Prepare the Way: Ponder
Topic: Biblical Verse: Isaiah 64:1–9
The First Sunday in Advent
November 29, 2020
“Prepare the Way: Ponder”
Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we begin a new church year today. In the year ahead, we will be following the Gospel of Mark (Year B of the 3-year lectionary), as we are today. The church year is different from the calendar year, the fiscal year, and the school year. The church marks time differently from the rest of the world. The church year follows the life of Jesus, and it begins with the season of Advent. Advent is a season of hopeful expectation, but it is also a penitential season as we are called to repentance before the coming of the Lord. This brief 4-week season helps prepare believers for more than just Jesus’ first coming, his birth in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. These four weeks help us prepare for Jesus’ second coming, when he will come again to judge the world in righteousness. That said, the themes for the Sundays in Advent do begin with Jesus’ second coming, but as the weeks roll by the Sunday themes for Advent clearly point us to Jesus’ first coming. As is often the case with so many things in life, it’s both/and, not either/or. Our theme for Advent this year is “Prepare the Way,” the call from John the Baptist to be ready for the coming of the Lord. Week by week, we’ll focus on a different aspect of preparing the way in our lives for the Savior’s coming. Over the next four Sundays, we will look at Ponder, Pray, Praise, and Proclaim. Today, on the First Sunday in Advent, our focus is on “Ponder.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
To ponder means to consider, contemplate, or deliberate. Like so many words in our English language, this word comes from another language – Latin. The Latin root word here is ponderare, meaning “weigh.” That’s a very apt image. To ponder something is to take the matter in hand and weigh things carefully. As we begin the Advent season, what should we be pondering? What is it that we should be taking in hand and weighing? The Word of God appointed for this First Sunday in Advent makes that abundantly clear. Let’s look briefly at today’s Scripture readings and ponder them; to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Word of God.
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…” (Isaiah 64:1). This is the prophet Isaiah’s cry as he looks around and ponders the state of affairs in his own time, some 700 years before Christ. It is corruption, greed, indifference, and disobedience that have led to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. God’s covenant people had forsaken their relationship with the Lord God, and so God allowed his covenant people to be carried off into exile in Babylon. There was now stunned disbelief, shock, and fear. In other words, things were a mess. Isaiah implored the Lord God to reveal himself in power as in days of old: “Tear open the heavens, O God, and come down to help us!” Don’t we do the same thing? We sometimes despair of the corruption, greed, indifference, and disobedience that we see all around us. We cry out to God to set things right! We long for the day when God will reveal himself and make all things new, restoring justice and righteousness. But then Isaiah reconsiders his request about having God come down. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea anyway: “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 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. 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” (Isaiah 64:5b-7). If God is going to set things right, then he must do this with every last one of us because we are all complicit in this thing called sin. Isaiah’s cry to God becomes a humble and repentant prayer for mercy: “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. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people” (Isaiah 64:8-9). In pondering the reality of our own situation, we can only confess to God with heart-felt repentance, as we did at the start of this worship service, that “we are by nature sinful and unclean; that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone; that we have not loved you with our whole heart, and that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment” (Confession and Absolution, p. 167 in Lutheran Service Book). That is what we take in hand and weigh carefully on this First Sunday in Advent.
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson are a siren call for his children to be vigilant, watchful, and prepared for the day of his coming again in great power and glory. When sun and moon fail to give their light, when the stars are falling from heaven, when everything around us is literally falling apart and passing away, we hold fast to Jesus’ words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). The One whose first Advent was in humility and poverty came to give his life on the cross to forgive all our sins and iniquities; to cleanse us from all our filth and uncleanness; to reshape and remold us according to his love and grace. This is what Jesus has done for you and for me – for everyone. This, too, is what we take in hand weigh carefully, not only on this First Sunday in Advent, but every day. This is what we ponder over and over: the redeeming mercy of our Advent Savior Jesus Christ, “who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.