The Restoring Face of God

by Elaine Maust
Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11; John 1: 6-8, 19-28
December 14, 2008

Last year during Vacation Bible School, we memorized these words from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” Remember that? Isaiah was one of the prophets, one of the messengers from God we learned about during Bible School.

Join me in taking a closer look this morning at his message. Isaiah 61:1-4.

This is Advent season, the time of year when we look forward to the coming of Jesus. Isaiah 61 reminds us of why all humanity is in such need of Jesus. Jesus comes bringing good news to the broken hearted, the prisoners, the captives. The good news is for those who mourn and who are give out (faint spirit). Jesus is coming with the good news of liberty, comfort, release and joy.

Luke 4 tells the story of a Sabbath day when Jesus went to the Synagogue, the place of worship. That day in Nazareth, in his own home town, he stood up, found the place and read these very words. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Luke 4:18-19) Then he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant. Everyone’s eyes were fastened on Jesus. He looked the congregation in the eye and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “people, this is about me!” This caused quite an uproar of amazement, because they said to each other, wait, “Isn’t he Joseph’s boy?” In Jesus’ own words, these verse from Isaiah were his job description.

Isaiah 61:4 describes God and those who serve him as a repair man. God who restores damaged cities. Repairs the devastation of generations. God who can create something out of a pile of ruble. I imagine that God is so creative, so powerful to restore, that God could take on any restoration project in our time and make quick work of it. God can restore something that seems ruined, like the lives of some folks we love. God can repair ruined cities, and overcome crime and poverty. God can even repair the devastation of generations, from something like racism.

Another word for God’s good news of restoration is salvation. And God’s number one salvation vehicle was Jesus Christ. God, come into the world to restore, rebuild, redeem and reclaim. No wonder Jesus said, (Is. 61:1)

But here is what I find very curious this Advent. What did God do to prepare folks who lived in the time of Jesus for the coming of this peace, comfort and joy of salvation? God sent John the Baptist, right? You can check out John 1 for that again.

What was the message of John the Baptist?

John the Baptist was the official welcomer. The professional preparer. His life calling was to prepare people to meet Jesus. So how did he do that? He said, “Repent.” Do you find that curious?

Now if it were my job to prepare for Jesus, I would probably start rounding up those who needed restoration. Doesn’t that make sense to you? Send out fliers to the prisons, hospitals, mental instructions, rehab centers… Get ready. The Savior is coming! Get your name in now. Send in your application for freedom and joy.

Merry Christmas!

But what did God sent John the Baptist to do? To tell the people to repent! To turn round!

Why didn’t God send someone along to lead a party? To buy gifts? To lead a political campaign? To clean the house? To do all the great things we do to get ready for a big event? Why of all things did God send someone who says, “Straighten up” God is coming.

So it is little wonder that there was a lot of identity confusion around John the Baptist. (John 1:19-20) People were asking, “Well, who in the world are you?.” John quoted another passage from Isaiah 40, our passage from last Sunday. (John 1:23)

John’s message wasn’t comfort and joy in the advent of Jesus. It was fire and brimstone. Really. Check out Luke 3:1-20. John said that he had come to get the way ready for Jesus. To straighten out the road. He called the people who came to be baptized a bunch of snakes (brood of vipers). And asked them, “Who warned you to run from God’s anger? You better get sorry for the things you’ve done and act sorry!”

The crowds took him seriously. “What should we do?” they asked. He put it to them plain. No extortion. No cheating. Share and be generous. Don’t lie. Be satisfied with what you have. Wow! This is how to prepare those who are captive and mourning for the Good News of salvation and restoration?

But you see, in God’s economy there are two parts. There is God’s part and my part. Stay with me here.

First of all, there is our need. Our city needs rebuilding. Our generation needs restoring. Without God’s renovation program our lives and families are about as hopeful as the music emporium across the street. We are ready for demolition. There is only one hope. Jesus who comes bringing salvation and good news. That’s God’s part. Sending Jesus to save us.

