Love and the End of our Longing

One of my favorite Christmas stories comes from the book, “Love’s Endeavor/Love’s Expense.” [1] One Christmas, Eve, a Rev. Vanstone was preparing for services when he heard a noise outside the church door. It was a young alcoholic—a wasted life. He helped the young man as best he could. Later, as he waited for the final service of the day he fell to sleep. While asleep, he had a dream. A rubbish collector brought a huge pile of waste, stones, cans, waste paper, and scrap metal. He asked the pastor what he was to do because there was a face at the bottom of the waste heap. The face was the face of Christ, the Son of God. The dream symbolized the love of God sitting under our lives redeeming all the waste and loss we create by sin.

Our theme this Christmas is, “What is Next?” Life is not a sermon series. Sermon series come to an end. In real life, each moment, a “Next” arrives and a new “What Next” emerges. We always wonder what is coming next.  This morning, we celebrate the ultimate answer to the ultimate “What’s Next?” What’s next is the love of Jesus the Christ, the Word of God made flesh.

Today we celebrate that God’s self-giving love is the final end of our deepest longings. Having been a pastor for a long time, it is remarkable to me how important love is. Many emotional and moral problems that adults have in later life stem either from a lack of love or a perceived lack of love as children. The universe seems to have been created by God with a deep relationality that holds within itself the potential for love. Human beings are wired for love. We will never find true happiness until we find that love that will not let us go.

The Birth of the Messiah.

Our text comes at an important moment in Isaiah. It comes as God’s judgment moves to mercy in the life of God’s people. Listen together for the Word of God from Isaiah, Chapter 40, verses 28-31:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
     but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint

Dear Lord and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, come in our hearing and our meditation to give us faith, hope and love.Let the words from scripture be words of our hearts as Your Word convicts us, converts us, and makes us truly yours. In Jesus Name, Amen.

The Future is Always Unknown

Wondering about the future is a part of human life. We are born wishing we could know the future. All children love to try to guess what is under the Christmas tree. Some months ago, we found out that we are going to be grandparents. We are currently busy guessing the gender of our new grandbaby to be. It used to hard to know the sex of a baby. Except for wives’ tales, like girls are carried higher than boys,” there was no way to know. With the advent of “Ultrasound” and other tests, all this changed. Now there is no guessing unless you want to guess, which our children so far do. Kathy and I always guessed, and I was never right, not once. This time, I am restraining myself because I am sure I will be wrong.

Other than wives’ tales, Mary and Joseph had no scientific way of knowing for certain that Mary was going to have a son. (Although, the advice of angels is usually pretty accurate!) They had some idea when the baby would be born, enough to know it was soon when they started out for Bethlehem. In fact, it may be that Mary went with Joseph because they suspected the baby would come while he was away on family business. [2]You can bet that, as they made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, they wondered, “What will happen next?”  They did not know the future. They had to walk to Bethlehem by faith trusting God for their uncertain future.

Most of the time, we have no choice but to trust God for the future. The birth of children is one of those times. No marriage is ever the same once children are born. We can wonderthat is next. We can planfor what is next. We can hopefor what is next. But, we cannot know for certainwhat is next until the time comes. Raising children (and especially teenagers) is an opportunity to wait upon the Lord while asking, “What comes next?” Life is one big wait for the future to be unfolded.

We Trust God for the Future

I am a planner, and I like to plan what is coming. I have, however, learned that no one can possibly know for sure what is coming next. In this life, we cannot live by sight (knowing); we have to live by faith (trusting). Since “What Comes Next?” is a perennial question of human life, if we don’t trust in the Ultimate Love of God, we will always be filled with worry. The future is simply not under our control. We have to walk by faith not by sight. The “faith” we need is hard when our prayers are not answered according to our timetable or exactly in the way we hope and imagine.

