Advent is a time to search our souls, take a deep breath, think long and hard about the values we hold, the lives we live … a time to ask big questions, to ponder the nature of God, who is God really like, what God is up to, and what is it that we truly want out of life.
Advent is a Long Road … a four-week journey into the heart of God’s purpose and plan … a time to think deeply.
If ever there were a need for deep thought, it’s now … the world is changing … upheaval everywhere … people are afraid … and frightened people always make dumb decisions … and I fear that we’ve been making a lot of dumb decisions lately, and maybe God can raise up others to lead the way, but surely it’s our task, those who know the love of God, who have Christ in their hearts - it’s our calling, isn’t it, to lead the way?
As I survey the Christian scene in America, I’m mostly troubled.
Too many people scratch the surface of things and claim to have the wisdom of the ages.
Too many preachers without training, and too many churches without guidance.
Too many Christians who don’t know how to keep their nose out of other people’s business.
Too much judgment and not enough love.
We need the vision of hawks … hawks fly high, see the big picture, all the detail - how it fits, how it works, find the right target, be patient, don’t waste time going after the unimportant.
The world needs Christians with the vision of hawks on high!
Advent is a time for us to receive Jesus all over again.
Jesus is like a book - the first time we receive Jesus, it’s only the first chapter - maybe as a child, or a young adult at a revival service, or in the quietness of our home, but receiving Jesus is only the first chapter.
We need to keep on reading Jesus all of our life … chapter upon chapter … a never-ending story, because God’s love is infinite … Satan tempts us to stay in the first chapter; Jesus beckons us onward - Come, follow me … it’s a long road … we have miles to go, and promises to keep.
We never reach the end of Jesus.
We never explore all of God’s love.
We never become a Christian entirely … we just keep on growing and going … that’s what faith is all about.
My Hebrew professor came into class one morning, smiling and chuckling - Dr. Lester Kuyper said to us, “I’ve solved a translation problem I’ve been working on for 20 years” … we called him The Student - he was always learning, and what he learned, he shared with us - his lectures were solid and fresh.
At the same time, there were professors who lectured us from notes yellow with age … they said to us what they said ten years ago … it was good, but it wasn’t fresh.
Faith needs to be fresh!
Donna and I had a seminary summer assignment in a Miami, Florida church.
When the pastor and his wife went on vacation, he told me, “Use my office, and whatever books you want.”
I took a good look at his library; there were very few books purchased after his seminary graduation twenty years earlier … the books he had were good, but the man had stopped reading … and I think he had stopped growing.
Advent is a time to grow … a child stands in a doorway; Dad or Mom take a pencil, mark on the doorframe the child’s height, a date is written … a few months later, lo and behold, the child has grown all the more.
Old clothes no longer fit … a new wardrobe is needed - new clothes for the growing child … new faith for the growing Christian.
No one here wears clothes they wore twenty years ago … and none of us should be wearing the same faith we had twenty years ago … God doesn’t change, but we’re creatures of change, and only when we change, can we grow.
In Tuesday’s LA Times, Stephanie Bryson - a disheartened high school student, bad grades, ready to drop out; she wanted to become a professional surfer … but she didn’t drop out; she pressed on, entered Cal State, Long Beach; last May, she graduated summa cum laude and class valedictorian.
She’s now a graduate student at Georgetown and was named a Rhodes Scholar - making her only the second Cal State graduate to receive the honor, and one of four students from CA, among only 32 from the entire US to be named a Rhodes Scholar.
Stephanie Bryson chose to grow!
The writer of Hebrews says: Let’s press on to maturity …
Paul writes, Let’s grow in every way into Christ …
Peter writes, Grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 64 gives us some clues about growing …
First of all, how not to grow: Isaiah wants God to do something … Come on LORD, get with it - do something splashy - flashy and big; let the world know.
Like the Devil in the wilderness tempting Jesus - “Jump off the Temple pinnacle … something splashy, flashy and big -you’ll have the people eating out of your hand.”
Jesus refuses to go for the show, and God doesn’t show up with quaking mountains and roaring fire … Isaiah learns as Elijah learned:
The LORD isn’t in the wind. The LORD isn’t in the earthquake. The LORD isn’t in the fire. But in a still small voice …
As the story of the Old Testament unfolds, God is learning right along with us - not by might, nor by strength, but by my Spirit … and when we finally reach Jesus, no legions of angeles heavily armed, just a heavenly choir; no displays of power, just healing and feeding and welcome and kindness … not power, but peace … and sacrifice and mercy … a lot of people looked at Jesus and said, “Not big enough; not powerful enough. We expect fireworks!” … but no fireworks, just the fire of faith, and the invitation, Come and follow me!
If we want to find God, we need to look in tiny places - in a tiny little manger in a tiny little town in a tiny little country.
What’s next for Isaiah?
Isaiah struggles with Israel’s story, then confesses - “We’re a chosen people, yet rebellious - we prefer our own counsel to that of God, even as we worship God and declare our trust in God … “LORD, we have done wrong” - not what the other guy does, but our stuff; not how bad other nations are, but how bad Israel has become; not about the defects of other religions, but how Israel fails to live up to its own faith …
It takes a brave soul to see the severity of sin we call it Confession
Isaiah then asks God to relent … don’t punish us as our sins deserve … “our cities are in ruin, our temple has gone up in flames … all is lost” … it takes a faithful soul to ask God to go lightly - especially with others.
A bit light the LORD’S Prayer here - Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil … and we might be very good at asking God to go lightly with us, to give us the second chance, and the third and the fourth … yet how easily we turn around and look at the neighbor, and hope they get what’s comin’ to them! “Go hard on ‘em, LORD; they have a lot to learn,” and then we pray, “Oh LORD, go easy on me; I’m trying my best.”
To stand in the breach for others … even the enemy as we learn from Jesus … who cries out from the cross, Father, forgive them.”
We call it Intercession.
The last piece of faith: we are the clay, God is the potter.
We cannot fathom all of God’s doings - we have two choices: live in bitterness or put ourselves into God’s hands.
Job learns that surrender is the only key to peace … in the midst of his suffering and loss, his friends blame him, and Job blames God … and then one day, Job is too tired to blame anyone, and Job surrenders - “I don’t understand, but I trust God, and God will work it out - no matter how long, no matter how hard, I know that my Redeemer lives, and God will work it out” - from that moment on, Job has peace in the midst of the storm.
We call it Surrender.
The Long Road of Advent - Confession, Intercession, Surrender - not always an easy road - but if stay with it, if we keep on keepin’ on, one step at a time, the Long Road of Advent leads us, all the way, to Bethlehem.
Even from afar, if we hush the noise within us, and pay no attention to the noise around us, we’ll hear the cry of the Child and the song of angels in the midnight clear.
The Long Road Advent!
All the way to Bethlehem.
Amen and Amen!