O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Judge Me, Save Me
Judge Me, Save Me
Based on Isaiah 64:1-9
Preached on Nov. 30, 2014 - Advent 1
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Fellow baptized saints, the music has a different tone this morning. The paraments are a different color. A new candle bears light that was not there before. We are in the season of Advent. The King is coming. He is near.
Advent means coming. The King is coming. He is going to act. Prepare the Royal Highway! Let Every Heart Prepare a Throne. For His is no earthly kingdom. It comes from heaven above. This King comes to rule hearts and minds, to rule hearts and minds with peace and freedom, justice, truth and love. Savior of the Nations, Come! Judge Me. Save Me.
The season of Advent holds together a deep tension. We want our King to act. We wait with anticipation for His coming. Yet there are preparations to be made. We know our hearts are not ready. O Lord, how shall I meet you? What is the right way for me, a sinner, to welcome you?
This is where our Old Testament reading comes in, because we are not the first of God's people to face this tension. Our story is their story, and their story is our story. And with their story God is able to prepare us for His coming.
Their story begins this way: With one hand, she slips the ivory comb through her wavy black hair. With the other, she checks her progress in a polished bronze mirror. Setting aside the comb, she begins to darken her eyelids, using an alabaster wand to spread the black paint. A pendant for each ear; a ring for her nose. She slides one bangle after another over her wrist until she clinks musically with each movement. Over her head and neck, she lowers a delicate necklace, which suspends a small silver scroll, the gift of her father, a priest. Inside is written the benediction he pronounces over the people at the temple on Mount Zion, including the sacred name of Yahweh. As she rises to leave, she adds one more item: a second necklace, heavy with beads. At its center hangs an amulet in the figure of Bes, a troll-like Egyptian god of good luck.
Affluence, idolatry and a growing indifference to God's Word. Extravagance, favor towards other religions and a drop in Biblical understanding. Are we talking about the time of Isaiah, or are we talking about today?
The people of God in Isaiah's day had gotten mixed up with the things of this world. Their focus was not on God's Word, but on all the fleeting, distractions of their lives. Taking God seriously would have to come later. They had some new and exciting things to participate in. So God sent them prophets, one after another, to call them to repentance, but they did not listen. "We are God's people - they figured - He will not punish us." Until He sent the Babylonian army, who conquered His people and carried them off into exile in Babylon. And as they trudged in their chains away from treasured Jerusalem, they realized what they had done. Gone were the ivory combs and the polished bronze mirrors. Gone were the pendants and the necklaces and the bangles. Gone were the temple and its courts and its walls. O, how they longed to turn back. How they longed to change the past. To never have strayed from the true God. But away they walked from their home, from their land.
And yet, God was with them. His prophets walked in chains amongst them, ministering to them, preaching to them. Now they would listen. Salvation served upon the judgment. Deliverance promised even as Jerusalem disappeared behind them. And it is in the sobering clarity of this march of shame that the incredible words of our text were penned.
"Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence." Rip apart the heavens - Split them in two LORD! You must come - though I fear your judgment - though your presence makes me quake and I deserve your wrath - you are the God of my salvation, you alone can save me from myself!
"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." Even the righteous things we do are stained with our sin. Even our regenerated works cannot be set against your judgment.
"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. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are 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."
This prayer, this psalm-like prayer, is amazing. It is addressed to the One we have offended, yet boldly begs Him to act in our defence. It cries to the One who rightfully punishes us, yet demands that He act to save us. It admits that the problem here is our sin, yet appeals strictly to the loving kindness of a merciful Father. This is the Word of God. This is the message of the King that He sends ahead to us to prepare us for His coming. Pray this, He says. Repent and believe this. For this is how I come.
I should judge you, yet splitting open the heavens I come to save you as a helpless baby boy.
I should be angry with you, yet mounted on a lowly colt, on a donkey, I come in peace to restore you.
I should turn my face from you, yet into the filth and pollution of your sin, I come to have my heavenly Father hide His face from me, and make me melt in the hand of your iniquities.
I should abandon you in your sin, yet it is My closest disciples who abandon Me.
I should reject you for your indifference, yet it is My people who reject Me.
I should lead you in chains away from Jerusalem, yet it is I who am led out of the city to a cross.
I should forsake you and your false gods, yet I am the One forsaken by My Father.
I am judgment and salvation. Law and Gospel. Death and Resurrection. And all of it - For you.
Your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation. All your righteous deeds are like a polluted garment, so He gives you the white garment of His righteousness to cover all your sin. So shall you stand without fear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world. The LORD does not hide His face forever, but reveals it to you in Jesus, your King.
So, how do you prepare for the coming of the King? Repent and believe the Good News. Turn from your idols and trust in the true God alone. You are the clay. He is the potter. And He promises to shape your heart as His throne with His Word. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr