Expecting Christmas: Reflections from Isaiah 64:1-9

This time of year, when we all have much to do, when we have so much to take care of ourselves, it is a joy to anticipate the coming of the Good Shepherd — one who does not expect what we cannot do, but comes to us where we are.

As we expect the celebration of Christmas, we will spend the next few weeks reflecting on the words of Isaiah, beginning this morning with chapter 64.

Verse 1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

 This is the summary of all our prayers.

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”

o that you would reveal yourself to us

so we’d know you are there

so our illness would melt away in your presence

so we’d see our passed loved ones face to face again

so the hungry would be filled

so the righteous would know peace

“o that you would tear open the heavens and come down”

so that it may be “on earth as it is in heaven.”

As we await the return of Christ we continue to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)

Verse 1 continues: so that the mountains would quake at your presence—

the mountains – quake?

How often have you seen a mountain quake?

let alone at someone’s presence?

I’ve seen people quake at another’s presence:

the big fan eager to finally see a celebrity in person — they quake.

the employee with a jerk for a boss gets an email in upper case letters — they quake.

the child who feels they can never please their parent, and they hear their full name yelled — they quake.

But does a mountain quake at the presence of another?

Of course not.

Mountains are the last things on this earth that can be moved.

You can cut down a tree. You can bulldoze a hill. But you cannot move a mountain.

However, if God were to be fully present in front of a mountain, the mountain could not help but quake.

That which is most immobile in this realm shakes away in the presence of the Lord.

Verse 2 as when fire kindles brushwood

   and the fire causes water to boil—

to make your name known to your adversaries,

God’s name is made known to those who oppose him.

Every adult convert to Christianity used to have apathy towards the faith or opposition against the faith.

Every adult convert to Christianity used to oppose God.

So be kind to those who do not share your Christian convictions.

Treat them not like enemies to be opposed with force, but like children to be instructed with gentleness.

Treat them not like useless sheep to be slaughtered promptly, but like ill lambs to be cared for tenderly.

Verse 2 so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

I don’t care which nation we’re talking about,

whether it’s one where many share our faith or not,

there is no nation that trembles in the presence of God.

They tremble if their economy tanks,

they tremble if their enemy attacks,

they tremble if their security falters,

but they do not tremble in the presence of God.

But one day they will.

One day we all will.

Verse 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,

I’m ashamed to admit it. But there are days when I come home from work, and Michelle has been doing laundry, putting away toys, cleaning windows, dusting furniture, vacuuming rugs, doing dishes, and cooking meals, and when I return home I’m sure she expects me to walk in and freeze in my steps, and exclaim, “Wow! I can’t believe how clean the house is!” However, and I’m ashamed to admit it, but most of the time I just open the door, put down by bag, take off my shoes, and ask what’s for supper.

“When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect.” Another translation (ESV) reads, “When you did awesome things we did not look for.”

Whether we notice it or not, God is busy doing awesome things.

Whether we look for it or not, God is busy doing awesome things.

Whether we expect them or not, God is busy doing awesome things.

If we were able to be reflective, open, and brave, and we went around this room and everyone shared what they thought was the most amazing thing God had done in their life, or in the life of a loved one, we’d have a pretty awesome list.

I’ve heard people in this congregation say quietly that they we told by doctors they had cancer and they prayed and prayed and prayed and then went back to the doctor and the disease was inexplicably gone.

I’ve heard people in this congregation say quietly that they had a near-death experience and felt the peace and serenity of the presence of the Lord.

I’ve heard people in this congregation say quietly that they used to be a certain type of person, but the Lord brought them out of darkness and into his marvelous light.

If we were all reflective, open, and brave with what we shared, it would be an awesome list of what God has done.

And yet, there are so many more awesome deeds being done by the Lord that we never notice, that we never look for, that we would never expect.

Verse 3 you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard,

   no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

   who works for those who wait for him.

If you’ve studied any history, you know that each nation in each place in time has had some notion of a god.

Each nation had their own — the Greeks had Zeus, the Romans Jupiter, Israel Baal or the golden calf — little ‘g’ gods come and go.

