas wish list, learning at an early age how to best violate the Tenth Commandment. (By the way, that’s the commandment that deals with coveting.)  “I want this, and this, and this…” we’d say as we thumbed through the catalog with the devotion of a monk studying the Scriptures.  Our lists would grow along with our anticipation of Christmas.  But then something happen. Time, during the fall season, seemed to stand still.  Christmas just couldn’t come fast enough.  We hadn’t yet received the gift of anticipation.

We don’t like to wait, do we?  We want our cake and we want it now.  Delayed gratification isn’t something we are good at.  This is something our family dog could teach us all.  Thursday was Thanskgiving and we were all looking forward to a big meal, including Trisket.  In fact, of everyone at our house, Trisket looked forward to that meal more than any of us.  The rest of us where caught up in football games and other stuff.  But Trisket’s nose started twitching as the oven heated up and he was ready long before the meal was served. But he’s learned to wait.  He lies where he has a good view of the kitchen, just in case something falls on the floor, where he watches and waits.    Yes, I confess, we are bad dog owners and treat him with a few morsels of goodies which he swallows whole, only to patiently wait for more.  Trisket could teach us all about anticipation and hope!

Receiving the gift of anticipation should teach us to be thankful that God is in control, that we’re in good hands, and that the future is indeed promising.  My dog knows that, but we like instant gratification, which is problematic.  We’ve all heard the old proverb, “Good things come to those who wait.”  But we don’t like to wait.  The gift of anticipation is something we all need.

Our passage today comes from the Book of Isaiah.  This is an important book of the Old Testament for it is quoted or alluded to more than any other book of the Old Testament with the possible exception of the Psalms.  Jesus quotes from Isaiah at his sermon in Nazareth[1] (the sermon that got him run out of his hometown) and in all the book is quoted 46 times in the gospels.  In’s quoted another 30 times by Paul and another 30 times within the book of Revelation.  The early church fathers referred to Isaiah as the “fifth gospel.”[2]  Gospel, we know, means “Good News,” yet much of the opening two-thirds of Isaiah is depressing.  God is getting ready to punish Israel for her lack of trust in the Almighty and for her misdeeds.  But within these chapters, there are glimpses of hope that pop out as we see here in the 25th and 26th chapters.  Good news don’t make much sense if there is not something you need to be saved from.  Otherwise, why would we need God?

Isaiah gives us a universal vision for what God is preparing to do, not just for Israel but for all in the world who is waiting for God’s reign.  We have a vision of the great Thanksgiving in the sky, a feast of rich foods and good wine.  The mountain refers to Jerusalem and it will be a place of blessing for all the world who will gather there as pilgrims,[3] thankful that God has removed the shroud of sadness that has covered everyone’s eyes.  No longer will they be morning; death will be no more; God is going to wipe away their tears (a promise that we also read at the end of scriptures in Revelation[4]).  But we don’t get to experience this paradise right away.  In verse nine, the people proclaim that this is the God for whom we waited…  We have to wait to taste of the banquet, we have to wait for paradise to be restored.

Of course, those who continue to fight against God, to rebel against the one who is our hope, represented in this passage as the Moabites, will not experience this reversal of fortune. The insert of the verses at the end of chapter 25 deny a universal claim of salvation for all.[5]  Salvation is only those who have placed their trust in the Almighty.  And those who trust, will break out in a song of praise as we see with the beginning verses of the 26th chapter.  “Trust in the Lord forever,” we’re told in our last verse, “for in God we have an everlasting rock.”

Think about this vision from Isaiah in the eyes of Israel, who was facing a humiliating defeat on the battlefield.  Here you have a people who are utterly humiliated and beaten down, but they have hope.  They know God is still God and that in the end, their shame will be removed.  They live with anticipation!  And so should we!

I’d recommend all books on the Christian faith by Craig Barnes that I’ve read.  In his book, Yearning, which I think was his first book, he writes:  “Everything that the Bible says about the future is meant to help us live better in the present.” [6] The subtitle of this book is “Living Between How It Is and How It Ought to Be.”  That’s where we live our lives—between Jesus’ ascension and his return.

We live knowing what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, but we also live knowing that God has greater things planned for us in the future.  God gives us a foretaste of what’s to come as a way to help us survive the difficulties of this life.  Not every day is going to be perfect, but God promises to be with us and promises us that in the end, when all things work out according to his plan, we will experience joy unlike we have ever known.  So we live in anticipation, knowing that the future will be better than the best of days we have experienced.

So enjoy and make the best of today, and tomorrow, and of this season.  As we’re told in Ecclesiastes, God wants us to enjoy the gifts we are provided in this life.[7]  But let’s not forget the end goal.  It’s out of our hands, but we’re waiting for the return of our Lord.  We live with anticipation, serving Christ in our lives, watching for the coming of a new heaven and earth, as we pray: “Come Lord Jesus.”[8]  Yes!  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.  Amen.

 ©2014

[1] Luke 4:18ff.

[2] Susan Ackerman, “Isaiah Introduction,” in The new Interpreter’s Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 956.

[3] See  Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 13;29: The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), 200.

[4] Revelation 21:4.

[5] Christopher R. Seitz, “Isaiah 1-39: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1992), 192

[6] Craig Barnes, Yearning (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1991) 162

[7] Ecclesiastes 3:12-13.

[8] Presbyterian Church USA, “A Brief Statement of Faith,”, Book of Confessions, lines 72-76.


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