December 3, 2017

Who Works for Those Who Wait for Him

Passage: Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
Service Type:

From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

There are things we do at Christmas that are so imbedded in our traditions it is hard to imagine Christmas without them. Maybe at your home it isn’t Christmas unless the tree is up or that treasured nativity is on display. In just four short weeks many will be here in this sanctuary sharing together in Christmas Eve worship. I find it hard to imagine Christmas Eve worship without singing the Christmas carol Silent Night—it just wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it.

In the third stanza of that carol we sing of the Son of God as “love’s pure light.” In the sermons of the Advent season I have chosen this for a theme; “Love’s pure light.” In Jesus Christ we see the love of God in all its purity. Nothing obscures the light of this love; in Jesus we see the genuine love of God. When we look, for example, at the marvels of nature we may conclude that we see something of the grandeur of the Creator—but the glory of a sunset or the sun glistening off a blanket of freshly fallen snow do not necessarily lead us to conclude something about the Creator’s love. Silent Night tells us where to look—“Son of God, love’s pure light.”

When we lit our first Advent candle today it was noted that we did so to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. And because love’s pure light has come among us in Jesus it was also noted that this light brings hope. I would not presume to speak for you but I do not find much in our world that offers hope. In fact hope seems way too slow because it presumes that what I hope for I can’t have now. I hear lots of promises about having it all and having it now. We are in a culture that could be described as a place where the horizons of the eternal disappear into a fog of the urgent now. Of course it only takes a life-threatening illness or other disaster to expose the shallowness of the urgent now for what it is—a continual distraction that only papers over the inevitability of death.

I invite you to reflect with me today on something God discloses to us through the prophet Isaiah about love’s pure light. In the midst of the darkness of humanity’s obsession with the urgent now a light shines. “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.” We have plenty of lesser gods that suck the life out of us and use us up; only One works for those who wait for him. Consider with me the God who works for us and the people who wait for him. Let us think about the God who brings us hope and a little of what it means to live in that hope—on working and waiting.

1. The God who works for those who wait for him. Highlight the word works. One of the truths of the gospel is that our rescue from our rebellion against God is something God does for us. It is his doing. Paul tells us in his Ephesian letter that God chose to be for us before the foundation of the world. The scriptures reveal that it is God’s purpose to have a people for himself whom he will bring to a glorious future where there is only love that gives way to more love. In Jesus love’s pure light penetrated the darkness of sinful humanity who rejected that love. But God is at work to overcome that rebellion and he purposed so before the foundation of the world and pursued his purposes even though human rebellion would cost him everything at the cross.

We read from Mark’s gospel today of Jesus’ prophetic word about first, the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and second, his coming again in glory. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans in 72AD; within forty years of this conversation Jesus was having with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Indeed that generation did not pass away until all had taken place. It is my conviction that when Jesus spoke of “the gathering of the elect from the four winds” he has the building of his church in mind as it spreads into all the world through which God is calling a people to himself. God is at work for us.

The passage we read from Isaiah began with that call to God to “tear open the heavens and come down.” Maybe like me you too have reflected on world occurrence and advised God that this would be a good time for Jesus to return and put an end to wrong once and for all. But I suppose other generations though the same before us and if God called a halt then we would not have had the chance for life now. God is at work for us and all those he desires for this glorious future—such is love’s pure light.

Christmas is God at work for us. It all began with the angel’s visit to a teenaged girl in the Galilean town of Nazareth; the story of the love of God coming among us taking on flesh and blood for our sakes. Christmas is the beginning of that itinerary of sacrifice that God undertook for our salvation. Advent marks the beginning of a new church year with two horizons. The first horizon is the reminder that we look for our Lord’s second coming or advent; we do that recalling how God’s people were looking for the Messiah. Advent ends with Christmas—the celebration that Messiah has come.

In what year did you celebrate your first Christmas? For most of us it was the year we were born unless your birthday falls between December 26 and December 31. I know you won’t recall any of the events of that first Christmas (you may have pictures.) But think of this, that very first Christmas in Bethlehem occurred long before your first Christmas. Long before our first Christmas, God was at work for us. This is what Christmas signifies. God is at work for us.

