Advent Sermon: Don’t Skip the Steps!

Text: Isaiah 7:10-16

I don’t know about you, but that text we just heard didn’t make a ton of sense to me. So to make better sense of it, let’s step back and discuss the larger story so we can see where God might be speaking to us—
So here we go:

Ahaz, the king of Judah, has gotten word that they are about to be invaded by the north. When he heard of this, “the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind”.

Understandable.
No one likes to be ganged up on.
And no country likes to be invaded.

So the Lord sends the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz to reassure him that all will be ok.
That God is in control.
Isaiah tells him to “take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint”
He encourages him to hold tight, that all of what he fears will not come to pass—
Isaiah then provides some strong advice- perhaps a stern warning:

“If you do not stand firm in faith,
you shall not stand at all.”

Ahaz’s faith is shaky at best. He isn’t quite sure he can truly believe in God’s promises.

Sensing this, the Lord offers him a deal many of us don’t get (or think we don’t get)—
A sign.
How great is that?
I mean, how many times have you been in a situation where you weren’t quite sure what to do, so you ask “God, please just send me a sign..”
Well, Ahaz is actually offered one.
And not just any sign but a big one- a sign as deep as the depths and as high as heaven.
Isaiah is offering him a sign so clear it will be unmistakable.

Crazy enough, Ahaz rejects this offer and maintains he will “not put the Lord to the test”
Sounds good, right.
So pious.
But Isaiah will have none of it
Impatiently, Isaiah responds, “ok, FINE, you don’t want a sign? Well, God will give you one anyway- so here it goes-

Look! that young woman there- that one! she’s pregnant and shall bear a son- and the son’s name will be Immanuel, which means “God is with us”
And before he is able to eat curds and honey and know the difference between good and evil- the kings you’re worrying about invading you will be gone.

Isaiah is telling Ahaz not to worry.
That God has this.
He only needs to wait and allow God to act.

Instead of relying and trusting on God, Ahaz ends up selling his allegiance to the king of Assyria for protection
and this turned out to be a fateful decision because it resulted in devastation for Judah
Because Assyria turned on them and conquered them.

Poor Ahaz.
Had he just listened to Isaiah and trusted in God rather than in his own devices
things might have turned out better.
But rushing for the quick fix
he skipped the waiting
and sealed his own fate.

“If you do not stand firm in faith
you shall not stand at all”

Now I would love to stand up here and admonish Ahaz for his lack of faith.
But frankly, I might have done the same thing, I’m sad to say.
I think we all have struggled with trusting in God in times of uncertainty
I think we all have rushed for the quick fix rather than the longer, perhaps tougher remedies.

It’s a lot like grief in a way
When we skip over the tough work
of mourning
and crying
lamenting
and we rush to cheer ourselves up and just “move on”
we often never truly process what we are feeling
and don’t experience the full value the grief has to offer.
We might achieve a quick fix, sure
But when we skip these steps, we deny God—and ourselves- the opportunity to accomplish some meaningful work in our lives.

Our culture conditions us for this mindset
We don’t wait for anything

Entire industries have emerged to deal with the “problem” of waiting—
all for the sake of efficiency and perceived productivity
think of the microwave oven- we got so sick of waiting for things to cook that we brought in radioactive devices INTO OUR HOMES to nuke our meals!
And be honest- you still don’t even wait the whole time before the beep— you stand by that microwave and open up the door when there’s only 30-45 seconds left.
Don’t you?
Admit it!

But we have drive-thru everything- meals, prescriptions, coffee
Call ahead seating at restaurants
Almost everything in our lives we can do from our phone now
All to “maximize our time”
The message is clear: whatever you do, don’t wait.
Now, sometimes this can be good- don’t get me wrong.
I doubt anyone is inviting a long check-out line at Harris Teeter
Or a three hour wait at the DMV

But in this busyness and “efficiency”, we drown out the voice of God who is calling to us
begging for our attention
Offering us true wisdom
To slow down
and wait for God’s guidance.

Sometimes, we don’t really want to wait for what God has to say because we don’t want our plans derailed—

When Ahaz refuses to “test” God, I have a sneaking suspicion it has less to do with piety and more to do with being afraid of what God might actually say

For me this happened in my professional life.
For years I struggled with my vocational calling
I knew the things I enjoyed and were gifted at
But these jobs weren’t as financially lucrative as others, and I was convinced that the money was the priority.
So I went through the motions of praying— asking God for guidance
But really only if it fit my current agenda.
Because listening to God was too scary to me
Too uncertain and unpredictable
So rather than wait on God for guidance,
and trusting in his provision
I took matters into my own hands
And jumped into jobs
for money
and the quick fix—
Now, this lasted for while
But ultimately each time I was left restless and unsatisfied.

I kept looking for the quick fix rather than waiting on the right fix

When I finally stopped to wait for God—
he revealed to me a path unimaginable to me before
I mean, ministry? Really? Me?
And yet, this was a path I’ve found to be far richer and more fulfilling than my wildest dreams—
If I had only listened in the first place.

Maybe this has happened to you?
where have you skipped the steps in your life?
When waiting on God
trusting in his provision
Would have granted you so much more?

Where is this happening to you now?
Is there an opportunity for you to slow down, quiet yourself, and wait for God to act?

God offers us so much more than our human minds can imagine
If we just lean into the waiting and trust in God.
That’s what Isaiah was saying to Ahaz.

Matthew rightfully interpreted our passage today as a prophecy for the birth of Jesus.
And what a prophecy it was!
It is no small thing that God defied expectations and came to the world as a vulnerable baby
Instead of the Warrior Messiah others wanted and expected
Prophets promised this different kind of Messiah
but the people would have to be patient and wait.

