Archive for the ‘Advent 1-B’ Category

Are You Ready For The Rending?

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

First Sunday in Advent-B, November 30, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

“Time Enough at Last” became one of the most famous episodes of the original Twilight Zone, and has been frequently parodied since. It is “the story of a man who seeks salvation in the rubble of a ruined world” and tells of Henry Bemis, played by Burgess Meredith, who loves books, yet is surrounded by those who would prevent him from reading them. The narration of the episode begins with these words: “Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself…without anyone.”

Bank teller and avid bookworm Henry Bemis is at work at his tellers window, while reading David Copperfield, and because of the distraction of the book, he shortchanges a customer who becomes annoyed. Bemis’s angry boss, and later his wife, both complain to him that he wastes far too much time reading books.

The next day, as usual, Bemis takes his lunch break in the bank’s vault, where his reading will not be disturbed. Moments later he sees a newspaper headline, which reads “H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction”, and just then, an enormous explosion outside the bank violently shakes the vault, knocking Bemis unconscious. After regaining consciousness and finding his thick glasses that he needs to see, Bemis emerges from the vault to find the bank demolished and everyone in it dead. Leaving the bank, he sees that the entire city has also been destroyed, and realizes that a nuclear war has devastated the Earth, but because he was in the vault, he was spared.

Finding himself totally alone in a shattered world with food to last him a lifetime, but no one to share it with, Bemis begins to be overcome with despair, but in the distance, Bemis sees the ruins of the public library. Investigating, he finds that the books are still intact and readable; all the books he could ever hope for are his for the reading, and (as he gazes upon a huge fallen face of a clock) he realizes that he has all the time in the world to read them without interruption.

His despair gone, Bemis contentedly sorted through the books he looked forward to reading for years to come. Just as he bent down to pick up the first book, he stumbled, and his glasses fell off and shattered. In shock, he picked up the broken remains of the glasses that are now useless, leaving him virtually blind, and he says, “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I wanted…! That’s not fair!”, as he burst into tears, surrounded by books he now can never read.

Mr. Bemis was not ready for the rending of the heavens and the final judgment day; he was not ready to discover that it is God alone who defines what is fair and what is not.  He was not ready for God to come in power, are you?  Can you truly agree with the prophet Isaiah and say…

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and the nations might tremble at your presence!  When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.  From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him.  You meet Him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” [Isaiah 64:1-5]

God has come down and “rended” the heavens in the past; He came to meet sinful yet faithful men and women as they were.  He answered the prayers of His people when they were in bondage in Egypt and caused great plagues to strike the land and its people until mighty Pharaoh let His people go!  He parted the Red Sea so that they could escape on dry land, but then allowed the waters to recede and destroy the pursuing Egyptian army.  He listened to the faithful prayer of King Hezekiah, and thwarted the Assyrian army that had amassed itself around Jerusalem by striking down tens of thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their camp while they slept.”

Faith, which is a gift of God turns to the Lord in prayer.  Even when God seems shut away and silent in heaven, faith prays.  The message that God desires us to take with us this morning is that even in ominous times, God wants His children of faith to call out to Him in prayer.  He wants us to call out to Him, “Our Father, our Redeemer from of old” (Isaiah 63:16), “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” These are the words of a believer—a child of faith who is facing difficult times, but still clinging to God’s promises of power and grace.  For those who cry out like this, everything may seem to be “out of whack” in this world; evil may seem to be over powering good, and the devil may seem to be stopping even God’s will, but faith still prays.

In times like those, when God’s enemies seem to be defying His rule and authority, the prophet Isaiah encourages all believers to call out to God and ask that He step in and correct this apparent imbalance.  “O Lord, come quickly.  Assert your power; protect and deliver your people.  Destroy your enemies and the enemies of your people.”

But there is just one little problem.  If we are honest, we too are many times found to be acting as if we are faithless; we too because of our sins, have been and will be again the enemies of God.  We remember the God of old and His mighty deeds, and we are afraid.  We are afraid because we know that we too fall short of the qualification of joyfully working towards righteousness.

“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.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  (This is why) 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.” [Isaiah 65:5-7]

So what is the solution to our apparent inability to call out to God, to see and hear God in a righteous way?  How can we possibly rid ourselves of so many and so vile of a list of sins, sins which soak into our very being making us in God’s eyes simply a bunch of filthy rags?  (Filthy rags which are like those discarded by a woman during her menstrual period.). The answer is that we can do nothing to rid ourselves of this curse of sin, but God can!  He alone must work once again in a way that this sinful world would never expect.  He must do what we can not.  He must come quickly to be our defender and our Savior.

No one could have foretold of the mighty deeds God did in Egypt to free His people; no one could have foretold that God would rend the heavens and shake the mountains as He met Moses on the mountain top and spoke with Him.  No one could have foretold that God would save Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrian army as they surrounded the remnant of Israel.  And no one would have guessed that all of this was leading up to God’s greatest miracle for sinful men and women such as us.  Sinful men and women who since the fall of Adam and Eve, have been held in the cruel bondage of sin.  We could never love God and our neighbor as God’s perfect law demands… it is beyond us.  But God made a way out of no way.

Who could ever have imagined that God would bring us back to Him by grace through faith, by sacrificing His own Son upon a wooden cross at Calvary?  What human mind could have anticipated the empty tomb?  Could anyone have anticipated that by faith in God’s Son and Servant Jesus Christ, a man or woman could become an adopted child of God?  But this is always how our mighty God acts; He reveals His truths to humanity… in a way that all of creation must simply stand in awe and receive His gift of presence with thanksgiving and praise.

The wisdom of God’s gracious and powerful plan lies completely outside of our realm of understanding.  If any man or woman is to understand and receive God’s work of redemption they must first be given the ability to believe and receive it through the faith giving power of the Holy Spirit that comes to them through His proclaimed and fulfilled Word of promises.  In other words, they must hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our Old Testament lesson, which is simply a prayer of the prophet Isaiah, we are drawn to God’s loving heart along with the prophet to call out to God in prayer and then hold fast to a principle which teaches, that God always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  But He only acts for those who know Him as Father and Savior.  He acts for those who know that He is the potter and they are His clay; they are His creation.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the 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. [Isaiah 64:8, 9]

Why should God even listen to our prayers, let alone respond to them?  Because we are the clay, and He molds us after His will.  We are the work of His hands; His mighty hands, the hands of Jesus, which were pierced for our transgressions.

In one part of God’s Word, we discover that our disgusting sins are all that is needed to separate us from God’s love, but in another part of God’s Word, the gospel, faith tells us of another way; it tells us that through His Son, Christ Jesus, we may turn to Him by faith and trust in His gracious promises to both redeem and save us, and to remake us into the image of His Son.

Many of you have been taught since your were children to both begin your prayers “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and to always pray “in Jesus’ name.”  Why do you suppose that is?  It is because God has no reason to listen to any of us outside of the miraculous work of His Son Jesus!  We come to Him in the name of Jesus, who has shed His blood to wash away our sins and cover us with His robe of righteousness.  When we call upon and trust in the name of Jesus, God invites us to pray to Him as dear children and to ask their dear Father for those things that we need.  We can pray with confidence and boldness because, in Jesus, God IS our dear Father.

As we enter into the season of Advent, it is my prayer that the peace of God will allow your heart to boldly call out to God, asking Him to come again through His Son and rend the heavens and make all things right and well for each of you, as you are transferred from the Kingdom of grace into the Kingdom of glory and power.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!