Worship Fully (Isaiah 2:1-5)

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A few months ago I was discussing with the small group leaders of our congregation what we might be able to look at as we entered the Advent season leading up to Christmas. One of the suggestions was the Advent Conspiracy. This resource uses the four weeks of Advent to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth by challenging participants to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. After looking at the Advent Conspiracy material, we decided to give it a go this year and begin to re-imagine how we might celebrate Christmas differently by putting Jesus’ birth at the centre of everything we did.

Last Sunday we began Advent by looking at what it means to Worship Fully. I find that any discussion about worship is challenging because it seems like everyone has an opinion on how, when and where Christians should or should not worship. We all have personal preferences about just about every aspect of worship such as the styles of music we sing, whether we have a formal, responsive liturgy or not, and a whole lot of other things. Personally speaking, I get concerned whenever people start voicing their opinions about worship because most of the time it is very easy to miss the point of what worship is supposed to be all about.

The word worship comes from an Old English word which can mean to give someone or something worth or value. The things we value most in life, then, can become the objects of our worship. That might be God or some other deity, but it might also be our material possessions, our relationships, our work or even our favourite sporting team. Usually, we value these things because we look for our own sense of self-worth or value in them. For example, we might value our possessions because owning them might give us a sense of self-worth. We might value our relationships because they make us feel valued and significant. A lot of people value their work because it helps them feel useful and worthwhile. Belonging to a sporting club or supporting a team can help us feel like we belong and give us a purpose to our lives.

The problem comes when the things that we value and in which we look for value come to an end, are taken from us, or fail to give us what we hope for. When we look for our self-worth in the things we own, we can spend our lives trying to get more and more as newer and better versions of these possessions are produced. When we look for our value in our relationships, we can end up feeling worthless if those relationships end or become increasingly dysfunctional. I know a lot of people who struggle with their own self-worth when they lose their jobs, retire from full-time employment, or are too old to do the things they used to do. If we’re looking for our value in our sporting teams, what happens when they lose or don’t achieve what we hope they will?

To Worship Fully at Christmas is much more than singing Christmas carols or going to church. It challenges us to ask what we value most about Christmas and where we look for our self-worth at this time of year. For some, we might find our value in the giving or receiving of presents. It might be in the family dinner and the gathering of relatives. For others, it might be in the activity that goes on around a lot of churches during the festive season. There are lots of ways we can look for self-worth at Christmas in the things that we value most of all. As I said, the problem is whether or not they are able to give us a sense of self-worth if we lose them or they are taken away from us.

When we look for our value in Jesus, we can find a sense of self-worth which can’t be taken from us and which we will never lose. One way we can understand the meaning of Christmas is that God gave us the most precious gift he had, his only Son, because he thinks we’re worth it! God values each and every person so much that he enters into the reality of human existence by being born to a teenaged girl in Bethlehem. God’s plan is to rescue us from our superficial and flawed attempts at finding our self-worth in the things we own, the things we do, or the people we are trying to be by giving us a value that can’t be calculated. God values us so much that he enters our lives and unites himself with us in Jesus. He takes our sin and brokenness to the cross because he values us more than we will ever understand in this world. Jesus defeats death, overcomes the grave and rises from the dead to show us how precious we are to him. The entire plan of salvation, from Jesus’ birth to his death, resurrection and ascension all point us to the value God places on each and every person. God does everything that is necessary to give our lives value and meaning by accepting us as we are, adopting us as his children and welcoming us into a new relationship with him.

Basically, Jesus enters the world as an infant at Christmas to save us because he reckons we are worth saving!

When we find our value in Jesus and his birth, life, death and resurrection for us, it is natural for us to worship him – to give him worth for everything he has done, is doing and will continue to do for us. This is what it means to Worship Fully, especially at Christmas. We can find a deep and lasting sense of our self-worth, not in the decorations or presents or meals or any of the other superficial trappings of this time of year, but in God’s gift of himself to us in the baby Jesus. When we trust that God gives us a sense of self-worth in Jesus, then we can worship him fully by making the birth of Jesus the one thing we value most about the Christmas season.