So-
Many skipped the steps of waiting and jumped at the messiahs that met the criteria they were looking for
ones who exhibited power
prestige
and might.
And as a result, they suffered the consequences of their impatience.

God offers something so much more precious than a quick fix
so much more valuable and lasting
In the birth of Jesus, God shows us God’s true nature:

Meek and humble
Gentle and trusting
Compassionate and kind

And so… we wait.

For the last 3 weeks we’ve acknowledged this waiting through our liturgical observance of Advent.
Each week we’ve discussed a specific type of waiting:
Waiting on..peace
Waiting on…a new story…
Waiting on….new life in desert places.

We’ve acknowledged the waiting through the lighting of candles on the Advent wreath
each week we’ve marked the time with the accumulation of light
Visualizing how at the end of our Advent journey, the wreath will be ablaze with light
And Christmas will at last be upon us.
But until then, we move through the season with patient intention.

Now we might be inclined to skip these steps and race to Christmas morning—
to get to the prize
get to the presents
or maybe just to get through it altogether—
to check off all the action items on our to do list
to just…get it done

Doing so might offer us some short term relief.
And doing so might not bring us to destruction like it did Ahaz.

But it will nonetheless cause us to miss the work God is doing in our lives
to miss the joy of reconnecting with friends
to miss the excitement of anticipation
to miss the love offered in precious time with family

All of these are signs of the love, compassion, and care shown to us in the Christ Child.

And these are too precious to miss
So let’s not skip the steps
Let’s wait on them
Let’s savor them
And enjoy the gifts that they are

Thanks be to God.

Why Faith?

Recently, I was in an interview with a leader from my denomination who asked me a basic question about how I practice my faith. In a sense, he simply wanted me to articulate my faith and why I believe it’s not only important to me, but why it’s important to evangelize to others.
A straight-forward question, without a doubt.
And I answered it.
But since then, I’ve really been reflecting on this broad question of faith.
What exactly do I believe about my faith and why is it important to share it?

Thankfully, I’ve experienced the love and provision of Jesus Christ in very tangible, concrete terms. I understand not everyone has experienced this. Or if they have, they haven’t quite named it.

When my wife was sick and her survival was in question, I not only had a job to do and bills to pay, but I also 5 young kids relying on me, both physically and emotionally. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t just curl up in a corner and shut out the world. I had to function. I had to live. So it was the risen Christ actively at work, raising me up each and every day through the whole crisis.
Helping me place one foot in front the other.
Helping me do what I had to do each day to fulfill my responsibilities as a husband, father, son, son-in-law, brother and friend. Because emotionally and even physically, I was at the end of my rope. But that’s usually where God shows up. Thankfully for me, he did.

And the Sprit didn’t just keep me functioning, but also, I was consistently comforted. There were many days and many nights were I felt the warmth, the true warmth like when you’re cold and take a sip of hot soup and you can feel it emanate throughout your body, of God’s presence. I would marvel at how, despite the sadness I was experiencing, I would feel such encouragement. It was like a light pulsing through my body, crowding out the darkness that was desperately trying to take hold.

Only God could do this.

But God didn’t just show up in me, God also showed up in countless others who provided for me and my family during this time. Paul writes in Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens” (6:2) and thats precisely what people did. So it was one thing to personally experience God’s presence, but to see it in others was all the more reassuring. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it.” This is most certainly true. When I couldn’t hold something, the hands of Christ acted through someone else.
When I couldn’t think clearly, the mind of Christ worked through a loved one, who picked up the slack and made decisions.
Everyone I knew and loved played a part in keeping my family and my life whole.

It’s difficult to journey through an experience such as this and not reflect on it with such a sense of awe that you can only look up and give praises. In fact, it’s now been three years and I obviously continue to draw on this experience for support and inspiration.

And this is just one example of how God has worked in my life. There have been other examples for sure, when I feared losing my job, when loved ones have struggled and I felt powerless to help, or just when I felt lost in terms of my life’s direction. God has consistently shown up to love me, comfort me, and guide me.

These are just the ways God has worked in my life. Others have experienced God differently.

And through Scripture and through the witness of others, and by having my eyes of faith opened, I see God at work everywhere.

When the needy are cared for,
I see God is at work.
When orphans are found homes,
I see God is at work.
When the homeless are sheltered,
I see God is at work.
Whenever people feel safe, loved, and valued,
I see God is at work.

Sometimes I get frustrated or discouraged when I look and see these things not being done.  There is too much pain in the world.  But that’s usually my cue to act.  Because maybe God is waiting on me to partner with him to help bring these to fruition. God needs our hands and feet here on earth to bring his desires to pass.

I deeply believe this. But I fear that the busyness of our lives are keeping us as a society from seeing the active work of God. We live in a culture seemingly dependent on black and white answers, and committed to rationalizing away anything with a hint of mystery. We seem to be turning so inward that we are increasingly critical of ourselves and others, and are attempting to do everything on our own without tapping into the expansive, limitless, and available power of God.
It’s making us sad and lonely.
It’s making us fearful and angry.

So if I’m asked why I want to tell others about my God and my faith. This is why.
I desperately want others to see that God is at work in their lives and in the world.
Where love abounds, there is God! And it is an awesome, awesome power.
God is already there.
We are never, ever alone.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, I want to help everyone I encounter make that connection.

And once these connections are made, and in response to this love, I am confident that we will act more justly in the world.
Because of God’s presence in our lives,
we will craft laws that are compassionate and just.
We will build and create institutions that are honest and fair.

We will make better decisions
in our cubicles
in our boardrooms
in our homes
and in our churches.

To me, this is is how you change the world. By simply letting God work through us. Believe it, for it is most certainly true.

So why on Earth would I NOT want to tell everyone about this?