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Los Lunas Cornerstone

Church of the Nazarene

A Glimmer of Hope (Isaiah 64:1-9; Advent 1)

    2020, huh? What a year. I know we joke about how much of a dumpster fire, absolute disaster this year has been, but behind the jokes and levity, there is a real sense of hopelessness this year, isn’t there?
    We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, which, despite how you might feel about it, is very real and present and has very much changed the way we live life. Just take a look around you! How many faithful saints have we not seen physically here in eight months because they’re vulnerable to this disease? We know they long to be here with their church family, but the risk is too great! Who thought, one year ago as we began to celebrate the Advent season and the hope of the coming Christ that we would be here today with masks on our faces? Just one week ago, a friend of mine from high school lost her life due to complications from COVID. She was perfectly healthy before, and now, she’s left behind two boys who will struggle to grow up without their mother. Where is the hope?
    Who here, just this last two weeks has had to stand in a line outside a grocery store to get food, only to go inside and find that the food you needed wasn’t in stock? Or wanted to go get Christmas decorations to find that your favorite hobby and craft store is currently closed. Or wanted to go out to eat to find that your favorite restaurant is not only closed for now, but has shut their doors forever? Where is the hope?
    Our own personal struggle through all of this has been being disconnected from our family. My own parents are susceptible, and we haven’t been able to really spend time with them since March; same with my grandmother; same with Jonny’s family. We miss our families. Add to that, the stress of online school which, if we’re honest, despite how much positivity I try to inject into the situation, online school is horrible. It doesn’t work. We’ve had to work even harder to make sure the kids don’t fall behind. The internet doesn’t work sometimes, and sometimes the program they’re meant to use for school doesn’t work either. Where is the hope?
    Not to mention, that most of the summer and even into the Fall, our nation, and many others as well, have experienced a time of great civil unrest. Riots, looting, murders, civil unrest and disobedience. The divides in society grow deeper, and even the most grounded of people seem to forget who they are. Many times throughout the year, the sense of fear and foreboding was present just going to the store. Where is the hope?
    And the normal devastations continue as well. People still die from other things, only now we are limited in the ways we can mourn them. Family friends of ours lost their home in a hurricane in Lake Charles this summer. The earth does indeed groan under the weight of sin, anxious and impatient for her King to return.
    If any year was going to receive the “honor” of being the most hopeless year ever, 2020 might be a close contender.
    Many, many years ago, God’s people felt much the same. They were in the middle of not only a hopeless year, but 70 hopeless years. After decades of exile in Babylon, God’s people were free to return to their homeland, only to find it destroyed and barren. What hope they might have had ended in feelings of despair. They must have told their children and grandchildren stories of what the glorious Jerusalem looked like, only to return to a place that was unrecognizable.
    And in their despair, they felt this incredible distance from God. Isn’t that how it usually goes? When things look black and bleak, God seems so far away! I’m sure there have been many this year who have asked, “Where is God?” They Judeans returning to Jerusalem questioned whether God was working on their behalf, or if He was even listening at all.
    I’ll be in Isaiah 64:1-9 this morning. Let’s see what the people said, “Oh, that You would tear open the heavens and come down, That the mountains would quake at Your presence—As fire kindles brushwood, as fire causes water to boil—To make Your name known to Your adversaries, That the nations may tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence. For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of one who waits for Him. You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, Who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in our sins for a long time; Yet shall we be saved? For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our wrongdoings, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, Who stirs himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have surrendered us to the power of our wrongdoings. But now, Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter, And all of us are the work of Your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord, Nor remember wrongdoing forever. Behold, please look, all of us are Your people.”
    Can you feel the hopelessness in their words to the Lord? Their cry feels heavy and sorrowful. Just like our world does today, the Judeans wondered where God was. They cried out, “Oh, that You would…come down…make known!” Their words tell us that they feel like God has abandoned them, that because of their sin, He has removed Himself from them. They remember all the times in their nation’s past that God showed up and did miraculous and amazing things that they didn’t expect, and they were left wondering where the miracles were? Their despair is clear, but they took their desperation to the right place. See, when they were in the midst of a hopeless situation, and for them it was really the midst of an entire season of hopelessness, they CRY out to God in lament. That is your first blank for your bulletins this morning, if you’re following along.
    “God, where are You? What are You doing? Do you still hear us? Do you still see us?” These aren’t wrong questions to ask, and the Judeans were asking them of the only person who can answer. So should we. We, too, are people of God, and in the midst of hopeless situations or seasons, we should cry out to God in lament.
