Isaiah 64:1-9 (First Sunday in Advent—Series B)
“God Came Down”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 30, 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah 64:
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence– 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 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. 5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 6 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. 7 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. 8 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. 9 Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.
One of my favorite chapters in the Old Testament is the call of Isaiah to be God’s prophet. This is recorded in Isaiah 6: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. . . . And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And [Isaiah] said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Yahweh of hosts!’” This problem of being “unclean” was not just Isaiah’s problem. It was not just ancient Israel’s problem. It is ours as well. As Yahweh’s prophet proclaims in our text, “We have all become like the unclean.”
To be “unclean” is a loaded Biblical term. That which is unclean is not holy. That which is unclean is not pure. To be unclean is to be defiled, polluted, and corrupted. God alone is the source of purity just as He alone is holy, “set apart” without sin. It is God’s holy Word, then, that sets up what is holy and what is not, what is clean and what is unclean. In God’s classification system, no person, no family, race, class, or nation is inherently clean. In fact, all human beings are unclean and in constant need of purification.
Oh, how we often cringe to speak these words, “We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.” We cringe because, although we are admitting the truth of God’s Word about ourselves, we nevertheless don’t like that truth. How could we like that truth about ourselves that we are (A) sinful, and (B) unclean—defiled, polluted, corrupted? But just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. At the root of sin is the defilement of who we are as people living apart from a holy and righteous God. That’s why we must talk about sin separating us from God, setting up a dividing wall of hostility between us and God (Eph. 2:14). God is holy and pure; sinners are defiled and corrupt and unclean. As oil and water do not mix, so sinner and God do not mix. Even more so, sinner and God cannot be together at all because God’s holiness would consume and destroy the sinner. “Yahweh, if You considered sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3 CSB) The answer is no one. No one living is righteous before the Lord. (Psalm 143:2) We are all unclean. All of the acts that we might even consider righteous are like polluted garments.
In light of this truth from God’s Word, perhaps it would be best if we said to everyone we meet, “Hi, I’m contagious with sin. I suggest you keep your distance from me because I’ll infect you and kill you.” Our sinful uncleanness affects others. We fail to always love our neighbors. We do not always speak kindly, nor do we always help and befriend them in their times of need. We are mean to our spouses and children, rude to coworkers, even gossipy about other church members! Our sinful words and actions have consequences. We hurt and harm one another, murdering and destroying people and relationships.
And how should God, who is holy, act against our sins and uncleanness? What should He do? He should condemn and punish us all and throw us all into hell. God and unclean sinner cannot mix. Our so-called “good works” can’t make up for our uncleanness. They can’t erase our sins nor save us from the Lord’s just judgment. As we confess, “We justly deserve [God’s] present and eternal punishment.” But God, as He has throughout history as the only God who acts for those waiting upon Him with expectant hope, confidence, and patience, acts in unpredictable ways. At the Red Sea, the Lord parted the waters for the children of Israel to pass through on dry land. No one expected that! Marching around the walls of Jericho, the army of Israel shouted and God made the walls fall down flat. Who saw that coming?
Now what about those of us who are by nature sinful and unclean? What about people like us who stumble around in the dark, determined to stay on the road to eternal darkness in hell? God rends open the heavens and comes down. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity became man. There in the arms of Mary was the eternal Son of the Father! This same Son of God, fully God and fully human, did what we couldn’t have expected. He didn’t come down from heaven to punish and to destroy the unclean sinners. Instead, He became man and lived and ate and drank with sinners. He became as one who is unclean when He touched the lepers and healed them, when He touched the bodies of the dead and raised them to life, when He cast out the demons and healed many of their diseases and sicknesses.
Wonder of all wonders, God did such an awesome deed that no one looked for! Jesus Christ, true God and true man, took upon Himself your uncleanness and mine. He bore the sins of the whole world in His body on the tree of the cross as He endured the shame of the cross as the “greatest of all sinners.” He suffered the condemnation and the hell that all people should have faced because of their uncleanness and sins. A judge saw his son come before him, accused of reckless driving. The charge was abundantly proven, and the judge fined the young man the full amount permitted under the law. Then the judge adjourned court, stepped down from the bench, and paid his son’s fine. Jesus Christ, true God Himself, came down off the bench to pay the fine which He had imposed upon us and all sinners—He suffered death and hell in our place on the cross. Didn’t see that coming did you? Then, against all expectations yet again, having died for the sins of the world, on the third day, Jesus rose again from the dead marking that forgiveness for all people had been secured, and everlasting life and resurrection from the grave awaits all who trust in Christ Jesus by faith.
What’s more, Jesus has also poured out the Holy Spirit through His appointed Means of Grace—the Gospel and the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through the working of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament people like us who are unclean receive by faith the gift of cleanness and holiness in the forgiveness of our sins. Nobody imagined that any of this would happen. But it did, and still does.
God our Savior, Jesus Christ, comes to us by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit through the read and proclaimed Word of the Gospel. As we hear and perceive by the ear the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we receive through that Word forgiveness and life. In the power of our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, just as we witnessed with Tatiana this morning, Christ daily through His Spirit washes us clean of our sins and enables us to live for Him the life of faith and good works. And in the holy mystery of the Lord’s Supper, it is Christ who rends open the heavens and comes down to us in the elements of bread and wine. There, with bread and wine, we take to our mouths and bodies the very Body of Christ and the true Blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our most holy faith.
Through Word and Sacrament, God comes to us with His Holy Spirit. He creates and sustains faith in us through the Gospel. A heavenly potter, through these means He molds and shapes us into new creations who live to call upon the name of the Lord our God and to serve Him with all that we are and have been re-created to be by His Fatherly grace.
Because of the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus our Savior, God is not angry at us anymore. We are no longer unclean. We have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Our sins all stand forgiven so that one day, because of Christ, we will stand in the very presence of God in the splendor of His holiness. When Jesus Himself rends open the heavens and comes down in glory on the Last Day, we will rejoice! We will celebrate the great Advent of our King as His people who will live with Him forever in glory. Amen.