Monday, 1 December 2014

'O that you would tear down the heavens!' A sermon for Advent 1B

High time I got to blogging again!  Slightly distracted over the last several weeks, having moved and been inducted into new charge... *big grin*
This morning's sermon to kick off Advent - and possibly my favourite Advent reading.

SERMON ‘O, that you would tear down the heavens’ 
Isaiah 64: 1-9

let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear...

It’s the first Sunday of Advent:
the beginning of a new church year.
New life
Hope renewed.
From Advent last year,
through to Christ the King Sunday last week,
we’ve moved through the various church seasons - the liturgical calendar -
and, as we’ve done so, as a community,
age-old, familiar stories from the bible have been heard.
Our Gospel readings will have covered the birth, life, ministry,
death and resurrection of Jesus
Other readings from the New Testament will have focused upon the community of followers,
and of making sense of what it is to follow Jesus.

Over the course of Old Testament readings through the year,
we’ll have been reminded
of the journey of the people of Israel:
from wandering in the wilderness,
to the establishment of a nation,
to the overthrow of that nation
and of exile and return.
There have been stories of great leaders chosen by God;
and stories of God’s prophets -
calling some of these same leaders
to follow and trust God more closely...
to lead the people wisely and well.

Overall, in both Old and New Testaments,
we, as God’s people have journeyed with God’s people - through the ages,
journeying together as we try to understand who this God is that we follow,
and how to live - how to be - his people.

Our Old Testament reading this morning is set in a time
when God’s people find themselves in dire circumstances: 
when all around them feels dark;
where the flicker of hope is all but extinguished.
The nation of Israel has been comprehensively defeated
by the new superpower in the neighbourhood, the Babylonians. 
Those who are deemed valuable:
the elite of the nation,
the best and the brightest,
have been summarily marched off to the great city of Babylon to live out their years in exile.
Throughout this approximately 70 year period, the prophet Isaiah, and his followers, act as God’s messengers to the defeated, despairing people of God -
as voices of hope when all seems hopeless.
Voices holding the people of God.
and God
to account.

This particular passage is a cry of rage and lament;
the prophet’s plaintive call to God to act -
‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’
It’s a cry calling upon God to make himself known
to his people
and their captors.
The prophet asserts that
by redeeming - rescuing Israel -
God’s name,
God’s power
will be made known.

In the midst of lonely exile in Babylon
feeling abandoned by God
God’s people wait,
wait for him to appear.
But why, even when feeling abandoned,
is there a hope
an expectation
that God might appear to them?
That God might just rescue them?

O come, O come thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height,
in ancient times didst give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe...

As Isaiah calls upon God
to tear open the heavens and come down,
he reminds the exiles of their past -
And, it would appear, he also reminds God.
There’s some history here.
There’s a relationship that needs to be looked at:
there’s a covenant - an agreement -
binding God and his people together.
While God’s people are to honour, serve, worship, love, and be faithful to God...
The Lord of might - mysterious, majestic, and awesome,
is bound:
bound to protect and to lead his people.

Isaiah reminds God:
‘you did awesome things’
One such awesome thing is found in the
giving of the law on Mount Sinai -
the law showing how to love God
and to love neighbour -
and through doing so,
to create an ordered, harmonious community:
the peaceable kingdom...
a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.

Isaiah recalls the unexpectedness of God -
the awesome God who,
when giving the Law
does indeed come down from the heavens
breaks through into finite time and space
and makes himself more fully known
on the mountain...
and, as he does,
causes the mountains to quake
and to tremble...

Isaiah says to God:
 ‘You’ve done this before..
come and do it again...
act on behalf of those who wait for you’
To the people waiting in near-darkness
a spark of hope is being kindled.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse,
free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave...

Will God free them? 
He has done so in the past -
he can do so now
and in the future.
From the depths of hell that is exile in Babylon
there will be a return to the Promised Land...
But there will also be more waiting -
the people of God will continue to await the promise of a coming Messiah
and the fulfilment of all things once they arrive back to Palestine...

Several hundreds of years later,
far away from Babylon,
and in a backwater of the Holy Land itself - Bethlehem -
the cry of Isaiah echoes through the land -
God tears down the heavens and comes down:
the promised Rod of Jesse.
A mighty deliverer -
gurgling in a manger.
The expected appearance:
so thoroughly unexpected.
The promise of hope
made flesh and bone...
to rescue God’s people from the tyranny and fear of death,
as he overcomes it
by his own death, and resurrection:
the resurrection life that kindles hope
of a new life for all humanity.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery...

What are we waiting for?
We wait for Jesus, the Key of David...
who will come again
and fling open the gates to our heart’s home;
for Jesus, who leads us safely to a place of rejoicing,
a place of hope.

We need not fear
for we are not doomed to destruction and loss:
God loved the world in this way -
that hope was born among us -
divine and yet human -
that whoever believes in the Son will not perish,
but have life everlasting.

We need not fear
for we don’t have to accept that hunger and poverty and injustice will always win...
We have hope -
for the one in whom we trust
and for who we wait
has come to give life, life abundantly, justly.
We need not fear
for violence and hatred will not prevail -
for unto us, a child is born,
unto us, a Son is given
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
his name shall be called wonderful councillor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.[1]

We need not fear,
for there is hope and light and life:
the day, the hour is coming...
Soon and very soon
we are going to see our king -
tearing open the heavens,
breaking into human history,
walking among us
with us:
God, in Jesus;
God who is for us.
This is our hope,
this is what we watch and wait for over Advent -
we await the one who is the ground of our being
the one closer to us than breathing.

As we wait to remember,
and celebrate anew the coming of the Christ child,
have courage
be not afraid,
the light of hope will never be put out...

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine Advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight...

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.

 [1] riffing on a theme from Daniel Berrigan’s ‘Advent Credo’

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