The house next door to the music emporium is being saved, the big white rooming house across the street. Have you noticed? Ms. Thomas took possession of that house a few months ago and she is saving it. Amazing. It has new windows and new plumbing. The folks who were not taking care of it, have been moved out of the way. She is picking up the trash. She is there every day. Saving that house. You know what I think? The house didn’t deserve it. But she thought it did and there you go. Saved.

This old house just sits here and lets someone strip away and pound away and turn it into something more beautiful or acceptable.

That’s like God’s part of the humanity renovation project. There is good news. Jesus is coming to save people, people who don’t deserve anything but demolition.

Remember the chant from Bible School? “Listen up people here’s what it’s all about. God changes people from the inside out!”

But here is the other side. There is our part. You see a house has no choice in the matter. It either gets restored or it gets knocked down. We get to participate in God’s restoration of lives and societies. In fact, we must! That’s where the message of John the Baptist comes into play. “Repent!” There is work for us to do to prepare for the coming of the Good news into our lives.

But that’s just the rub. We want to be comforted. We read that Jesus is coming to bring comfort instead of mourning and praise instead of exhaustion, and we think, “Not a day too soon!” and “Let it be me!” But there is work for us to do too!

Sometimes we are like people who bring broken equipment to John Opel’s welding shop. “Fix my truck,” they say. Clearly they can’t or don’t want to fix it themselves or they would have done that. But they bring it to John to rebuild or restore. Here’s what makes John crazy. Then they stand there and tell him how to do it! (How do I know this? Maybe I know this because we are customers of John’s Welding). Anyway, John wants to tell them, and sometimes he does, “Look buddy, if you know how to fix this truck, how about you fix it. Do you want me to do this for you or not?”

We are like John’s customers sometimes. We go to God and cry out to be saved from some particular misery in our lives. Change me. Save me. Fix me. Make it better. And then we proceed to tell God what we want done. Do this for me. Fix it like this… You get the idea. We give God pointers. We have such good ideas. God must be so grateful. vThe prophet Isaiah tells this another way. (Is. 45:9). He says we are like pots on a potter’s wheel that argue with the potter. Who say to the Potter, God, “Hey you, you don’t know what you are doing. What are you making? Your work has not handles.”

Yes, there is God’s part, to comfort and change us. But what is our part? We are to offer our lives with open hands. To say, okay God, you are the potter. I am the clay. You20do with my life what you please. You fix me. You change me. You use me. Do it your way.

In Luke 4 Jesus said, (Luke 4:18-19…) That’s God’s part. But like I said, there is our part. Giving God the freedom to heal us.

Sometimes we are like patients who go to the doctor because we have a terrible disease. “Make me better we demand.” Of course you know what the doctor will say. Well, you will need to have surgery. Or physical therapy. You will need to change your life style. You will need to take medication. Whatever. Oh, no, we say. I don’t want to change. I want to get better. I want you to save me!

And so we are like patients who beg to get well, but refuse to take the prescribed treatment. And what is that treatment? Repentance.

Remember the message of John the Baptist. Repent. Change. Turn around! Straighten up! If we want to participate in the salivation that Jesus brings, then we need to do just that. Participate! And sometimes that includes the most difficult participation of all, submission to God’s restoration program.

It may mean change. It may mean pain. It may mean letting go. But if we expect God to save us, then we can expect God will have work for us to do. We have a role. Repentance. Submission to the process. Acceptance. Obedience.

Since I was a teenager, I prayed that God would save me from my obsession with food. Well, God is in the process of saving me these days. But you will probably not be surprised to hear that there has been work for me to do along the way.

How will we prepare for the coming of one so great? We will repent so that we can be restored.

Perhaps you feel a little ho-hum in the face of all the Christmas merriment. Maybe you feel no desire to crank out the fa-la-la that seems to be the minimum holiday requirement.

I have good news. The comfort, the joy, the peace that are promised with the coming of Jesus, those are God’s part. We aren’t expected to create the joy. Our part is to open our hearts and repent. To tell the truth about our sin, to turn toward God, to release our need to control the outcome of our lives. To say as Mary did when the angel brought her the good news first, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

As we accept, repent and submit, we will find the restoration is already underway and our grief is turning to joy. God is setting us free.

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