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"Oh That You Would Rend the Heavens and Come Down" (Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent)
November 30, 2008 | The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Posted on 11/29/2008 1:30:47 PM PST by Charles Henrickson

“Oh That You Would Rend the Heavens and Come Down” (Isaiah 64:1-9)

The Old Testament Reading for today, from Isaiah 64, is an intense prayer, begging God to intervene on behalf of his people. As such, it is a fitting prayer also for God’s New Testament people, the church. And so, on this First Sunday in Advent, as we enter this season of waiting for the Lord’s coming, we cry out with Isaiah, “Oh That You Would Rend the Heavens and Come Down.”

What is the situation for which Isaiah writes? With prophetic foresight, Isaiah looks ahead to the time when God’s people will be off in exile in Babylon. These would be dark days for the people of God. Judah had been overrun by the Babylonians. Her citizens were hauled off and taken captive to a strange land. Even the Davidic king was taken captive and made a prisoner in Babylon. Jerusalem, the city of God, was destroyed. The temple, the house of God, was burned and leveled. These were dark days indeed. In the verses just before our text, the prophet laments: “Our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary. We have become like those over whom you have never ruled, like those who are not called by your name.”

It was like God’s enemies were triumphing, like God’s people--that there was nothing special about them anymore--like God himself had forgotten his promises to bless them and to give them a future and a hope. Isn’t this a picture of the church today? The church, at least in America, is at a low point these days. Demoralized, dispirited, and defeated--that’s the state of the church in our culture. The enemies of God have carried the day. Abortion, the murder of innocent children, has been legal now for 35 years, with no end in sight. In fact, our country just elected a pro-abortion President and Congress. Homosexuality, an abomination in the sight of God, is out of the closet, out in the open, and pressing forward with their agenda. Living together outside of marriage, and thus outside of God’s good order--this too is widely condoned, even more so.

The societal structures that used to identify sin as sin have broken down, the culture has eroded, and the church is seen as the irrelevant weirdos. The church’s message of Law and Gospel is not resonating, in part, because the culture has brainwashed itself into thinking that God’s Law no longer applies. Where there is no sin anymore, why would anyone need a Savior? If the Law is neutered, then the Gospel becomes irrelevant--and the Gospel is precisely what the church has to offer. So these are dark days for the church. The church is ridiculed, ignored, and disrespected. It’s like we’re exiles in our own land. The pagans have taken over.

Therefore we can identify with Isaiah, when he cries out to God:

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--
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!

How long will God allow this low point to last? When will he intervene and act? Strike down your enemies, O God! Vindicate your holy name! Deliver your holy people!

Then Isaiah pauses to reflect:

When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.

God has acted on behalf of his people before. He will act again. Wait. Wait and trust and remember. The Lord has always been true to his promises before. He has not suddenly changed his character. God will keep his word. He will vindicate his name and deliver his people. He will overthrow his enemies. God will indeed act in judgment and salvation. But this calls for God’s people to wait, in faith.

Yes, dear people of God, the Lord will come and act on behalf of us, his church. He will deliver us out of this mess. He will right the wrong, he will overthrow the evildoers. The day is coming, the Last Day, the Day of the Lord, when he will “rend the heavens and come down.” It will be a day of fire and quaking; the earth will be moved, and fire will rain down upon this wicked world, ripe for judgment.

But for now, we wait. And that’s a good thing. For if God were to come down in fiery judgment right now, where would that leave us? We too are ripe for judgment! Yes, we ourselves, God’s own people, have earned and incurred God’s wrath. The prospect of God’s judgment and our own guilt leads us to repentance. This time of waiting right now, this is a time of repentance. God is granting us time to recognize and mourn our sins.

Isaiah saw the low state of God’s people as a case of God chastising them, disciplining them, bringing them low, in order to bring them to repentance. Therefore he confesses the sins of the people:

Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.

My friends, this is our prayer of confession, too. We have sinned, and in our sins we have been a long time. Unclean and polluted have been our souls and our deeds, as we have let ourselves be influenced and infected by the opinions and attitudes of the world. Fading, late-autumn leaves, dried up and sapped of vitality--this is what happens when we do not draw our strength and life from the Lord through his Word. Apathetic and listless--lifeless, weak, living way below what the church ought to be. How few even bother to come to church anymore, treating as a light and casual thing the Lord’s holy day and his holy house, despising by their indifference preaching and God’s Word. How few actively and gladly hear God’s Word and learn it--yes, want to learn it. How deeply the words of the prophet strike home today: “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you.”