What do you value most about the Christmas season? What might that say about where you look for your sense of value and self-worth? How might you celebrate Christmas differently with your family, friends or church community if you intentionally looked for your value in the birth of Jesus and then valued him most of all? The other things aren’t wrong or bad, but how might they look different if we valued Jesus most of all as we find our value in him?

When we find our self-worth in God’s gift of himself to us in Jesus, then we can worship him fully with our whole lives, not just at Christmas.

Hope (Psalm 25:1-10)

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If there is something that you want, are you happy to wait for it? Or would you prefer to get it straight away?

We live in a society that isn’t very good at waiting. Generally speaking, we are constantly being told that we can have what we want right now, without needing to wait for it. We can buy things and pay for them later. We can use an app to order our coffee so it’s ready to collect when we arrive. Dating websites give us the opportunity to find our ‘perfect match’ without wasting time getting to know the other person. In so many ways, a strong message from our society is that we can have whatever we want right now without waiting for it.

Maybe that is one reason why our society also finds it hard to hope. I was surprised to find that in Psalm 25, the Hebrew word which is translated as ‘hope’ in verse 5 of the New Living Translation, as well as verse 3 in the New International Version, is also the word for ‘wait’. This tells us that the people of the Old Testament saw a very close connection between ‘waiting’ and ‘hoping’. To wait for something good also meant to hope for it. Maybe if we are going to find hope, we also need to learn to wait.

As he wrote Psalm 25, David was waiting and hoping for someone to save him. He wrote, ‘Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat’ (v2 NLT) and ‘Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me’ (v5 NLT). Like other Old Testament people, when David wrote these words he didn’t think that being saved meant going to heaven when he died. Instead, he was waiting and hoping for God to save him from his enemies. These were real people who wanted to take his life. For Old Testament people, salvation was more about here and now than it was about what happens when we die.

If we think about ‘being saved’ in this way, then we all have very real enemies we need God to save us from. I’m not thinking about human, flesh and blood enemies who make life difficult for us. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Instead, I’m thinking about enemies who want to take life from us such as fear, guilt, physical and mental illnesses, anxiety, depression, shame, and even death itself. If we read Psalm 25 with these ‘enemies’ in mind, then David’s words can take on new meaning for us and can actually give us hope, no matter what our ‘enemies’ might be.

As we celebrate the First Sunday in Advent, this is what we can wait and hope for in the coming of Jesus. One reason for Jesus’ birth is to give us hope in the face of the ‘enemies’ we struggle with as we wait for him to come and save us. Jesus’ saving work began when he entered into our human experience as an infant. This saving miracle is what we celebrate at Christmas. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus constantly saved the people he had contact with by freeing them from their ‘enemies’ and giving them new life as whole, clean, forgiven people. Jesus then defeated our ‘enemies’ by suffering on the cross and dying in our place. This is where he won his saving victory for us which was made evident when he was raised from death to eternal life at Easter. Jesus’ whole life, from his birth, through his death and resurrection, and still now as he joins his life with ours through his gift of the Holy Spirit, is to save us from our ‘enemies’ which want to take life from us. The time will come when Jesus will return again to complete his saving work by getting rid of all the evil in the world, making everything that is wrong in creation right again.

This is what we wait and hope for as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth in the season of Advent. Jesus came to us as a baby to save us from our enemies. He is coming at the end of time to complete his saving work once and for all. As we wait for that, Jesus is still coming to us as the one who saves us from the ‘enemies’ that want to take life from us. I understand that there are times in life when it doesn’t seem like Jesus is saving us, and it can appear like our enemies have the upper hand. That is because the paradox of hope is that it is waiting for something we don’t have yet. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) (Romans 8:23b-25 NLT)

Like the people of the Old Testament, Paul connects waiting and hoping like two sides of the same coin. He also says that we have been saved, but that we also hope for something that we don’t have yet. As God’s people whom he has saved in Jesus, we wait and hope with patience and confidence for God to complete his saving work in Jesus, even though we don’t fully have it yet. Even though it might not feel like Jesus has saved us from our enemies, we can still wait in hope for his saving work to be made complete in us.