    Why should we do this? Because cries of lamentation lead to confession! CONFESS is your next bulletin blank. Look at the second half of verse 5 through the first half of verse 7, after the people draw close to God and cry out to Him, after they look back and praise God for His great deeds, they said, “Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in our sins for a long time; Yet shall we be saved? For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our wrongdoings, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, Who stirs himself to take hold of You;”
    When I really enter God’s presence, when I feel like I am actually before His throne, usually because I have spent time worshiping Him and really drawing close to Him, just like the Judeans did here first, I quickly become aware of just how inadequate and unworthy I am of being before God’s throne because of my sin and my failings.
    Aren’t we all? Couldn’t we all say with those people returning to Jerusalem, “We continued in our sins for a long time? We are unclean? Our righteous deeds are like filthy rags? All our wrongdoings are like the wind?”
    The thing about the Judeans’ confession here is that they aren’t confessing individual sins, though I’m sure those existed, they are confessing corporate sin! They used words like, “we”, “all of us”, “all of our”, to describe their sin. CORPORATE sin, which is your next bulletin blank, is the ways that they as a society, as a people, have forsaken God and been disobedient to Him.
    Who had God called them to be? A people set apart for Him who love God and love their neighbor, who live in compassion, mercy, and grace, and walk in the ways of the Lord. Had they done that? No.
    We should ask ourselves the same questions as we come to God as His body and cry out to Him in lamentation for the hopeless season we seem to be in. Are we being who God called us to be? A people set apart for Him who love God and love our neighbor, who live in compassion, mercy, and grace, and walk in the ways of the Lord? I won’t answer that for you, but I think we can look at the church as a whole in our nation and find our answer.
    You see, we just can’t enter into God’s Presence without the realization that we don’t deserve to belong there, and that if there is anything in our hearts that shouldn’t be, then we should confess it. But we also have a responsibility to confess and repent of the ways that we as a society, a people, a church, have forsaken God and been disobedient to Him. In hopeless situations or seasons, God’s people should confess our sins and failings as a people to God.
    What comes next for God’s people in this prayer to Him is interesting. In the prayer, there’s a break between verse 7 and 8, a stylistic break to show that something has changed. Maybe the author is changing topics, or maybe they’ve had a change of heart, or maybe they just don’t know what else to say? I’ve felt this moment many times in prayer, maybe you have as well, when you’ve cried out to God and you’ve confessed and repented, and praised Him, and there’s just nothing else left to say. And then, you just sit and be. And it’s in that being that He speaks, isn’t it?
    It certainly seems to be that way here for the people of God returning to Jerusalem. After this gap, this break between verse 7 and 8, their tone changes, and they suddenly remember, that even in hopeless situations or seasons, God has given them plenty of reasons to hope.
    “But now, Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter, And all of us are the work of Your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord, Nor remember wrongdoing forever. Behold, please look, all of us are Your people.” (vv. 8-9)
    God now becomes their “Father” and the “potter”. The people become “the clay” and “the work of God’s hand.” Their circumstances haven’t changed between verses 7 and 8; they’re still looking at homeland that has been destroyed and ravaged; they’re still facing a decades long rebuilding project. But they start to recognize that because of their relationship with God, with Him as the their Father and potter, and them as His clay and the work of His hands, that there is hope. There is hope, and not because of the circumstances.
    There is hope because of who God is. He is their Father. This is about relationship. We have confidence in Him and who He is, regardless of the world around us. We rest in His promises because we know they are always true. Our hope is anchored in Him.
    He is their Potter. He is at work molding them and actively moving them in ways that make them more like God. That’s what He does in His people. He changes us and molds us to look more like Christ every day. Our hope is anchored in what He is doing.
    They are God’s people. So are we. We have hope because we know that regardless of whether we have security, peace, money, a home, food, or any other want or need, we remain the people of God.
    In hopeless situations and seasons, God’s people REST on the hope we have in Him. That’s your next blank this morning. When everything around us looks so bad, our hope is in Him because He is our Father, Potter, and we are His people.
    For the Judeans returning to the Promised Land after exile, things would still look pretty hopeless for a time. They would even experience a time-period of 400 years when it seemed like God was truly silent. But then all their promises of hope were fulfilled on a starry night, 2,000 years ago.
    For us today, things may still look pretty hopeless for a time. We may have to face even more turmoil, unrest, and disease, and it will seem like, to some, God is silent. But we have a present hope here and now, as well as the promise of future hope. So, during those times, and more will come, we should cry out to God in lament, confess our sins and failings, both individually and corporately, and then simply rest in His hope, because, church, we know the end of the story.
    I’m reminded of a quote from the Lord of the Rings, which is a great story of hope, if you ever need a feel-good story. Things looked bleak and dark for Frodo, and they would get even darker and more hopeless. He turned to Gandalf and said, “I wish none of this had ever happened.” And Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times; but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
    Hope is not lost. Hope is not gone. Hope is here, at the cross.

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