Advent is a season of repentance. God is giving you this time to repent, to confess your sins, to turn from them and change your ways. God is calling you to turn to him and seek his mercy and forgiveness. All of us, your pastor included, have things for which we need to repent. Taking God’s grace for granted. Not letting God’s Word have its way with us. Letting the world make inroads into our soul. Lord, have mercy! Forgive us! Restore your people!

But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O LORD,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.

Dear ones, hear now God’s answer to your prayer. The Lord is not coming down in judgment on you. Instead, he comes down in mercy. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.” Behold, he comes as a little child, weak and innocent, meek and lowly, lying in a manger. Behold, he comes as a peaceful king, humble, blessed and blessing, riding on a borrowed colt. Behold this king, mocked and flogged, disrespected and despised, ridiculed and reviled, nailed to a criminal’s cross. Here then is God’s answer: A Savior for our sins, Jesus Christ, who takes the judgment, the terrible anger, that we deserve and brings us salvation, deliverance, in its place. God beholds us in mercy, he looks upon us in grace, for the sake of his Son, who came down from heaven and won our salvation, rending death in the process and quaking the gates of hell.

Yes, the day of judgment is coming. Christ our returning king will indeed rend the heavens and come down, in glory, in judgment, to vindicate God’s name, to destroy God’s enemies, and to deliver God’s people. We wait for that day. We long for that day. We wait in faith and in hope. God has not forgotten his promises.

The day of judgment is coming. But now is the day of mercy. This is Advent, a time for repentance and forgiveness, a time for confession and absolution, a time for beholding and taking hold of your coming Savior. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

TOPICS: Religion
KEYWORDS: advent; isaiah; lcms; lutheran; sermon

1 posted on 11/29/2008 1:30:48 PM PST by Charles Henrickson
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To: lightman; old-ager; Cletus.D.Yokel; bcsco; redgolum; kittymyrib; Irene Adler; MHGinTN; ...


2 posted on 11/29/2008 1:31:51 PM PST by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson

Awesome sermon...I was actually thinking along those lines today. Come Lord, come...There are so many people with problems. Men acting foolish. Too much drinking, drugs, breaking up of families...There is so much pornography everywheres. The internet, malls, billboards. Abortions, homesexuality. Where are the adults? Where are the men and women who protect their families, neighborhoods...It seems as though we are not naming it for what it is. How many people are diagnoised with mental problems when the underlying issue is living in sin or kids who are exposed to stuff in their lives their minds and spirits cannot deal with.

3 posted on 11/29/2008 1:55:48 PM PST by prayerfullywaiting
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To: prayerfullywaiting

But .... I’m finally getting a boat this year. “-/

4 posted on 11/29/2008 1:59:22 PM PST by gost2
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To: Charles Henrickson

Excellent. Thank you for posting it. This is a keeper.

5 posted on 11/29/2008 2:21:59 PM PST by proudofthesouth (In spite of what's going on in the world, God is still in control.)
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To: Charles Henrickson
Lutheran Book of Worship # 38

O Savior, rend the heavens wide;
Come down, come down with mighty stride;
Unlock the gates, the doors bread down;
Unbar the way to heaven's crown.

O Morning Star, O radiant Sun,
When will our hearts behold your dawn?
O Sun, arise; without your light
We grope in gloom and dark of night.

Sin's dreadful doom upon us lies;
Grim death looms fierce before our eyes.
Oh come, lead us with mighty hand
From exile to our promissed land.

Then shall we all our praises bring.
Ever to you our Savior King;
There shall we laud you and adore
Forever and forever more.

6 posted on 11/29/2008 3:59:06 PM PST by lightman (BHO: I'd rather defy than deify.)
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To: lightman

That would be a perfect hymn to sing tomorrow with this sermon, and we have it in Lutheran Service Book (355, seven stanzas, in fact). However, a) my congregation does not know the tune, and b) I did not decide to preach on this text until this morning.

7 posted on 11/29/2008 4:22:22 PM PST by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson
Charles, the hymn is long meter (LM) meaning that it can be sung to many tunes, including the Old Hundredth or, prehaps, to satisfy those folks who want to sing Christmas Carols during Advent, Vom Himmel Hoch. Ask the organist which tune s/he knows, have the congregation take out a pencil at the opening anouncements, and, voila, last minute change! That in itself makes a good illustration for the Mark 13 "Watch, therefore..." alternative Gospel.
8 posted on 11/29/2008 6:16:20 PM PST by lightman (BHO: I'd rather defy than deify.)
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To: Charles Henrickson
I just sang it to Vom Himmel Hoch. That is a great fit theologically as well as musically. The layer of meaning conveyed with that tune enhances the text magnificently.
9 posted on 11/29/2008 6:18:58 PM PST by lightman (BHO: I'd rather defy than deify.)
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