Advent, At Last

Dr. Bo Helmich took our meditation to the end of the book of Isaiah this week as we welcome Advent and the anticipation of Jesus, the Messiah!  

Advent basically means "coming," and contrary to the cultural tendency to behave as though Christmas is already here, Advent says "Watch and wait.  The day of redemption is coming, but it's not here yet."

The book of Isaiah is famous this time of year for two prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, God's chosen king who would save Israel.  But the passage Bo preached from is not one of those usual prophecies.  Instead, Isaiah 63:17 - 64:9 utters a painful prayer, illuminating three important strands to this prayer, and we can all say these types of things to God, especially as we long for God's salvation to be fulfilled.  By placing this prayer in His word, God has taken the extraordinary step of teaching us to pray.

1) Lament.  Lament is a passionate expression of grief.  Here, Isaiah says "Why, Lord?"  Where are the miraculous interventions?  Where are the signs God is there or cares?  If God is good and acts on faithful people's behalf, then why make us wait?  This strand of prayer lifts our most intense, dark feelings into the light.  Lament dares to show that every single feeling and thought we have is still within bounds for prayer.  Lament gathers up the broken pieces of our lives and makes an offering of our suffering.  

2) Repentance.  Repentance refers to a turning away from sin and back to God.  Isaiah admits, "our sins sweep us away."  This is the opposite of the powerful image of the faithful person in Psalm 1, that the righteous person is like a firmly rooted tree.  When we sin, we cut ourselves off from what we need to remain nourished and strong; we become vulnerable to being swept away.  Let's face it -- confession is probably the spiritual discipline most of us want to avoid.  When's the last time you saw true contrition from a public figure, like a politician, CEO, or celebrity?  But Isaiah "goes there."  Israel has broken faith with God.  They have stopped praying or seeking to follow God with their whole lives.  So nothing good can arise in their lives until they face that truth.  This is repentance.  

3) Declaration of Faith.  This strand of prayer boldly restates the truth we know about God.  "We are the clay, you are the potter.  We are all the work of your hand."  To call ourselves "clay" recalls the book of Genesis, when God is said to have made man and woman out of the "earth" or soil.  
This image brought to mind a memory of accidentally cracking a one-of-a-kind pottery cup that Bo's daughter had made.  It was cracked, but not entirely broken.  What a relief!  But that conjured another memory.  On one occasion when he was a child, Bo accidentally dropped a glass on the kitchen floor, moving his mother to tears.  She explained that the glass was the last of a special set which had gradually been broken over the years.  

This Advent, some of us are experiencing relief that their cup may be cracked but is not entirely broken.  Others are looking at shattered glass all over the floor wondering what just happened.  And some of us are facing irreversible loss. Isaiah's declaration of faith applies to all of us.  Only God, the potter, can bring about the healing and restoration we so desperately desire.  

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