The Old Testament lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
Gracious Father, we confess that we have sinned against You and have withheld the fear You deserve. Forgive us, we pray, for Jesus’ sake, and keep us as Your holy people. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God the Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In Japan, there’s a centuries-old ceramic art called kintsugi (pronounced kin-SUE-gee).
At its simplest, it’s the art of mending and remaking broken pottery.
The technique is to take a lacquer or epoxy and mix it with the dust of a precious metal, usually gold, silver, or platinum.
The mixture is then applied with extravagant care along the edges of the broken shards to glue the object back together.
The resulting artwork is thus veined in elaborate webs of precious shine.
The idea behind the technique is to work with and transform the brokenness of an object, rather than to try to hide its scars.
The genius of the art is that it often makes the artwork more beautiful—and more valuable—than the object was originally.
Taking the art of kinsugi into the realm of looking at our sermon text for this morning, there are moments in the text where we might think of the following words: Oops, Ugh, Aha, Wow, and finally, a simple but powerful Yeah.
Let’s take a walk through the text from Isaiah 64 and stop and observe each of these “moments” of brokenness and repair.
It’s easy to pray in the midst of a storm.
The tornado sirens go off, and we head to our safe place.
Even the little children among us will almost instinctively fold their hands, and the words just spill out. “Dear God, please save us.”
Driving back from Michigan in 2013.
But what if God is the one bringing the storm, tearing open the heavens, making the mountains quake in fear?
Or, even worse, what if God is the storm?
On the one hand, we know these kinds of prayers too.
We pray them all the time, in not so many words.
We pray God to rain down terror upon our enemies.
Or even if we are not that blatant about it, we at least take a bit of satisfaction in seeing bad things happen to them.
We even have a high-sounding German label for it:
It’s called Schadenfreude, that is, taking pleasure or laughing at another person’s pain.
Realizing how that plays out in our own lives is a guilt trip in and of itself.
It never ends well.
But that’s not the kind of prayer the prophet Isaiah is praying here.
As a matter of fact, it is much worse than that.
When Isaiah prays, “O God, that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” he’s praying that the storm of God would come down upon the whole sorry lot of us, enemies and allies alike.
The whole scene that pits:
nation against nation,
neighbor against neighbor,
family against family.
Because, as it turns out, the moment God takes himself out of the picture, we all literally go to hell in a handbasket.
“We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Is 64:6).
At times in our lives, we cry out, “Where were You, O God?”:
Where were You, O God, when my parents died too young?
Where were You, O God, when during the financial crisis of 2008 we were forced to foreclose on our house?
Where were You, O God, when the pandemic hit and has not lessened one bit?
The Lord’s answer?:
Do not fear, for I am with you always, even in the midst of the storm!
Whether you were aware of it or not, we prayed a prayer almost identical to Isaiah’s prayer just a few moments ago.
We were much more polite in our praying of it.
But it was just as powerful.
We prayed it in that great prayer that we pray every year at the beginning of Advent, the prayer that expresses the need for Advent in a nutshell.
Hear again what we prayed just a few moments ago:
Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
And that could just as easily be the end of the story; we pray to God to deliver us and wait for God to deliver.
Except that it isn’t.
The Bible gives us a whole host of accounts of God rescuing lives in the midst of the storm:
Job is one example.
God even rescues lives through the storm:
Jonah is an example
But that’s never been the end of the story.
All this brings me to something that I’ve been wondering about.
Maybe you’ve wondered this too.
Does anybody else know why, here a few weeks shy of Christmas, we’re reading about the grown-up Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem, just a week away from his death?
We weren’t there when, centuries ago, they drew up the Bible readings for this particular Sunday in the Church Year, but it does seem like we have things a little out of order, doesn’t it?
Except for this:
The God who is both hidden and revealed in this man named Jesus—born in a little town called Bethlehem, raised in an even littler town called Nazareth—never comes in the way we expect.
If nothing else, the Gospel of Mark, from which we’re going to hear a whole lot over the coming year, is a roller-coaster ride in how this God of Isaiah reverses our expectations of who God is and what God should be doing in this person named Jesus.
When we think God is near, Jesus is far away.
When we think God is far away, Jesus is as near as a whisper in our ear.
When we expect Jesus to arrive with the pomp and circumstance of a king, he comes barefoot and half-naked.
When we expect Jesus to be meek and mild, he thunders with the roar of a lion, just like the prophets of old.
And vice versa.
Jesus Comes to Overturn All Our Expectations about Who God Is and What God Will Do.
And even then, just when we think we got this whole God thing nailed down, shouting our “Hosannas,” we’ll find we nailed Jesus to a beam of wood, like a common criminal.
Except that he is hanging there for crimes he did not commit.
We can thank God for that, even when we don’t get what we want.
Because it means we won’t get what we deserve.
And when we finally get to the point when we realize that, we can see God as God truly is.
And Isaiah’s prayer becomes our prayer.
“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” (verse 8).
There is such a beautiful simplicity to this image.
The very hand of God molding and shaping our lives into a life we could never have on our own.
But this image is doubly beautiful.
Think of the pitcher your grandmother used to pour lemonade on a hot summer day.
Or the clay pot your father used to plant his garden.
Look at our beautiful stained glass!
All these things are beautiful on its own.
But it then becomes a treasure in how it is used by loving hands to pour out blessings to others.
God isn’t simply molding and shaping us into beautiful lives on their own.
God is molding and shaping us into vessels that will pour out his very grace and blessing into the lives of others.
In theological terms, the implications are obvious.
In the context of Isaiah 64, kintsugi points to the ways that the handiwork of God is not simply to create us in his image.
God’s ongoing creative activity in the world involves both redemption and sanctification too.
The triune God mends our brokenness and failures—the scars of sin done both by us and to us—into an ever-greater whole that is always more than the sum of parts.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, You are with us always, even to the end of the world, yet we do not always know Your presence. Free us from whatever hinders us from receiving what He desire to give us. Take us from the moment of Oops through the point of finally getting what You are trying to tell and show us in the moment when we say “Yeah, Lord, I finally got it.” May we receive what You give by the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives and reigns with You and the Father, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.