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3 ways to wait in the midst of ruin

Lessons on Advent from Isaiah 64:1-12

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December 21, 2020

The Advent season is about waiting for the Lord with hope-filled anticipation. As the people of Israel waited for Christ to come, so now, we wait for Christ’s return. Yet, we are waiting in a waiting room that is full of pain and sorrow. We are waiting in the midst of ruin, longing for redemption and restoration.

Within our own hearts and in the world around us, depression and disaster creep. We’re living in the midst of a pandemic. We bury our loved ones, we lose our jobs, we watch our children rebel against everything they were taught. Our marriages struggle. Our children get bullied. We have hard bosses at work. We get sick and weak. Our joints hurt. Our society does not appear to be fairing any better, as it appears in the news that we are losing our collective mind. Sexual immorality and perversion of all sorts permeate our world. 

We are waiting on the Lord in the midst of a whole lot of ruin. How does one wait for the Lord in such times? I believe that we can find an answer to this question by considering Isaiah 64:1-12. In this passage, we encounter a series of complaints and petitions from Isaiah the prophet regarding the failure of humanity to obey God and the question of whether or not God would allow the people to persist in their disobedience. Isaiah is frustrated by the rebellion of the people who show no regard for God. A divine intervention needs to occur. The people are in tremendous need. They are waiting for God to show up and deliver them. 

From this passage, I believe we have three examples of how to wait in the midst of ruin:

First, we must wait expectantly. As we look at verses 1-3, we must note Isaiah’s affirmation of God’s ability. He asks the LORD to “rend the heavens and come down.” The language is reminiscent of the miracles in the wilderness and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai when the earth quaked and the skies thundered at the sound of God’s activity, leaving the people in awe-filled wonder and reverent fear. Isaiah knows that because he has done it in the past, the Lord can do it again. Thus, he calls upon the Lord with expectation, which is where we are instructed today.

As we find ourselves in this period of waiting, we must not forget what our God is capable of doing. We must wait with an expectancy that reflects confidence in his character and ability. We must make bold request of our God, as Isaiah did, “O’ Lord, would you rend the heavens and come down?” Would you shake the world again with your presence? Would you intervene in your mercy? This is what it means to wait expectantly.

Secondly, we must wait faithfully. Consider the first part of verse 5, where we read, “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.” The idea of “gladly doing right,” which parallels “remembering your ways,” refers to living faithfully. The point is not to suggest that God blesses us because we are perfect. Such a myth will quickly be dispelled in the next few verses. Instead, the idea is that those who place their trust in the ways of the LORD and seek to walk in them with faith and repentance can be certain that God will deliver them.

For us, this means that we must not allow the circumstances of our waiting to dictate our faithfulness to God. We do not judge God’s goodness toward us on the basis of the difficulties that we face. He does not just love us; he is the very definition of love. We must wait with faithfulness to him, not wandering away from him because things get difficult. He has not promised us an easy life, but he has promised to be with us through the difficulty.

We must wait with faithfulness to him, not wandering away from him because things get difficult. He has not promised us an easy life, but he has promised to be with us through the difficulty.

Finally, we must wait humbly. As verses 5b-12 reveal, we can never forget that we are always dependent upon God’s mercy and grace. We must wait humbly on the LORD, recognizing that he alone is God, not us. His ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. The LORD is not indebted to us for our faithfulness. Even our righteous deeds are like “filthy rags” before his perfect holiness. As verse 8 reminds us, “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This verse declares the absolute sovereignty of God over his creation. We as God’s creation do not get to challenge his authority. 

The clay does not say to the potter, “I believe you got this wrong. I think you made a mistake.” Our God does not make any mistakes. He is working out his purpose even in the midst of the pain, the suffering, and the sorrow that we are facing in this waiting room of ruin. And yet, we also know that he is good and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. “Though He cause grief, He will have compassion, according to the abundance of His steadfast love, for the Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone” (Lam. 3:31-33). Thus, we can wait humbly because we know he is trustworthy.

Let us not mistake waiting with passivity. The act of waiting is a profoundly theological statement. Waiting is not passive. Waiting is rooted in active trust in God. And the ability to wait expectantly, faithfully, and humbly ultimately comes from Christ’s work for us. The work of Christ reminds us that while our lives and our world are often a mess, he has not abandoned us or his plan. When all we had to offer were the filthy rags of our own works, Christ came willingly and took our place under the just wrath of God in order that we might be declared righteous, fully accepted into God’s family, not on the basis of our effort, but on the basis of his grace and mercy toward us. Now, as a result of Christ’s work, we can persevere and wait with hope because we have known and experienced the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:1-5).

As we remember the first coming of Christ and anticipate his second coming during this Advent season, may we worship as we think of how Christ came down from the heavens to deliver us. He came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And one day, just as the prophet prayed in Isaiah 64, the heavens will be torn open and all of the Lord’s enemies will be vanquished and we will reign with him forever. In light of this reality, let us wait for our full and final redemption in the midst of the ruin that will one day be made right.

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough is lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and a Ph.D. student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also blogs regularly at www.CaseyHough.com. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters.  Read More