Advent 1B—November 30, 2014
“Christ, the Unexpected One”
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bossier City, LA
INI + AMEN.
What do you look for from God? What do you want from Him? What sort of God do you expect Him to be? What sort of God do you seek? If you were given a choice to see God once, if He gave you the option to see Him, what would you want to see? How would you have Him appear to you, to your friends and family? How would you have Him appear to the whole world, if you could have your way? What would you have them see? Would it be in a way the world expects? Would it be in a way we expect? What sort of way would we want God to manifest Himself, show Himself to the world? What sort of God do we want Him to be?
I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we know exactly how we’d want God to show up. We might try and hide behind the right answer, but we fall into the pit with Elijah. We want to see the LORD just as He is. We want to see Him without any veil, cover, or other trappings. We want to see God, we want to see Him show Himself with power, might, dominion, and glory. That’s sort of what we expect from God, isn’t it? Let’s be honest. We like the omni words: omnipresent (He’s everywhere), omniscient (knows everything), but really the one we we’re focussing on today—omnipotent (almighty). God’s all powerful. It’s true, but we want to focus there. We think that’s all that God’s about, showing His power and His glory, flexing His holy and divine muscles.
“Still small voice” who wants that? Fire from heaven. Flashes of glory. That’s where it’s at. That’s how we think God wants to be known, but when God comes without veil or with a thin veil, He comes in fire, power, and destruction. Did you hear what Isaiah compares it to? “As when fire kindles brushwood, and the fire causes water to boil.” What happens when fire kindles brushwood? Think about what happens to Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks when just the brush gets going.
This is the God of Mt. Sinai, and it seems that we think ourselves better than the Israelites, that we can handle what they couldn’t. What happened before the Lord came on Sinai? What did He say? “Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” What happened when He came on Sinai? “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.” When the mountain’s burning and smoking like an oven, we think: “Cool. That would’ve been awesome to see.” But when YHWH showed up, He spoke His Law, His most Holy Law, and when that happened, “When all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’” We think, “Oh, they were so faithless. We wouldn’t have trembled before God like that.” But those who wouldn’t and didn’t tremble at the Lord’s works were Pharaoh and the Egyptians because the Israelites did right. They had true fear of God because Moses said in Deuteronomy, “The Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people…They are right in all that they have spoken.”
God only coming in power does us no good at all. In fact, let’s listen to Isaiah again. When Isaiah prays for God to show up with power, does He want that for himself, for the Lord’s saints? No, he doesn’t. He says, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil…” Why? “To make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” Isaiah wants God’s wrath and judgment to break out against the Lord’s enemies. The enemies who think, “God rewards those who do good, who at least try”; who think, “I’m pretty good”; who think, “I’ve done more good than bad”; who think, “I’m not as bad as the next guy. At least I don’t…”
All of us, each of us, the whole world is nothing before the Lord. We all fall short. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Unclean. Polluted. All that we think is good and glorious and righteous—filthy garments. Disgusting. That’s what we are. That’s our works. “We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Taken away in our iniquities into other ones. So far are we faded and taken away that we think we’re superior to others for whatever reason. And at this time of year I get caught—and maybe you do too—into thinking that true Christian righteousness is whether or not stores are open on Thanksgiving and you shop at them or whether you say “Happy Holidays” or something else.
But we know that the Law doesn’t just convict others. It comes after us too. This is why if God only comes in power, He does us no good at all. He breaks out against His enemies, and Isaiah realizes and recognizes in himself, in God’s people, in all people, and we should recognize in ourselves what happens when we ourselves become God’s enemies. “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you.” We don’t rouse ourselves to grasp the LORD where He’s promised to be. When the world’s going to pot, we think that if the LORD would just show up and do something powerful, awesome, and glorious then everyone would get their act together. Elijah certainly did. But that’s not what the LORD does. If He did, we’d all be lost—each of us. If He came like that, it’d be like “when fire kindles brushwood, and the fire causes water to boil.”
So God comes but not like we’d expect or want. He comes how He wants to come. Isaiah’s prayer is answered: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” He does. He rends the heavens and is born of a virgin. The LORD God rests His head in a manger—no show of power, might, or dominion but an infant nursing, sleeping. Almighty Jesus doesn’t come in an almighty way. He comes to save. He comes to take on our human flesh. He rules the universe from a manger, but He doesn’t show it. Jesus rends, destroys, and breaks apart what we think God can and will do. He comes to bear sin not wipe out sinners with His holiness, glory, and power. Jesus takes His place amidst His enemies, His Father’s enemies, those who often reject the Holy Spirit. Wherever they are Jesus is there. He dwells with them and with those who trump up their own merit, worth, or deeds. He bears that too.
It’s more than a bit unexpected because God doesn’t just rend the heavens, but He Himself is rent. He’s pierced and nailed to the cross. God bleeds. God dies. “When you did awesome things that we did not look for.” Can you get much more awesome, more fearful than God bearing our uncleanness, our sin, suffering, bleeding, dying. Jesus, the God-man, does that. Did humanity look for that? Could someone, some person think that up? No, but God does it.
“When you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.” says Isaiah. And they did! Calvary shook when He died, and the tomb shook after He was risen, and now Isaiah’s prayer is more than a prayer. It’s a promise: “Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever.” And He is! He’s not angry. He doesn’t remember iniquity—forever! Because of Jesus this is true. Only because of Jesus.
The Lord of the universe comes. But
THE LORD COMES UNEXPECTEDLY: PARDONING HIS PEOPLE’S INIQUITY BY RENDING HIMSELF!
He still comes as we don’t expect. He acts on us like a potter acts on clay. The clay doesn’t have a choice—no say so. The potter makes the clay as He wills. The clay only confesses that it’s molded not how it should be molded. The Lord comes. How do we expect Him to come? Wrong question. How does He promise to come? He promises to come and save us. He came and bore our righteousness, the filthy, polluted garment that it is. He shed His blood and rose. He brings that to us! Our filthy rags have been washed in His blood at the font, and now we wear His righteousness not our own. He rent the heavens and came down at the font. Because of—and only because of—His work there are we righteous, pure, and clean. Because of Jesus’ water the “fire that kindles brushwood,” that fire that would’ve kindled against you is quenched both now and forever.
INI + AMEN.