As we wait for Jesus’ coming during this Advent season, we can wait in hope, peace, joy and love. These are God’s gifts to us all in the birth and life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Whatever our ‘enemies’ might be, God gives us the hope of a better tomorrow as Jesus comes to save us from them.

I honestly pray that you might find a greater sense of hope this Christmas as you put your trust in Jesus who comes to save you from the enemies you face in your life. Or, if you already have this hope, that you might be able to give the gift of hope to someone else who needs it.

The Kingdom of Love (2 Samuel 7:1-11,16)

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I am amazed how often I see stories about the royal family in my news-feed when I open my email homepage. Australians are divided on whether the Queen should be our head of state or not, but that doesn’t stop us having a fascination with the royal family, who they are marrying, or what they are wearing. Occasionally I see people debating who will be the next King of Great Britain – whether it will be Charles or pass straight to William. It reminds me that all monarchs, rulers and governments in this world are temporary. It doesn’t matter whether they get their power from being part of a family or through more democratic means, at some stage every worldly ruler passes on their authority on to someone else.

During the Christmas season, Christians celebrate the birth of the child who has come to reign as our spiritual King and to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. This king was foretold throughout the Old Testament and God’s people waited for centuries for his coming. When Jesus was born, the prophesied king came into our world to establish God’s kingdom and to reign over his people.

There are a number of ways in which the reign of Jesus as our king is very different from the reign of earthly rulers. I would like to look at three ways in which Jesus’ kingdom is different from any other worldly government.

Firstly, as the prophet Nathan told David about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, this king would reign forever. In 2 Samuel 7:1-16 we read that David wanted to build a physical house made of stone and word in which God could make his home in the world. God turns it around and tells David through the prophet Nathan that instead he would build a spiritual ‘house’ from David’s descendants, meaning a dynasty of kings. One of David’s descendants would reign over an eternal kingdom which would never end. This prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus who began his reign over the kingdom of God during his earthly ministry and who continues to reign over us now through faith. The promise is that Jesus’ kingdom will never end as he will rule over us for all of eternity.

The second big difference is that Jesus’ kingdom isn’t made up of a complicated legal system which only lawyers can understand. As we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent, we remember that Jesus’ kingdom has just one command: the law of love. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength, and to love others like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). In John’s gospel, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave a new commandment to his followers: to love each other in the same way that he loves us (John 13:34). The rest of the New Testament explores how communities of Jesus’ followers were working out how this law looked in their relationships with each other. In the same way, as members of Jesus’ kingdom through faith, we only have one law to live by: to love each other in the same self-giving, self-sacrificing way that Jesus loves us.

This leads us to the third big difference between our worldly rulers and the way Jesus rules over us as our spiritual King. Earthly rulers can make all the rules they want, but they cannot give us the ability to keep them. In Jesus’ kingdom, we have a king who gives us what we need so that we can live in the way he wants us to. Jesus’ new command is based on and flows out of the love he gives us. During his time on earth, Jesus loved others perfectly, not just to set us an example for us to follow, but so that we can know his perfect love for us. We can understand grace as God giving to us what he wants from us. Jesus our king loves us perfectly by being born for us, living for us, dying for us and rising again from the grave to give us new life through faith in him. It would kind of be like Queen Elizabeth II paying the taxes she demands from us so that we can use that money to help and bless other people. Jesus rules as our king to use his power and authority to provide for us in every way, to protect us from all harm, and to keep us strong in his love. Through the experience of being loved by our King Jesus we are then able to love the people around us, not matter how difficult it might be to do that. As we live in the reality of Jesus’ Kingdom of Love, we participate in his love by receiving his love through faith in him and sharing his love in our relationships with others.

