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the sermon for

the First Sunday of Advent

03 December 2017

Isaiah 64:1-9
When all is done and said, we are all god's people!

12032017"Today's Readings" That's the name of the lectionary insert we use each and every Sunday morning. "Today's Readings" Two pages! 5 1/2 x 8 1/2"! Printed on high-quality 45 lb husky smooth offset paper! As you've seen, it contains just abut everything in worship that changes from week to week. The prayer of the day! First and second readings! Gospel! Psalm! And for the overachievers among us, on the back, across the bottom of the page, are the readings for next Sunday! "Today's Readings"

But three's another lectionary insert available through AugsburgFortress! Four pages! 8 1/2 x 11", folded in half! Printed on the same high-quality 45 lb husky smooth offset paper! It has everything "Today's Readings" has and more! It includes the Prayers of Intercession we offer between the Creed and the Peace! But "Celebrate," as it's called, also has an overview or introduction for the Sunday as a whole and for each reading individually! For instance...

this is what's written about the First Reading, for this morning! About the passage from Isaiah! "This lament comes from a people who have had their hopes shattered. The visions of a rebuilt Jerusalem and a renewed people of God, spoken of in Isaiah 40 –55, have not been realized. Instead, the people experience ruin, conflict, and famine. This lament calls God to account—to be the God who has brought deliverance in the past." Well, I read those words, sat back, and through about what I'd just read. There was a lot in those sixty-or-so words!

You see, contrary to appearances, the book of Isaiah isn't just one book written by one person. The first thirty-nine chapters were written some seven-to-eight centuries before Jesus. Back when the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and controlled the southern kingdom of Judah! The book doesn't, even, mention Babylon about a hundred-and-fifty years later! When Judah was conquered, Jerusalem – including the Temple – destroyed, and the king was led away as a slave to Babylon itself! Second Isaiah – as it's called – are chapters 40 to 55! They leapfrog over the story of Babylon and go right to the time of Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire. For the exiles in Babylon, it was a time of promise, a time of hope! It was a time when the Jews believed that god was making all things new! Cyrus gave them permission... and encouragement... and support... to go back "home" and rebuild Jerusalem! To start all over, again, in the land! To start all over, again, in THEIR land! But then, there's Third Isaiah! Chapters 56-66! The part of Isaiah that today's reading comes from.

This lament comes from a people who have had their hopes shattered. The visions of a rebuilt Jerusalem and a renewed people of God, spoken of in Isaiah 40 –55, have not been realized. Instead, the people experience ruin, conflict, and famine.

The people return home. And it was nothing like what they dreamed of! Nothing like what they remembered! When they lived in Babylon, anything – everything – was possible! So bright! So shining! But when they returned to Jerusalem... They were overcome, overwhelmed, by what they found! Thus, the lament...

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

It's a lament, a dirge, a song of agony and of anguish. There was nothing that remained of that Jerusalem or of that god. And even here, they mourned, they grieved, they wept, as they had beside the Euphrates as exiles.

They wanted to make Jerusalem great, again! Back when the nation was strong, was proud! When the people were prosperous and powerful! When life was safe and secure and free! But then, they came home. They wanted to do it. They tried to do it! They really did! But the harder they tried, the more difficult it became! The closer to god they tried to get, they farther away they fell! And in the end, they simply gave up. Conquered, vanquished, by their own helplessness, by their own failures. They could only do so much. Only go so far.

This lament comes from a people who have had their hopes shattered. The visions of a rebuilt Jerusalem and a renewed people of God have not been realized. Instead, the people experience ruin, conflict, and famine...

I have to confess, as I read the words... from Isaiah... from Celebrate... I thought about us. I thought about us. Hopes shattered. Visions unrealized. Ruin. Conflict. Famine. It's one thing to build a church from scratch! To watch it sprout, grow from nothing! Fresh! New! But it's another thing entirely, waiting for the dust to settle... then picking up the pieces and trying to put them all back together... more a Humpty Dumpty moment... Some pieces are missing, never to be found... Some just don't mesh... Others, still, aren't our pieces, at all... That's what this passage is describing! No matter how hard... no matter how long... no matter how well... sometimes, it just can't be fixed... not like before... not like in the beginning...

A windstorm folds the roof of a church back like a tortilla... After thirty years, an a/c unit, finally, gives up the ghost... Hope cracks... dreams crumble... visions collapse... And the people are overcome... are overwhelmed... discouraged... disheartened... And that's not, even, considering the changes and chances of life that confront us at home... at work... at school... The fears. The frustrations. Our heads spin. Our hearts ache. "This lament comes from a people who have had their hopes shattered, their visions unrealized." That's true of us. O that you would tear open the heaves and make it all go away! O that you would tear open the heavens and make it stop! Even if just for a moment!

I thought of us. And then I read the last line. I read the very last line. "Now consider, we are your people! We are all your people!" Yes, we have been conquered. And yes, we have been defeated. By Assyrias. By Babylons. Our dreams, too, destroyed. Our hopes shattered, as well. We've done our best. We've tried our hardest. But the best wasn't good enough. And our hardest? Our hardest has been far from adequate. Shoulders to the wheel. Noses to the grindstone. We've tried it all. And that all hasn't made any difference. And yet, we are still your people! We are all still your people! Just as god remains our god! Remains our god in spite of it all!

So the passage begins as lament. Sorrow. Regret. A dirge of broken promises and shattered dreams. And yet it ends in a simple statement of faith. "Now consider, we are all your people!" We always have been! We will be, forever! Even here, even now, we belong to god! There may be gloom. Gloom. Despair. Agony. But that one thing never changes! Life may become more than we wanted. More, even, that we can handle. It may not be what we expect, what we signed up for. But god is still our god! And we, all of us, together, are still god's people! We cry out for help. But instead, we receive faith!

My friends, god loves us. And there is nothing, there is no one, who can get in the way! Not Assyria! Not Babylon! Not Persia! And not, even, ourselves!

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