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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

He Is Your God

Here Is Your God
Isaiah 40:1-11
 
Friday night was amazing! It had been kind of a long day, and I had a few things on my mind when I came over for the soup supper. Everything smelled so good and those who were already eating seemed to enjoy. A couple hours later I finally got to sit down and have some soup. I think I tasted a little of everything, but could hardly move having been on my feet for so long. When things were mostly cleaned up I decided that I needed to go home, put my feet up and relax for a little while. I walked in the door and noticed how peaceful our blue lighted Christmas tree looked, so I didn’t turn any lights on but simply sat on the couch, let the day catch up to me, and marveled at the peaceful setting I found myself in. There are moments in life that are priceless and that was one of them, as muscles began to relax and contentment settled in. The words that I had been wrestling with all week in this passage of Isaiah spoke to me in a new light, “Here is your God!” 
 
The Israelites had been having a whole pile of troublesome days in Isaiah’s time. They didn’t know who to believe when their prophets spoke. Some promised that within two years God would restore their fortunes and renew their faith. Others spoke of troubled times ahead and we know that Isaiah spoke a glooming future for them. Even more trouble was on the horizon as Babylonia closed in on them. Of course the people wanted to believe those prophets who spoke a rosier picture, But the events happening around them spoke otherwise. The people have paid a great price for their sin. They were losing their symbols of faith and perhaps even felt that God had deserted them. And Isaiah had delivered some pretty harsh words of condemnation for the people Israel.  
 
Isaiah seems to be a prophet of doom, but sprinkled in the book of Isaiah are messages of great hope and the passage for the day is one of them. Isaiah speaks of God wanting to comfort and reassure the people Israel. He gives images of valleys being lifted up, mountains made low and the path made straight. He claims that God would be seen in his glory and he would be the shepherd cradling his beloved people in his arms. What better images of hope can be found?
 
We do not always find life easy. We have moments during which we wonder where God is, or why God doesn’t intervene.  We have times when hope is hard to find, when we feel deserted and alone. We have times when we don’t know which way to turn or where we can find an encouraging word. We wish that the roads of life would be made straight, that there wouldn’t be so many hills and valleys to climb. And as we get older we wish that life would slow down and we wonder where the years have gone. Sometimes we want life to just stay the same and not change so much on us. We want stability!
 
Advent is a time for reflection when we get moments that aren’t filled with preparation and we can find ourselves pondering how we wish life would be. It’s a great time to reflect on our faith and how our faith impacts life. Isaiah calls to mind something very important about God. God has a mysterious and dark side, one that demands our allegiance and obedience. The Israelites were in trouble because they did not follow God’s ways set out for them in very explicit language. God resorted to the tactics a parent might follow in disciplining their child. 
When I worked with children we gave them timeouts when their behavior deviated from normal societal expectations, when they might “get in trouble” with parents, teachers and other adult authority figures. The desired effect was to teach these children appropriate behaviors that would guarantee more success in society. Time outs alone, however, did not always work. Another element was necessary to change unwanted behaviors. There also needed to be reinforcement for wanted behaviors. When children were reinforced for appropriate interactions behavior changed and dramatic improvement was observed. I wonder if that isn’t sometimes the way God works. Sure he punished the Israelites, but he also gave them hope, something they could hang on to, promise for the future, a restored relationship that would smooth out their lives and give them comfort and a sense of peace. This God has a very tender side. 
 
So here’s God’s dilemma!   God wants the people he has created to know peace and comfort and love, but he also knows that they are wayward, that no matter how they try they seem to wander from his ways and from the very peace he has to offer. He had to create a way for them to find their way through life in the best way possible. He had to find a way to encourage them, to draw them back when they wandered, a way to let them know his love beyond a doubt and to keep that love alive in them.  And what better way to show them than to come himself to live their life, to experience their pain, to eat, breathe, sleep, interact and finally die their death? What better way to show them that eternal life is possible than to come back from death showing that death does not have the final say. The way God found to do that was in the person of Jesus Christ.
 
That is what reflection in this time of Advent is all about. We reflect, we lament, we repent, and we receive and we come to know so much more about our faith. And there are moments we find the peace that God wants us to find. When we have Jesus alive within us we have the possibility of knowing God’s love and peace in its fullest. It is not just our doing, Jesus works within us, prompting us, moving us to deeper reflection and faith, moving us to comfort and assurance when needed, giving us the strength to move forward knowing we walk in his footsteps and when needed taking his hand so he can guide us into clearer, more sustaining thinking.  He gives us blue tree moments that restore our soul. The Christmas story takes on meaning, candlelight services move us Christmas songs speak meaningfully of what we have come to know and the joy of sharing at Christmas is much deeper.
 
But it means allowing time for Christ to do his work, it means taking quiet time to reflect, a time to sit and ponder, a time to be silent and allow God to speak, a time to allow ourselves necessary tears or a much needed laugh. It means knowing that God is with us even when we don’t feel or sense him and expecting that God responds to our needs. Let’s make sure we find time this season to allow reflection.    

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