Talking about Australia as a constitutional monarchy runs the risk of people arguing over the Queen should be our head of state or not. I don’t want to get into that because, like King David about three thousand years ago, kings and queens come and go, and their kingdoms, constitutions and governments are only temporary. However, we belong to the eternal Kingdom of Love whose king will rule forever. We encounter Jesus’ love when we look into the manger in faith and see our king who is born for us in Bethlehem. This is the king who loves us perfectly in his life, death and resurrection. This is the king who still rules over our hearts with his love. And this is the king whose perfect, infinite grace will keep us in his Kingdom of Love for ever.

Dressed in Joy (Isaiah 6:1-4,8-11)

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There are a few people I have spoken with over the last month who have told me that they’re not doing Christmas this year.

In a way, I can understand why they don’t what to buy into the ‘festive’ season. These are people who have been doing it tough for most of the year, are suffering in one way or another, or who have experienced serious tragedies. The idea of trying to have the ‘happy’ Christmas that we see in the media is the furthest thing from their minds as they deal with the difficulties they are experiencing.

However, in another way, this is why Christmas is such an important event for us as disciples of Jesus. When Jesus was born, he didn’t enter into a perfect Christmas like the media portrays. Jesus wasn’t born into an ideal family surrounded by all the trappings of an affluent lifestyle. Instead, he was born into brokenness, suffering and pain. He entered into our messy existence in order to give us something much better than a superficial happiness that we can pursue by consuming goods, services or relationships.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem and comes into our lives to give us a deeper joy.

There is a big difference between the happiness the media presents and the joy God offers. Being ‘happy’ is kind of like eating a Christmas lolly or sweet – it’s good for the brief time that it lasts, but when it’s gone it leaves us wanting more. So we consume another lolly, and another one, and another one in the vain hope that if we consume enough, we will finally find lasting happiness. Joy, on the other hand, is like a massive gob-stopper that we can enjoy all day. It is there with us wherever we go, through the good times and the bad, providing us with something that is lasting, real and a lot more satisfying.

God’s promise to us in Jesus isn’t a shallow, temporary ‘happy’ feeling, but a deep, lasting, real sense of joy in all the circumstances of life.

We read about the joy Jesus gives in the words of Isaiah 61. Jesus read this passage in the synagogue in Luke 4:14-21 where he said, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (NIV). Jesus fulfils the Prophet’s words as he comes to us to give us joy in his salvation. Isaiah is packed full of good news for us, and each line contains almost a full sermon in itself. Here’s what Jesus brings us:

  • good news to the poor – Jesus brings good news to all who are impoverished or needy in our hearts, minds or spirits; what follows expands on this good news for us
  • to bind up the broken-hearted – Jesus can heal hearts that are broken with the perfect, infinite love which he shows us in his suffering, death and resurrection
  • freedom for the captives – Jesus’ love sets us free from the things in life that trap or bind us, such as sin, death and the devil’s power
  • release from darkness – we all go through dark times, and people I’ve known who suffer depression have described it as a darkness over them, but Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12), comes to free from the darkness
  • the year of the Lord’s favour – in the Old Testament, a Jubilee year was when Jewish society was reset as debts were forgiven, land was returned and slaves set free (see Leviticus 25); now is the year of the Lord’s favour as Jesus puts things back the way they were meant to be
  • to comfort all who mourn – Jesus defeats death through his crucifixion and resurrection so even as we mourn the loss of loved ones, we can still find comfort in the hope that life goes on beyond death for all who die in faith
  • provide for those who grieve – we grieve when we suffer loss; Jesus provides for us when we grieve the losses we suffer; he doesn’t always give us what we want, but always what we need
  • a crown of beauty instead of ashes – another Old Testament reference to grief, mourning and repentance (see Job 2:8, Jonah 3:6 NLT); Jesus replaces ashes with the honour of being children of the King of all Kings
  • joy instead of mourning – in the middle of life’s struggles, challenges and tragedies, we can still find a sense of joy in Jesus’ promises by the power of his Holy Spirit
  • praise instead of a spirit of despair – this joy results in praise as we live in the good news of what God has done, is doing and will do for us in Jesus

