First Sunday in Advent December 2-3, 2023
“From ‘Oops’ to “Whee!’” Isaiah 64:1-9
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I witnessed the most remarkable thing a few weeks ago. I was visiting Carol Stamp at the rehab building at Windcrest, a senior retirement community in Highlands Ranch. Recently Carol suffered a stroke and she is working hard at getting better. Her husband, Bob, who still occupies their apartment is in another building. As this 91-year-old man is wheeled into her room by his caregiver, he holds out his hand and says to her, “I miss you” and Carol says “I miss you too.” They have been married for 67 years and until these last few weeks have been in the same home or apartment and shared the same bed.
I witnessed marriage at its best in that moment. What they promised to each other in September of 1956, the “for better or worse” and “in sickness and in health” is showing itself in these days.
I’ve titled this sermon “From ‘Oops” to ‘Whee’!” but it isn’t about an earthly marriage – though I’m sure many marriages can go from “oops” to “whee” and back again from “whee” to “oops” many times, but I’m talking about a spiritual marriage. Did you know that the Bible describes this relationship of faith that we have with God, and God has with us, as a marriage? It is a “for better or worse”, “richer or poorer”, “in sickness and in health” type of relationship.
We are the bride of Jesus. How He planned to make us His own took a lot of planning and working. He showed you how wonderful He is. He started out with His general greatness and then His passion for you became more personal. You looked at Christ and saw that He was involved in the great creation of all things. We would say, “Your works are wonderful, Lord, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14) And then He wooed you by His marvelous teachings and His compassionate miracles and then He bears the burden of your failure – your sin – and says that He not only can cleanse you, He can also secure you in God’s care forever. His death and resurrection sealed it for you. He won you over. You got married – to Him – and He to you. As the Scriptures say, “But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel; ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.’” (Isaiah 43:1)
But, you know – sometimes the last line in a marriage is not “And they lived happily ever after.” Isaiah 64, our brilliant word from God, is a lament. God’s people, His bride, decided they wanted a separation. They found somebody else. “In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.” (Isaiah 63:9-10) In Isaiah 64 God continues the assessment of what went wrong in this relationship, “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.” (Verse 7)
It went from that exclamation of pure joy – “Whee” – to one of sorrow, to “Oops.” The marriage became a mess. A separation seemed to be the next step.
Many years ago, The London Times wrote a series of articles titled “Problems in the World.” They would select one of the situations that was causing great alarm all over the world and gave detail to the pain it brought. Each article ended the same way, with the question, “What is wrong with the world?” The well-known British philosopher and Christian writer, G.K. Chesterton, wrote a short letter to the editor to address the question that was raised. “Dear Editor, You have asked what is wrong with the world. I am. Faithfully Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
There is something awful about unfaithfulness to God. Though He says He is our husband (Jeremiah 31:32) we found other lovers. Greed, pride, position, pornography and bitterness became the idol we adore. But all those lovers eventually left us empty. They had nothing to offer us that would last and sustain us. Maybe “oops” isn’t a sufficient enough word to express our pain. “Oops” is when you drop the eggs on the floor, or when you walk on the carpet with muddy shoes. Dumb but not intentional. This part of the failure in our marriage to God is deliberate. Isaiah asks a big question, “How then can we be saved?” Is there any hope for us?
I know a couple who have been married for 40 years or more. Both Christians. They had a wonderful family together. But then his wandering eyes got the better of him. It started out with simply appreciating the beauty that the woman he was admiring possessed. But it didn’t stay there. It grew. The fantasy became a reality. He became an adulterer. He broke the vows he had made to his wife.
What should she do? He had hurt her beyond any pain she had ever known. Some very good friends told her to get rid of him. But she didn’t. They began counseling. She shared her pain and anger. He spoke about his sin and repented to her and to the world. They decided to begin again. They answered, painfully, and with great courage, “How then can we be saved?”
This relationship that we have with God, this commitment that we have made with Him is like a marriage. This lament, this honest word of our wanderings, is answered by our groom – Jesus – satisfactorily. Isaiah begins chapter 64 like this, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no eye has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:1-4)
Who is going to make sure that this marriage, our relationship with God, holds together? Who is going to repair it when we have walked away from Him suddenly or have meandered for many years? “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” Isn’t that what happened when a little child came to a manger in Bethlehem? Isn’t that what occurred when Mary and Joseph were told that the plan of the child given to them was to keep God’s promise, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’ – which means ‘God with us’”. (Matthew 1:23)
Now the joy of the marriage is restored. The separation is ended. The marriage was not mended by us but by Him. Jesus in the flesh. Jesus on the cross. Jesus risen in power. Isaiah, when pointing to God as the answer to this problem that we created, says that we can’t solve it. “All of us have become one who is unclean, and all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
If anyone is attempting to satisfy God’s call to be His by our own righteous and holy deeds, we can only find ourselves in one of two places. You will live with either a contemptuous arrogant pride (look at me!!) or an overwhelming despair (don’t look at me). All our righteousness is like filthy rags. But if you let Jesus clothe you, you’ll be dressed beautifully.
From “oops” to “whee” is seen in one final work that God does. “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)
Look at how this relationship, this marriage is restored and made stronger than ever. Jesus came down and came to our side. He initiated our salvation. He then brought us salvation and forgiveness by giving to us a robe of righteousness by the merit of Jesus. And now He is working in us, forming us into a piece of beauty. You are the potter, Lord, we are the clay – make me and mold me – Master – today.
Look at your faith as a marriage to your God. Sometimes the relationship is from “oops” to “whee”, and sometimes it goes from “whee” to “oops”, but it always with Him desiring to call us His own. Amen!!