B Cycle – 1st Sunday of Advent 20
Is. 63:16b-17,19b, 64L2-7
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in a theology class with my ordination class and the class to be ordained that year. One of those upper classmen asked a question about the “God of the Old Testament” and our professor imitated Fred Sanford and stumbled back against the wall, clasping his chest faking a heart attack. Finally overcoming his fake heart attack, he said there is One God not two Gods. The God of the New Testament is the same God we encounter in the Old Testament. Emphasizing the erroneous concept that the God of the Old Testament is vengeful, quick to punish every failure of ours and the God of the New Testament is completely opposite. It is no wonder we seem to always be focused on activities to please God.
Today’s Old Testament is a prophesy given to us by God through the prophet Isaiah. Yet if you go back and read that prophesy, sit with it, and meditate on it, you will discover it seems to be us talking to God rather than God talking to us. Why was Isaiah speaking as if it was us, God’s creation talking rather than the God speaking to us?
Could it be because God is just repeating what he has heard us saying to him in our prayers and in our thoughts. After all we are told by God, he knows our every thought before we utter a word (Ps. 139:4). God through Isaiah is repeating what we have said in our hearts, “why do you let us wander from your ways and harden our hearts.” We are unable to rid ourselves of our desire to satisfy self and since we do want to please God, we are conflicted. We cannot avoid sin and at the same time we do not wish to feel God’s wrath. We want God to take away this desire to do things that we know are not according to his will. We wish we were different and wish we could rid ourselves of this feeling of separation from God caused by our inability to overcome our lack of discipline.
Perhaps if we could encounter the God who parted the Red Sea, made water spring from a rock, or conquered those who seek to destroy us we would change our ways. That is the very thing Isiah words indicate, we need to see God and feel his wonder working power and then we might be ablet o overcome our inability to reman faithful. We need proof; we need to feel what the lepers, the blind, those who witnessed Jesus’s power felt and then we might be able to stand and feel comfortable in the presence of God.
What were the words spoken to Thomas when he demanded proof Jesus appeared to his fellow disciples? First it was an invitation to touch him and have some intimate contact with him. Then he said, Thomas “blessed are they who believe but have not seen” (Jn. 20:29). What will it take for us to feel like God is not keeping a record of our wrongs and begin to feel forgiven and loved? Isiah spoke the thoughts of our hearts, when he said, “…would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! We are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags.”
These are the thoughts of generation after generation of believers who have not encountered the loving, merciful God who is now, was an always will be. God has never changed, and God has consistently told us how deeply he desires us to be in an intimate relationship with him. We need to open ourselves up to allow that God to embrace us as he has always said he would if only we stop trying to please hm and allow his forgiveness to flood our hearts and minds. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. God so loved us he made it possible for us to overcome those desires to please self by the action of the Holy Spirit changing our focus from self to discover life in the Kingdom of God on earth.
That question about the God of the Old Testament shows us how little we know about God. We know about God, but we have not experienced the God we think we know. If we knew God, we would know his heart seeks to lavish that love upon us. Instead we hold onto an image of God that motivates us to seek his approval and lessen his punishment when we fail to do what we think pleases him. Isaiah’s words express a desire to have God do something within us to help us live according to God’s will not ours. What we do not realize is God has already equipped us to follow his will and desires.
It has been done and as we find ourselves at the beginning of Advent those words should be our prayer as we voice our desire for God to do something to have us experience his embrace and approval. Over the next four weeks we need to voice our desire to feel the embrace of the Father in the same way the Prodigal felt it. Keep that story in mind. He sinned grievously not once but many times as he squandered the father’s inheritance. When he finally worked up enough courage to go back to the father, he had one desire – not to be a son but to be a slave in his fathers’ house.
Like the prodigal we would even be happy with no standing, no status but able to be in the Father’s presence, obedient to his commands as a slave would. We know the outcome of the prodigal’s journey home and it is ours if we have a desire to be in the Father’s presence and to share what ever the Father desires to give us. We must know, because Jesus came to show us the Father, how much God desires to give us the Kingdom. How much the Father delights in us and longs for us to feel his love and forgiveness. How much God desires us to open our eyes, and minds and hearts to grasp how nothing can separate us from the love of God. To Understand it is not in our power to change ourselves, but it is in God’s power to change us. To reach a point where we place ourselves in the hands of God to be changed. For “you O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.