One way we can listen to these words from Isaiah is to ask where we are in them – are we in need, broken-hearted, trapped, in a dark place, mourning or grieving a loss? Then we can look at what Jesus brings us through his presence with his by his Spirit – good news, healing, freedom, favour, comfort, as he provides for us in our need and crowns us as his nation of royal priests (1 Peter 2:9). These promises become the source of joy for us who believe, as Jesus becomes one with us in his birth and gives the fullness of God’s goodness to us, no matter what our circumstances might be.

I would love for us as Jesus’ disciples to find a better way of celebrating the birth of Jesus. It seems to me that one of the reasons people don’t want to celebrate Christmas when they are hurting is that, as church, we have bought too much into the world’s idea of a shallow, ‘happy’ Christmas. How could we celebrate the birth of Jesus and with a joy that is deep, lasting and real, while still taking seriously the reality of suffering in people’s lives?

The good news we can celebrate this year and every year is that Jesus is born into our broken, painful, messed up lives where we experience suffering, tragedy and grief. Jesus comes to give us the promise of something much better. The birth of Jesus is good news for us, no matter what our circumstances might be. And this good news can help us find a real and lasting sense of joy which will last for ever.

More to think about:

  • What do you enjoy or not enjoy about the Christmas season? Why is that?
  • Do you think there is a difference between being ‘happy’ and experiencing ‘joy’? Why or why not?
  • How can the birth of Jesus give us joy, even if we are not feeling happy?
  • Read Isaiah 61:1-3. Is there anything that describes what you or someone else may be going through this Christmas? Spend some time explaining why.
  • What does Isaiah promise to people who may be experiencing what you’re going though? Discuss how the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus can bring us joy in these circumstances.
    (If you’re finding that particularly hard, contact me & I’ll see if I can offer some help…)

The Peace Road (Isaiah 40:1-11)

Talking about peace at Christmas can seem like an oxymoron. All you need to do is to walk to the local shops to see people frantically running around, buying gifts, and doing the things we often think are so important in the attempt to have ‘the best Christmas ever.’ We are not immune in the church, as we set about planning and doing the many things we think are necessary to bring the message of our Saviour’s birth at Bethlehem to the world. All the while, calendars get full, stress levels rise, and the peace we talk about at Christmas seems more and more distant.

Is it possible to find a real sense of peace at Christmas?

Like last week’s text from Isaiah 64:1-9, these words from Isaiah 40:1-11 were written for God’s people in exile after their homeland, their temple and their freedoms had been destroyed by the Babylonians. God tells the Prophet to comfort his people with a message of peace. In order to prepare for this coming peace, the people of God were encouraged to ‘make a straight road through the wasteland’ (v3b NLT). Isaiah is telling God’s people that he wants them to remove everything that might be an obstacle to the peace God was bringing so that when it came, nothing would stand in the way.

As a person who enjoys riding a motorcycle, I understand that some people find straight roads boring and would prefer to take the longer, windy, more scenic route when travelling. We do the same thing in life, especially at Christmas, when we run from this to that, busy with a lot of things that our society, our church culture, or even our families think are so important. However, what they end up doing is getting in the way of the peace God promises. We can be so busy trying to fulfil other people’s, or even our own, expectations that Jesus can get lost and we end up being tightly compressed balls of stress rather than experiencing the peace the Prophet promises and the angels proclaimed.

Sometimes what we need to do is to ‘fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills, straighten the curves and smooth out the rough places’ (v4 NLT). We begin to do that by remembering and focusing on what Christmas is all about, and removing what gets in the way of that focus. It might mean buying less presents, having a simpler Christmas lunch without all the trimmings, not trying to see all of our relatives on the one day, or giving the most valuable thing we have to the people who mean most to us: our time.
Because none of these things are really what Christmas is about. As the church, we should know better, but we still get sucked into the busyness and pressure of Christmas that our society expects. Instead, we should know that the reason we celebrate Christmas is the coming of God’s peace through Jesus and live every day with that as our focus and guide.

