Advent marks the beginning of the Christian calendar, a way of marking time through the story of our redemption in Jesus Christ. The year begins with a season of waiting and expectation as we celebrate Jesus’ birth and anticipate his return.
I’ve written a daily devotional for Advent this year. The devotional is a companion resource to a sermon series I’m leading in the congregation I pastor. The sermons and the devotional focus on “Hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ through Isaiah”. As a way of sharing a bit of this journey with you, I am posting the devotional entries for each Sunday on this blog. First Sunday of Advent – Hope
Reading: Isaiah 1:16-20
Blunt. A potentially confusing word, no doubt. On the one hand, blunt refers to a dull object, like the worn-down tip of a pencil. While a blunt pencil can still do some general shading, it is in no condition to write in a way that others can easily read. On the other hand, blunt words are pointed and expressed to deliver a direct, often confrontational message. They name what others would rather not hear.
Isaiah’s prophecy begins with a blunt confrontation from God about how Israel’s faith has become blunt, dull and ineffective in communicating God’s righteous character.
The practiced faith – and there can never be a faith that is not practiced – of God’s people no longer represents God to the world. In fact, they’ve smudged their faith so badly that they are no longer recognizable as God’s people. They look like God’s enemies, Sodom and Gomorrah. In their mistreatment of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor, God’s people have refused to walk in God’s ways. Their faith has become dull, so dull that their religious activities are no longer legible.
God responds by rejecting Israel’s religious actions – their offerings, worship, festivals, and even their prayers – as being hypocritical and empty. God then beckons Israel to “wash and make yourselves clean.”
This one command exposes Israel’s problem and ours: we can’t make ourselves clean. No amount of religious actions, offerings, or prayers can make us right with God or with the people we have harmed and failed to serve. The God of the universe bluntly calls us to account and there is nothing we can do to make amends for the ways we have sinned.
This reckoning before the Almighty God is where Advent begins. Not with the light-hearted music, peppermint flavored drinks, or flashing decorations. No, we begin with the stark, blunt reality that we cannot make ourselves clean. Advent starts with God sitting us down, looking us in the eyes, and pointedly saying to us: “Enough is enough.”
But then, as the reality of our helplessness sinks in, God’s word of grace comes to us. “Come, let us settle the matter. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Without denying the devastating consequences of our sins, God extends hope that our sins will not be the end of our story.
Here at the start of Advent, in the midst of our exposed sins, God graciously invites us to journey into the wonder of God’s forgiveness and to receive the gift of new life that God extends to us through the coming of his Son, Jesus Christ. How will we respond?