Sermons from Pastor Jim

West Nottingham Presbyterian Church
December 3, 2017
Dr. Jim Horn

First Sunday in Advent
Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 64:1-9

Open the Heavens and Come Down

 

Did you feel the earthquake on Thursday, November 30? It was a 4.1 earthquake centered near the Dover Air Force Base at 4:45PM. I didn’t feel a thing. The Bible says that the mountains are to quake in the presence of God.

Isaiah wants miracles, signs, and wonders like it was in the good old days when God parted the sea and delivered them out of Egypt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have God’s Mighty Acts happening in our time?

I like how the prophet Isaiah demands that God come through on the promises that God made! It’s like a mother bangs a broom handle on the ceiling and shouting – “Lord, you get down here right now!”

We also are the people of God. We have waited a long time. Maybe we have waited too long. Maybe it’s too late. Has God given up? Has God abandoned us? Have we become so miserable, so terribly alone? Are afraid and crying?

The Lord is more than late. The Lord is hidden from our sight. God has hidden his face from us. The word apocalypse means to uncover what God has hidden from us.

We’ve made a mess of our lives when the Lord wasn’t looking. Listen carefully to the concept here. “You have delivered us into the hand of our iniquities.” We think of our deliverance as being put into the hand of God. Isaiah tells us we are put into the hands of our own self-destruction. The Lord is letting us rub each other’s nose into the mess we’ve made of our lives and our world. We are blaming someone else. We all point fingers and cast blame. God gives us just enough rope to trip ourselves up.

The truth is we are our own worst problem. Our mistakes are self-inflicted. You’ve seen the headlines. You know what’s happening. No one cares. For the last nine innings the score is no runs, no hits and way too many errors. We’re scoreless in the last minute of the fourth quarter. It’s fourth down and ten yards to go. Is it too late to punt?

In 597 BC, Israel was exiled to Babylon – modern day Iraq. When the people of God left Baghdad, they went back to Zion, they returned to see the destroyed temple. They saw the evidence of their forsakenness that led to their captivity. The people of Israel came back and saw the mess they made; the mess they made of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Promised Land was a reminder of their broken promises to God and to each other.

The prophet Isaiah hopes that God will make the earth tremble again, appear in a burning bush, or part the sea. Can Israel return to the Promised Land again?

Isaiah dreams of centuries gone by. “When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.

Turn around! Go back home! The Hebrew word – Shub – is to return to God, repent. So, who needs to repent? Those who have turned their back on God need repentance. Those who have walked away and stay away have made the separation that God wants to remove. Isaiah is crying out. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

This is the work of the promised Messiah. The Messiah seeks us out with the good news, “Welcome back. Everything is fine. You’re safe.”

God removes the distance that separates us by coming to us. The Word becomes flesh to dwell among us. Emanuel, God with us. Jesus comes that we may have live abundantly. God comes in Jesus, our personal Savior. God touches our hearts, comforts, heals, restores hope shows love.

When does Jesus appear among us? In the breaking of the bread and sharing the cup, the Presence of Jesus Christ is real – here and now. “Where two or three are gathered in his name;” – Jesus comes to us, and makes us a community, joins us as a forgiven family as the children of God. The spiritual reality of our Risen Savior is still here among us, now.

From the prophets of the Hebrew Scripture we hear how God prepares to send the Messiah. In the first century, John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness – Prepare the way of the Lord. Then, during Jesus’ ministry and teachings we hear Jesus speak of the coming of the Son of Man.

Advent is not just the four Sundays that come before Christmas Day. Advent is the historical fact of the Incarnation in Bethlehem. It is our sacred history and we belong to it. Advent is also the certain promise that Jesus will come again. It is God’s future that is coming for us. Advent is also the present time. We remember the perfect sacrifice Jesus made for us and for our salvation and our ultimate redemption. Advent is our past, present and future. It is the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.

In all these things and countless others, God comes to us in Jesus Christ. Not yet fully, but enough to make our hearts long for and yearn for and ache for that day when he does; and in the meanwhile, to be about the peacemaking, reconciling, life-affirming work God has entrusted to us.

Why don’t we see the Mighty Acts of God today? Did God stop being God? By no means! God gives us new understanding, giving us truth and understanding our planet and the universe we live in. God reveals the truth for us to comprehend.

“When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.”4 Elementary school aged students understand earthquakes. When the mountains quake, scientists explain earthquakes as shifts in tectonic plates and faults in the earth. Yes, the Earth has its faults – pardon the pun.

“From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.” Does the world hear or perceive or see anymore?

We hear in Mark that the Lord will come again and we will see it in our solar system, even beyond. But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory.

Yes, God can shake the universe! A volcano is about to erupt in Bali. Like Elijah, we know that God is not in the whirlwind, not in the fire, not in the earthquake – but in the still small voice that speaks to you. God speaks to you as if you are God’s only child. The great power and glory that God shows you is love, hope, kindness, welcome, and comfort. We respond with service and praise.

I think God is finished with Mighty Acts like parting the sea. God would prefer to capture our hearts and imaginations with hope, love, faith, joy, and peace. Everyone here at West Nottingham Presbyterian Church has been touched by God and returned, brought back into God’s promises. Tell neighbors how God comes so close to you in Christ the Lord. God is shortening the distance between us, making us more connected. We are a thankful people, not fearful.

In the beginning, God said, “Let there be Light. And there was Light.” When the heavens open – Light comes down. The darkness can not overcome it. Light shines. Our Hope comes. Light never ends.

Christ the Lord is coming again with great power and glory – in a still small voice speaking to you. You see his Advent. You behold his coming with your own eyes. We see it in our minds and in our hearts.

We cry out with hearts breaking with hope. The words of the prophet Isaiah become our hope for our tomorrow – “open the heavens and come down!”

 

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