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Sunday Sermon

We Need Christ Because
Isaiah 64:1-9

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 ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name  or strives to lay hold of you
for you have hidden your face from us   and have given us over to our sins.
Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.

There is a story about one little girl in the midst of the rush of Christmas. The day before Christmas had been a hectic one. Her mother was nervously running from one task to another, impatient of any interruptions from her little daughter. Her father, also, was busy with many chores and had no time for his child. She was in everyone’s way until at last she was hustled upstairs to bed. All the hurry and excitement of the day had thoroughly unnerved her. When she knelt down by her bed to pray the Lord’s Prayer, she has so overwhelmed that she prayed, “forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”

You and I both know that Christmas can become so commercialized that at times we forget the reason why we have Christmas at all. There is just so much to prepare for, so much to do- we have to trim the tree, decorate the house, clean the house because the family is coming, did we buy gifts for everyone that’s coming, don’t forget to bake the cake for the party, send out Christmas cards, wrap the presents and who is going to make those last minute trips to the store to make sure we have everything for our Christmas dinner?!

Logically, we know that these things mean nothing without the reason for the season, but somewhere deep inside we have convinced ourselves that these things are necessary for a good and happy holiday season. We have to get them checked off our list so we rush out to run our errands, thinking maybe later we will have time to sit down and reflect on the mysteries of the incarnation. So we keep our head down, focusing on getting all the details squared away and then all of a sudden we look up and realize it’s Christmas and we’re still not ready. Amidst all the merry-making, Christmas comes and goes just like another day and at the end of it all we go away feeling uninspired, wondering how we missed out, yet again.

The real danger in the commercialization of Christmas is that it misplaces our needs. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, it is easy to forget that our greatest need is not for gifts-the latest technological gadget or whatever is at the top of our wish list; our greatest need is not for good food or a clean house or even everyone together singing Christmas carols, but our greatest need is for a Savior... So much of Christmas is about rejoicing and Christmas cheer and rightly so, but none of that can take place unless we first realize that we need what God has to offer. We need Christmas because we need a Savior.

This Christmas, we need Christ for so many reasons. We need Christ because we forget what it’s all about. We need Christ because our hearts our mangled, and our relationships are broken; we need Christ because we fear our own inadequacies, because we can’t measure up to who God calls us to be, and because we don’t seek after the things we know we should in our lives. More than anything else, we need Christ because we are sinners in need of a Savior. Even when our focus is supposed to be on preparing for the coming of our God and all we have to do is receive the enormity of the gift which God gives us, we still get it wrong.

The Hebrew language uses several words for sin, but the one it uses here means to miss the goal or stray from the path of what is right. Sin can be something as simple as wandering off the right path. For example, there is nothing inherently sinful about Christmas traditions, but there is a right way to do them and a wrong way to do them and we can easily get mixed up about which path we are on.

Isaiah knows this and it gives him pause when he cries out to God to “tear open the heavens and come down.” He pleads for God to come down to make his name known among the nations until he realizes that with the coming of the son of God comes judgment because sin cannot stand in the presence of a holy God.

And because Isaiah has searched his heart and because he knows that he is human, he cries out in confession, “we have all become like one who is unclean.” That’s what sin does, it makes us unclean before God. Those who were considered unclean could not enter the temple and were often cut off from the community. Their whole body was defiled from head to toe like a leper. These people were unable to even enter the temple to atone for their own sin. Someone has to make that sacrifice for them.

Isaiah continues, “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” [[Forgive me for this metaphor, but what it literally says, is that even our righteous deeds are equivalent to the rag that a woman uses for her menstrual cycle.]] No matter how good we are or how hard we try, we are always getting stained. Romans says it this way, “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one…..”“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That even if we wanted to, even if we did not have to sleep at night and our energy never wavered, our best efforts would still fall short because we are human.

One of the things we celebrate during advent is that God comes to us and part of that celebration is to recognize that if it were not for God coming to us, we would be lost- that if our salvation were up to us, we would not even muster the spiritual strength to go seek out God. Even our best offering is like a dirty rag.

And notice, he says this about our righteous deeds, not just our willful disobedience. Our greatest potential for wandering off the path comes when we think we’ve got it all under control. John Fischer says, “there is something terribly right about...realizing that our struggle with sin is in many ways similar to an alcoholic's struggle with drinking. It's never over. He says, how often I find myself talking about sin in the past tense as if being a sinner is something I'm beyond--a page turned in the book of my life. But sin is like alcoholism. Sinners are never cured; they simply decide to stop sinning...and it's a daily decision.” We need to be just as on guard against sin in ourselves, and in the church, as we did when we first came to know Christ’s forgiveness. The warning our passage gives is that we are not unchanging like God but finite, “we all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” This is who we are.

And in light of the coming of the Holy God of the universe, our writer does the only thing that makes sense, he falls on his knees and repents. He repents because he knows who he is and he knows who God is. “Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.” This seems to me, to be an adequate preparation for the coming of our God, a holy God before whom no sin can stand in his presence.

And then he does something remarkable, he calls God Father and says “we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” So not only does God choose to have a relationship with those who are finite and malleable, but he shapes us into a vessel with a purpose.  This is a great metaphor for our passage. As those who are sinful, we constantly need to be remoulded or reworked by our Savior for the purpose that we have been given. And once we confess our sins before God, then, he helps us get rid of the stuff that holds us back from who we are called to be. Confession is hard, it means switching paths and we’re afraid that may bring loss or change. But when it comes down to sin or to God, the Holy Spirit at work within you will help your heart choose God.

We need Christmas, we need Christ, because we are sinners. We need Christ because we stray from the path and get it wrong even when we are trying to get it right.

So make some space this season to reflect, to repent, to open yourself to the gift that God brings in Jesus Christ. What truly brings us joy during Christmas is not a clean house, or all the right gifts wrapped under the tree, or the Christmas festivities that go off without a hitch, our true joy comes from recognizing that God freely came to this earth as a babe to save sinners. Yes, we are sinful, we do not deserve the love of God or even to be in his presence; but here is the best part, Christ comes to save sinners. We are the reason that Christ comes and we are the reason he stays- to save us from our sins and to restore us to God. We need Christmas because we need a Savior.

~Pastor Lindsay