Good morning, Friends!
We’re starting the season of Advent! We’ve already had some beautiful Christmas music. We’ve lit the Advent wreath. The decorations are going up. Christmas is in the air!
Except it’s not Christmas yet. We still have four long weeks till Christmas. Between now and then, before we get to the birth of Jesus, we’ve got a waiting time, a preparation time.
I remember years ago, I made a trip to Africa, to Kenya, to visit the Quakers there, and see our missions, and to give some talks about Quaker history to the ministers.
We prepaed for six months for my visit. And when I got there, people told me, “We have been longing and praying for your arrival. We needed you to be here.”
And for a few days after I got there, people kept walking up to me and smiling and shaking my hand, and they would say, “Now you have come!”
It was such a courteous, gentle greeting. “Now you have come!” I felt so humble, that these people, with their deep faith, were praying for months for me.
That’s what Advent is like. It’s preparing. It’s waiting. It’s longing for Jesus to be here. And then, on Christmas Eve, we say to Jesus, “Now you have come!”
Today’s Scripture reading is one for this time of preparation. It’s a Scripture about longing. For hundreds of years, people prayed and waited. They imagined what it would be like, when God would send someone to save them.
That’s what Jesus does. He saves us. And he saves us, in ways that even now, after all these years, we are only beginning to understand.
Jesus saves us from our sins. He forgives us. He gives us a fresh chance. He helps us to start over, with himself, with God, and each other.
Jesus says that all the mistakes we’ve made, all the things we’ve done spitefully or because we’ve been scared or lazy or weak – we’re free from those things. They don’t control our relationship to God any more.
Jesus saves us from our broken lives. He saves us from all the things that bind us and keep us tied down. He saves us from our prejudices, and shows us that we can stop judging other people.
Jesus saves us in our minds – if we listen to Jesus, if we let go of the wrong ideas and the tired old habits of mistaken thinking, he sets us free to start again.
Jesus saves us, when he walks with us, through our fear and shame and paralysis. When he walks with us through addiction and self-defeating behaviors.
Jesus saves us, by giving us the courage to speak, and by giving us the words we need at the right moment.
Jesus saves us in a thousand different ways. And we’re only beginning to understand them.
Today, I’m going to read a dream someone had, about a savior this person could only imagine in the future. The time had not yet arrived. It was a waiting time, a praying time, a longing time. And the wait took many years longer than Isaiah could ever have imagined.
But it came. The savior came. In God’s own time. At the right place, when the right people said yes to God. When people were ready to listen. When people were willing to change, Jesus came.
That’s what Advent is about. When are we going to be ready, for Jesus to come? When will our hearts and minds be prepared? When will we make room for him, under our roof?
Are we ready to welcome Jesus? Are we ready to listen to him? Are we truly ready to follow – not to tell Jesus what we think that he should do, but to do what Jesus says that we should do?
When will be we ready? In four weeks? In a hundred years?
Can we be ready, when the Savior comes? Let every heart prepare him room. Let earth receive her king!
Let’s listen now to what Isaiah has to say.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me:
– to bind up the brokenhearted
– to proclaim freedom for the captives
– to release the prisoners from darkness
– to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
– to comfort all who mourn
– to care for all who grieve
– to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes
– the oil of joy instead of mourning
– garments of praise instead of a spirit of despair
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord to display his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated;
They will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-9
Christmas is all about hope.
Not just hope for presents. I remember when I was a kid, lying on my stomach on the floor and turning the pages of the Sears catalog.
They called those catalogs wish books. And I knew, good and well, that I wasn’t going to get all those things in the Christmas catalog. But I did get some nice things. One year I got a bicycle, standing shiny there by the Christmas tree. My brother got a bright red wagon. One year we got sleds. We always got lots of socks, and warm mittens, and books from my great-aunt who kept a book store. My uncle always sent us a big box of pralines. Christmas was a fun time!
But Isaiah talks about a different kind of hope. And we need to remember that Christmas is about a much bigger hope than getting just a kitten or a bicycle.
Isaiah was hoping for a savior, who would bring beauty out of ashes. Who would bring good news to people who were desperate for it. Who would bind up the wounds of a broken and bleeding world.
I could go for that. The world needs that kind of a savior.
Isaiah said that the savior would bring freedom for people who were captured in wars. He would bring daylight into dark prison cells.
Instead of saying, “This is the worst year we’ve ever seen,” when the savior comes, people would be saying, “This is the year of the Lord’s favor! This is the year all the promises of God come true for us!”
All the people who were mourning would be comforted. The people who were grieving would see their grief turn into joy. Cities that were devastated would be rebuilt, restored and renewed. Instead of barren deserts, there would be vineyards filled with fruit.
Can you understand the hope that Isaiah was feeling? Can you hear the longing in his words?
This is what Jesus really is. This is why Jesus really came. Jesus is the hope of the whole world. Jesus is God’s gift, the one we’ve been waiting for.
In another place, Isaiah asked, “Behold, the Lord’s arm has not shortened, that it cannot save. The Lord’s ear has not grown dull, that he can’t listen to you. . .” (Isaiah 59:1)
Hope means that we put our trust in God. Even when things are terrible, we believe that a savior is coming.
Isaiah is filled with these words of hope.
“Thus says the Lord God, the holy one of Israel: in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. . .” (Isaiah 30:15)
Advent is a time of joy and celebration. But it’s also a time of prayer. When we have quiet moments this month, take those moments as an opportunity to pray. Instead of being discouraged by things we can’t do this year, let’s be glad that we have more prayer time.
Christmas is as much about having a song in our heart, as it is singing in a big group. Christmas is about finding wonder and joy and peace inside ourselves, and not in some huge event.
Isaiah says: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. . .” (Isaiah 12:2-3)
We have this long time before Christmas, so that we can drink deep from what Jesus has to offer. If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, we can drink peace, deep into our hearts.
If Jesus is the Light of the World, we can ask him to shine in our hearts, even in the darkest places of our lives, the places where we’ve given up hope and given up trying.
Isaiah says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who walk in the land of deep darkness, on them has the light shined. . .The yoke of their burden has been lifted from their shoulders. . .For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us. Authority rests upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His kingdom will grow and grow, and there will be peace without limits. He will establish and build his kingdom with justice and righteousness, from this time onward and forever. The Lord Almighty is determined to do this!” (Isaiah 9:2-7)
If I could give you one thing today, I would give you all hope.
We deal with difficult things every day. But there is more than just what we see.
Jesus is coming. We wait, and we pray, because we believe he will be here. Among us. Beside us. In our very midst. One of us. Knowing our problems. Feeling our pain.
He is God’s gift, and our savior.