Anthropologists will tell you, even if they don’t want to, that every culture in every place in every time has had some notion of an eternal deity outside our experience of life.

Every understanding of a god is different.

I know there is a popular thought out there that all religions are basically the same and everyone will come out the same in the end, but that’s just not true.

Every religion holds very different claims, especially regarding the afterlife:

Buddhism and Hinduism hold that after our lives are over, our individual existence melts away like soap in water and we are never head from again.

In Islam the Qu’ran teaches that all enemies of Islam are sentenced immediately to hell upon death, while all Muslim warriors are ushered straight into paradise.

In Christianity each individual is judged by their faith in Jesus and are either welcomed into heaven or sent to hell.

Each understanding of a god and the consequences of our faith is very different.

Little ‘g’ gods come and go.

Our God remains.

“From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”

There are little ‘g’ gods who are violent.

There are little ‘g’ gods who are fickle.

There are little ‘g’ gods who are no better than us.

There is only one capital ‘G’ God “who works for those who wait for him.”

Verse 5 You meet those who gladly do right,

There are many who do not do what God asks.

There are some who do what God asks.

There are precious few who gladly do what God asks.

There are many begrudging Christians.

They say, “I’d love to sleep in on Sunday, but — you know — I should go to church.”

They say, “I’d rather spend my money on something fun, but — you know — I suppose I should help others out.”

They say, “I’d much rather eat hors d’oeuvres and drink eggnog than hear that same old Christmas story again, “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:8-11). Not that old rerun again.”

There are many begrudging Christians.

But to those who can somehow manage to not only do what God asks,

but do it gladly, there is a promise in the Word, that God will meet them.

Verse 5  those who remember you in your ways.

But you were angry, and we sinned;

   because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean,

   and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

“All our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

Think of a bloody, dirty, yucky rag in a public bathroom trashcan.

Now think of the nicest things you’ve ever done, the things you’d like mentioned at your funeral or remember by your grandchildren.

“All our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

How?

Verse 6 We all fade like a leaf,

   and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

This is the season for leaves to fall and fade.

Every spring new ones come forth, and every autumn they fall and blow away.

It is predictable. It is expected. It is as God appointed it.

Our lives are the same. We’re all born. We’ll all die — some earlier than others, but we will all die just the same.

“All our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

Our lives will be forgotten, our best deeds will be forgotten, our very names will be forgotten by most, but not by all, but not by Him.

Verse 7 There is no one who calls on your name,

   or attempts to take hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us,

   and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;

   we are the clay, and you are our potter;

   we are all the work of your hand.

We are the clay and God is the potter.

I don’t know much about pottery;

I have much more experience with Play-Doh.

If you watch children play with Play-Doh, you will quickly learn that they do not care one bit how the Play-Doh feels when they are tearing it, poking it, ripping it, and squashing it. They are concerned with only one thing: the result. They don’t care how the Play-Doh feels, they care about how it comes out.

If God is the potter and we are the clay, then we must acknowledge that God has no problem reshaping us, putting us in a place of pressure, or taking us through change. Why? Because he’s less concerned with the process we go through, and more concerned with the product we become; he’s less concerned with our comfort, and more concerned with our character.

Verse 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,

   and do not remember iniquity for ever.

   Now consider, we are all your people.

What is our prayer this year? this season? this Advent?

“Tear open the heavens and come down.”

May we, like mountains, tremble in your presence.

Make your name known to those we currently call your adversaries.

Continue to do the awesome deeds we don’t even notice.

Help us do what you ask gladly.

Mold us and reshape us more into your image.

And the prayer ends, “Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”

We pray, “Come, Lord.” But if you do, please forget about all our wrong. Please forget about all our selfishness. Please forget all our distraction. For in our heart of hearts, we simply yearn to be your people, to gather under your umbrella, to enter your love.

And the good news is this: The Lord is our Good Shepherd. He knows our weakness. He knows our illness. He knows our frailty. So He cares for His sheep tenderly.