What’s significant about these words from the Prophet is that this highway through the wilderness was not for the Jews to return to their homeland. Instead, it was for God to join them in their exile. In verse 9 the Prophet brings the good news that ‘Your God is coming!’ God was coming to people who were exiled, rejected, broken and lost to give them something better. He was coming ‘in power’ to ‘rule with a powerful arm’ (v10 NLT). The Prophet tells us that when comes, God will use his power in this way:

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (v11 NLT)

The Prophet is telling us that God comes he will take care of all our needs in his grace, to hold us close in his love, and to lead us home. This is where we can find peace. In the middle of the stress, anxiety and uncertainty of life, we can find peace in God’s promise to us that he will feed us, protect us, and lead us.

God fulfils this promise in Jesus, which is why the angels sang ‘Peace on earth’ when Jesus was born (Luke 2:14). Jesus comes to us in the craziness, busyness and unpredictability of life to feed us with his promise of forgiveness and mercy, to hold us close to his heart as he becomes one with us and shares in our humanity, and to lead us through life to our heavenly home by his Spirit. No matter what our circumstance might be in life, we can find a deep sense of peace through faith in Jesus and his all-conquering love for us.

Why would we put anything in the way of this peace he offers?

To clear the way and straighten the road so God’s Spirit can bring this peace to us is often easier said than done. We all live with pressures, expectations and stresses in our lives, especially at Christmas. Clearing some of them out of the way so we can find the peace Jesus comes to give us is not always easy. However, that is the challenge the Prophet gives us in this reading.

When I’m teaching my kids to ride a bike, I tell them to look where they’re going because they will go where they are looking. Maybe it’s the same with clearing the way for the peace Jesus brings. When we focus on Jesus and his birth for us at Christmas, we will no longer be distracted by all the different things pulling us in one direction or another. Doing this will help us to straighten the path, clear the way, and prepare for the peace Jesus brings.

More to think about:

  • Do you generally prefer to drive on winding roads or straight? Why do you prefer them?
  • What do you usually find more of at Christmas: peace or stress? If Christmas is a stressful time for you, what are the main sources of stress or worry for you?
  • If Jesus comes to bring us peace, what gets in the way of you experiencing peace at Christmas? In your life generally?
  • What might you be able to do less of in order to clear the way to finding a greater sense of peace this Christmas?
  • What difference might it make in your life if you trusted the words of Isaiah 40:10,11 that God uses his power to feed you, hold you close and lead you through all the circumstances of life, both good and bad?

When God Comes Down (Isaiah 64:1-9)

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The season of Advent is four Sundays before Christmas when Christians focus on the coming of Jesus in his birth at Bethlehem and again at the end of time. There is a strong connection between us waiting for Jesus and God’s Old Testament people waiting for the arrival of the promised Messiah. They were also waiting and looking forward to the hope, peace, joy and love that the Messiah would bring. As we wait for the coming of Jesus the Christ, both at Christmas and at the end of time, I thought it would be good to listen to the words of the Old Testament prophets for what they might be saying to us, thousands of years later.

These words from Isaiah 64:1-9 were written while the Jewish people were exiled in Babylon. About 587 years before Jesus’ birth, the Babylonians had conquered the Jewish nation, destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and had taken the people to Babylon in captivity. This is also about the time when the stories of Daniel and his friends were set. The Jews were a people who had lost everything – their homeland, their worship and their freedom.

The Prophet calls for God to tear heaven open and come down to avenge his people for the wrongs that had been done to them (vv1,2). His hope is that God will execute justice on those who have taken the Jews into exile through a display of his power and might. Just like God did at the Exodus, he wants God to show his awesome deeds and strike terror in the hearts of those who were oppressing his people (v3). Then the mountains will tremble with the presence of God’s might and power like Mount Sinai did when God came down to give Moses the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 19:16-20). The Prophet argues that from the beginning of creation, God has always helped those who wait for him and who live in the way he wants (vv4,5a).

