Links to post for November 29 (Year B) and these readings:
OT: Isaiah 64:1-9 — An appeal by those who gladly do right
NT pre-resurrection: Mark 13:24-37 — Keep watch for Christ’s return at any time
NT post-resurrection: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 — Equipped by the Lord to wait expectantly
The Advent season is not, as popularly depicted in chocolate calendars, looking forward to Christmas — although of course we all do that.
And it’s not just looking forward to Jesus coming again. We do that too. But as it will mark the end of the world as we know it and severe judgment, as well as joy, it’s a mind anticipation.
The season is really an opportunity to re-set our lapsed expectation of the Lord being real and present among us. When we know the Lord, present and working with us and us with Him, His return is something we have trained for. It will be a step up from what we are experiencing now, rather than a complete step change from where we find ourselves.
Isaiah’s appeal to God (OT reading Isaiah 64:1-9) brings before God four issues which are strikingly contemporary. Perhaps that’s because human nature doesn’t change over the centuries
1. Forgetting God’s goodness of the past
“For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains trembled before You…You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways.”— from Isaiah 64:3-5
They haven’t kept alive the memories of what the Lord has done. Think of the way some of the Psalms contain a praise-history of Israel, recounting the miracles they experienced.
- What is the place of testimony stories in our services and other gatherings?
2. Not learning from what God is showing
No eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.— from Isaiah 64:4-5
You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them, You were angry.
They have continued to sin against God’s ways, even while seeing the Lord come to the help of righteous people.
- Which fits our situation? There are churches which are vibrant, growing and drawing from previously unchurched people — and there are those that are declining.
There are plenty of studies about what works, what attracts people, what grows the fellowship spiritually and numerically, but if ‘best practice’ threatens our tradition or comfort, it is unacceptable.
3. Not making prayer a priority
“No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of You”— Isaiah 64:7
Their prayer life, and their whole relationship with the Lord, has collapsed.
- What is the priority of prayer in the life of our churches and fellowships? When is the prayer meeting? Is it an exciting time?
There’s personal prayer life — part of the traditional ‘quiet time — and there is the prayer meeting. If liturgical churches have a daily prayer, how is this made attractive and engaging, rather than a recitation?
Wanting God to join us in what we are doing
Yet you, Lord, are our Father.— Isaiah 64:8
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah has asked God to come down in fire and thunder and shock the people out of their passivity. But he is making his plea before God on behalf of those of the people who are humble before God and able to be changed and re-shaped. This is sincere, but tongue-in-cheek; he is well aware that the fundamental problem is being wedded to our traditions and inflexible.
• How may God be wanting to reshape us and why are we resisting Him?
Jesus followed this principle:
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”— John 5:19
• Do our prayers (and plans) seem to be expecting God to bless and join us in what we are doing? That is the wrong way round.
Our job is to discern…
Our job is to discern what God is doing in a situation, and find ways to partner Him in it. We are to be moulded to what God is doing in and around us, not trying to mould God to our likes and dislikes.
This is a raising of our expectation of God. He is good, and has always shown Himself to be good. He has done “awesome things which we did not expect”. He is already working “on behalf of those who wait for Him” so He is on our case. When we call on His name, He is waiting to hear us — but He is also doing a work in us, a reshaping that does us good as we draw near to Him.
… and be alert
Jesus emphasised our need to be alert for the end time, maintaining a high expectation for His return. He taught that we need to read the signs, just like we read the signs of the weather, or the seasons.
“Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: as soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.”— Mark 13:28-29
• What are we learning from the pandemic which goes on and on? What is God showing us?
It has that feel of “when you see these things happening” and it is clearly a test of our expectation and where we put our reliance.
And Paul wrote to Corinth:
“Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end…”1 Cor. 1: 7
- Are we eagerly waiting as those who do not lack any spiritual gift?
• How well does that describe our gatherings and our spiritual life?
Waiting for Jesus’ return WITH the spiritual gifts we have been given should be an active, dynamic kind of waiting. This is where we raise our expectation.
Spiritual gifts that we read about in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 simply bring the presence of Jesus into the here and now. Our question should always be, what would Jesus say? What would Jesus do? And the Holy Spirit working in a diversity of ways in the fellowship will answer those questions.
God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.1 Cor. 1:9
It’s about having a high expectation of Jesus being present, BECAUSE we have been called into fellowship with Him and we love to call Him “Lord”. When people together have this expectation and are joined in prayer and praise, the presence of Jesus becomes strong. And we could imagine that He could step right back into our meeting…
And when we least expect it, He will!