In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
In a slight departure from the “official” Christian calendar, today we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent. For those who didn’t grow up in a more liturgical tradition, practically speaking, Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. As for what it means, Advent has to do with expectation. It means something along the lines of anticipation of something or someone. And that this something or someone is close.
Traditionally, the Christian Church has celebrated the Advent season as both a remembrance of the significance of the birth of Christ and an anticipation of His second coming. Therefore, when we celebrate or observe Advent, oftentimes we consider such themes as hope, joy, peace, and love. Often we reflect on the wonder of God becoming human. We may think about the sinfulness of humankind that necessitated God stepping in. And we look forward to the better thing when Jesus comes again with the fullness of his kingdom.
As we have done in previous years, this Advent season, we’re following the lectionary (Revised Common). Our passage today is from Isaiah. So let’s take a brief look at what’s going on in our passage today. We can see that it seems to be made up of four distinct movements.
- vv. 1-3
- These verses speak of a request or desire for God to intervene.
- vv. 4-5a
- These verses give us the basis for the request – that God is good and desires good for his people.
- vv. 5b-7
- These verses remind us of the consequences of our sinful nature. They remind us also that we bear the responsibility for our own situations due to our rebellion from and rejection of God.
- vv. 8-9
- The last part of our passage (though not of the oracle) reminds us that, in spite of our sinfulness, God is still our Father and closes with a renewed plea for God’s intervention.
So, to over-simplify, the passage flows something like this:
- God we need you
- Because you are good.
- But we are not
- So God we need you
If you’ve been following along in our series of Genesis, this seems awfully familiar. In fact, it’s a pretty basic summation of the basic gospel themes.
- The good God created a good world.
- Human beings chose (and choose) to be independent from God: the problem of sin.
- Nevertheless, despite our rebellion, God desire to restore us according to His good grace: God’s plan and work of redemption
Advent is about the celebration of and the anticipation of the Messiah. The people of God, from Abraham through the exile, were anticipating the fulfillment of God’s promises – His plan. In Genesis, we’re seeing the beginnings of that promise. Through Exodus, we see the establishment of the people of the promise. Through most of the rest of the Old Testament we see the faithfulness of God to His promise in spite of the on-going rebelliousness of that people.
As those living on the other side of the biblical revelation, we know that Jesus is the fulfillment of that messianic expectation – of God’s promise. But Jesus wasn’t what everyone expected. We’ve talked about the messianic expectations and hopes. The Israelites were looking for a military and political leader who would overthrow Israel’s oppressors and establish Israel as the one true people of God. But when Jesus arrived, he wasn’t what the people expected and, more importantly, he wasn’t what the people (i.e. the religious leaders) wanted.
But does this explain why the religious leaders wanted Jesus crucified? We know, especially as we think back to our study of the Gospel of John, that Jesus’ mission was to be crucified – it was why He came. But why did the religious leaders want him crucified?
N.T. Wright makes a really useful observation about this. According to Wright, historically speaking, Jesus was crucified – i.e. the religious leaders conspired to execute Jesus – because he was a revolutionary.
Again, following Wright, the picture that we often get of Jesus is of a gentle, meek, kind shepherd-figure. Think about the pictures of Jesus you’ve seen in various media (by that, I mean various presentations). Typically, we see Jesus as someone who, being meek and mild as he is, nobody should rightly want to kill.
Now I don’t want to discount those aspects of Jesus’ character – they are true and important. But I think Wright is correct when he says that the religious leaders didn’t want to execute a harmless-spiritual-guru – they wanted to kill the revolutionary.
The religious leaders wanted to preserve their status quo. They wanted to hold on to the way of life that had been built up. They wanted to hold on to a way of life that, make no mistake, benefited them. But also the way of life that simply made sense. The way of life that they understood. The way of life that they had committed themselves to. Jesus threatened all of that because He challenged all of that. Jesus was saying that what they thought they knew and what they thought was important was wrong. Because God Himself had stepped in.
This gives helps us make sense of what’s going on at the beginning of this Isaiah passage. As we said, the passage is, in some sense, speaking of the Gospel. It gives us a picture of the God who saves and the world that needs saving.
But look again at the first section – the first movement. The imagery here is not of peace and status quo. The images are of upheaval. The passage speaks of the earth trembling before God.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Now think about what that means. God’s intention is to bring restoration. To bring renewal. This is the reason that He worked through Abraham and Moses and David. This is both begun and completed in Jesus Christ. And it’s the reason that He continues to work through the Church – through us.
But perhaps what we’re seeing is that restoration means revolution. It means giving up all of those things that we hold on to so tightly that we think gives our lives meaning. It means re-thinking – receiving a gospel re-orientation of – how we think the world works. It means letting go of what we think we live for so that God can renew in us what we were meant for.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time weren’t able to do this. They weren’t able to accept that Jesus was doing this. They were so committed to, so entrenched in, their worldview that they saw Jesus as a threat – a danger. Are we? Are we entrenched in the ways of this world? Do we hold on too dearly to the way we think the world works?
So What Now…?
We are caught up in a world that’s obsessed with power, possession, and position. We are either chasing it or trying to hold onto it. We are enamored with appearance. We are paralyzed by anxiety. It feels like we are always running after or running away from something. And somehow, no matter how much we run, we are never quite where we are supposed to be.
So we cry out to our God. We cry out to our Father. We cry out that He would destroy that which we have built up for ourselves so that His will be done, that His kingdom would come.