But then there is a dramatic shift in the Prophet’s words. If God ‘works for those who wait for him’ and welcomes ‘those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways’ (vv4b,5a), then the Prophet confesses that his people are not blameless. The Prophet offers a confession on behalf of his people, admitting that they are ‘infected and impure with sin,’ whose ‘righteous deeds’ are ‘nothing but filthy rags’ (v6 NLT). The Prophet recognises that they have failed to call on God’s name or look for his mercy, and this is why they are in exile (v7). Instead of just seeing the wrongs of the world around him, the Prophet recognises the wrongs within him.

This leads him to a new hope. The Prophet is hoping for a new relationship with God as their Father, and idea which is very rare in the Old Testament. His hope is that God would re-form his people like a potter forms the clay, and that God would forgive their sin and make his people right again with him (vv8,9). The new hope the Prophet has is that God would make the wrong things in him right again so that he could live in a new relationship with God as his child.

It is easy for us to see the presence of evil in the world and a lot of things that are wrong. We see people who are suffering from injustice and abuse, both internationally and more personally. Governments seem to be working more for their own benefit than for the benefit of the people who have voted them into office. Many people are living in the fear that we are losing our freedoms. With all of this going on, it would be easy for us to join in the prayer of the Prophet and ask God to tear heaven open, come down and put right the wrongs of the world through a display of power and strength.

What these words from the Prophet challenge us to do, however, is to recognise that we are also guilty of wrongs in our own life. It is easy to see what is wrong outside of us, but much more difficult to recognise the wrongs that exist within us. Like the Prophet, instead of looking for God to tear heaven open to destroy the wrongs ‘out there’, we need to acknowledge and confess the wrongs that live inside each of us.

Because when God opened heaven to come down, God didn’t do it through a display of earthly power and strength, punishing the wicked and destroying evil people. Instead, God came to us from heaven in humility and weakness in the birth of Jesus. If God was to destroy the wrongs of the world through might and power, then he would also need to destroy the wrongs in us in the same way. What can give us hope is that God comes down out of heaven as a person like us who understands our weakness and failures. Jesus joins us in our brokenness to walk with us, to suffer with us, but also to give us the promise of something better. Jesus begins to put what’s wrong in the world right again by beginning with us. He takes our sin on himself and gives us his righteousness through faith in him. Jesus brings us into a new relationship with God whom we can now know as our loving heavenly Dad. Jesus re-forms us and re-shapes us by the power of his Spirit to be people of hope so we can bring his hope to the world. The hope we can find as God opens heaven and comes down to us in the birth of Jesus is that he makes right what is wrong in us so we can live every day as his people in the world.

Part of the Advent message is that God will ‘burst from the heavens and come down’ (v1 NLT) again at the end of time to finally put all the wrongs things in the world right again through Jesus. Until that day we care called to live in the hope that God has already come from heaven to us in Jesus. The hope we have is that Jesus puts the wrong things in us right again. In that hope we can join him in putting the wrongs of this world right again.

More to think about:

  • When you think about God bursting from the heavens and coming down to earth (v1), what would you normally expect that to look like?
  • What does it say to you about the nature of God that when he comes down from heaven, he does it as a newborn baby rather than through a display of vengeance, power and might?
  • Do you find it easier to identify what’s wrong with the world, or what’s wrong inside you? Why do you think you tend to do that?
  • How does it feel for you to pray verses 5b to 7 as a prayer of confession? How can God’s forgiveness in Jesus give you hope for the future?
  • How can the Prophet’s words about God being our ‘Father’ and our ‘potter’ be good news for us? How can a new relationship with God as our perfect Father and his promise to re-form us as a potter forms the clay give you a sense of hope?
  • If there are people in your life who have wronged you, how might you be able bring hope into their lives by offering them the gift of forgiveness this Christmas?