At the cross God is at work for us. “But God proves his love for us,” exclaimed the Apostle Paul, “in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The work that our Lord undertook at the cross to pay the debt of our sin and set us in right relationship with God is operative now. It isn’t merely an historic event we think about during holy week to remember that something really bad happened to our friend Jesus. In the cross God is at work whose effect extends to us now which we experience as God’s forgiveness and his ready welcome of us into fellowship with him. Or as we read today in Paul’s first Corinthian letter, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

As we have noted on other occasion Christian hope is a future certainty based on a present reality. The present reality is the faithfulness of God and the event of God’s faithfulness that towers above all the rest is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The believer is assured that because Jesus was raised to life so we too will be raised to life with him. The resurrection from the dead that was anticipated at the end of time in the Jewish scriptures was brought forward in history in Jesus. Our hope rests in him.

Listen again to what Paul declares God is doing (1 Corinthians 1:8) “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is at work in us giving us all we need to cling to our Lord in faith. And what God purposes to do God will complete.

Keep this sentence from Isaiah in your hearts. “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.” The gods we create or imagine demand that we measure up; God who has made God’s self known in Jesus of Nazareth “works for those who wait for him.”

2. We have been reflecting on the God who works. I invite you to reflect with me now on “those who wait for him.” What does it mean to wait for God? First I would note that this isn’t that waiting of standing in line. I was in a store not long ago planning to purchase a gift card and was surprised by the length of the line of people waiting for the call to go to the next available cashier. Of course the line snaked through a double row of shelves filled with small items begging to be purchased just in case it escaped your attention that you needed one of these items.

This is not what Isaiah has in mind about waiting on God. You probably have noticed that with God when you pray you never get a busy signal. You don’t get the instruction to wait your turn because Rev. Karl started praying just before you. It is true that there is a patience engendered by the Spirit of God in our life but that patience isn’t a waiting in line for what you need to trust him. God freely bestows such gifts upon us.

This waiting isn’t a waiting around or loitering. Permit me an incomplete parable that may help us. When parents send their children to school and then go off to work they are in a large part working for the welfare of their children. The home and sustenance for life that is provided for out of the proceeds of that employment is for the welfare of family. The child at school doesn’t see the parents’ work in a direct way and often takes it for granted but his/her parents work for them nonetheless. I think that as believers we also don’t see God’s work for us in a direct way. Like the child who comes home to a home and eats a meal and sleeps in their bed so we too experience the hand of God.

I also point out that the parent’s work is also for the benefit of the parent in the joys that emerge from family life. I watch my son take my grandson to hockey and serve as a coach for his team. I see the friendship and comradery between father and son that bodes well for their future family connections. So too, God takes joy in those who wait for him. His purposes to bring us to the future glory in his presence isn’t just for our sakes but for the sake of God who loves us. Why God desires our friendship in this great family, I will never understand; that he does is sheer joy for me.
But also note from my incomplete parable that the child at school has things to do because of the parents’ work on their behalf. As they “wait” on their parent’s at work they have learning to do for they must mature and participate in life as well. So too for us who wait on God. We don’t loiter but rather are occupied in the business of the kingdom of God’s son. Listen again to our Lord’s parable (much better than mine).

“It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come.” Notice that each slave was given his work to do. What does it meant to wait? To be about our Lord’s work. To live our life for his sake. That is what being ready looks like. This is what the Apostle Paul has in mind when he spoke of the Christian’s life as to “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:7)

Now waiting on God’s purpose to be fulfilled for us sometimes means we have difficult things to bear. Isaiah writes from a place of captivity. Mary and Joseph lived in Israel at a time of Roman occupation. The Roman world of the church’s beginning was often hostile to Christian faith. The glory that awaits assures the believer that these difficulties of life are never the final word about us—even if we die because of them. The final word was spoken by God when he raised Jesus from the dead. A tapestry offers us a helpful parable. On the one side is a beautiful picture without one thing out of place. If we flip it over the back side looks like a jumble of threads running everywhere. Sometimes life feels like the backside of the tapestry but God is at work and wastes nothing—not even the difficult events in our life—as he weaves that tapestry of our life he is preserving for that glorious future in him.

This is love’s pure light: From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.