Mary and Joseph were in such a situation as they walked toward Bethlehem just before the first Christmas Eve so long ago. As they walked towards Bethlehem on December 23, 0000, they must have been wondering, “When will the baby be born?” “Will the delivery be easy or hard” “Will the baby be healthy?” “Will it turn out that the angel was right, and our Son will be the Messiah?” You can go on and on.  Mary and Joseph had many questions. They, like us, wondered, “What’s Next?” But, because they were believers, and because they knew that God is faithful, so they walked with hope towards Bethlehem.

Every moment of our lives is an uncertain moment.We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We are often concerned about the future. We are concerned about the economy, the stock market, jobs, the President, the Congress, the Courts, and especially the Cleveland Browns! There are always hundreds and thousands of things for us to worry and wonder about. Recently, the stock market has been declining just as I am about to reenter retirement. No one knows how far it will fall. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to either trust God or worry.

In the midst of all of our wondering’s in worrying’s,” it’s a good idea to remember that those who wait upon the Lord will be given the strength and the wisdom to meet the demands of the future (Isaiah 40:31). In every area of life, we have to wait and trust God for the future.

Waiting on God for the Future

Joseph waited on and trusted God for the future. As he walked towards Bethlehem, he had no idea Herod would try to kill his baby.  He had no idea that his family was not going back to Nazareth, but instead he was going to flee to Egypt for a long time. He had no idea that he would leave his wife a widow. He had no idea that his first son would die young and leave Mary without the comfort of an oldest son to care for her. We don’t know all of what was going to Joseph’s mind as they traveled south to Bethlehem. What we do know is that Joseph and Mary were waiting on God and trusting that God was loving and faithful. We are no different.

Every December, I read the end of Proverbsaround Christmas. Many proverbs are about planning and the limits of planning. This week, I noticed something. One ofthe proverbs for this week goes like this, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps”(Proverbs 16:9) This is so true! We all have hopes, dreams, plans, and the like; however, because we cannot know what will happen tomorrow, we must have faith and hope in the love of God. God gave us minds and imagination. It is important that we use them.

We need to plan. But, we do not control the future. We can only respond by living wisely, working hard, and having faith in the love of God as we wait for the future to unfold. As we wait, we can know that the God of love will give us the strength to rise up and meet the future like eagles. We may be young or old, strong or weak, in every situation, God will give us the energy and power to rise up and meet what is next. [3]

Loving Others as we Wait on God

One reason our culture experiences so much hopelessness is that we have lost our transcendent hope—a hope not built on human ingenuity or human work but upon the grace of One who loves us and who understands our weakness. We have lost the hope that comes from waiting on God. I am pretty sure that our politics would be less divisive and our business and economics less grasping if we really and truly trusted that God would take care of us whether our party wins, whether or not we get that new job, and whether or not we get this thing we think we want or need.

You see, Faith and Hope are completed in love. John tells us that, “God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have Eternal Life” (John 3:16). The birth Mary and Joseph received, and which we celebrate tomorrow, was a gift of Divine Love to the whole world. All the Christmas Trees, Christmas Parties, Christmas Presents, and Christmas Memories of this and every Christmas are but a small reflection of the love that God poured out on the world on that first Christmas.

This is where I must make a confession. Kathy and I are hooked on Hallmark Christmas movies. Although the plots are similar, but it is always a sentimental love story, although they’ve taken most of Christ out of Christmas in the stories, Story still reflect that love that God shown on the Christmas Eve so long ago. A love so great that it would die on a cross for the beloved came in human form. The world can deny his divinity, but it cannot escape his love. That great love changed and continues to change everything, even among those who deny him.

The greatest thing about faith and hope is that they free us to love others. We are free from the anxiety of thinking that the outcome of our lives is totally up to us. We can relax, enjoy life, do our part (of course), all with love for others. Jesus could love other people unconditionally because of his uninterrupted fellowship with God that freed him from the fears and anxieties that warp our lives. We can love others because God loves us, and can be trusted to give us the deepest desires of our hearts in every circumstance.


Tomorrow night, we come together to celebrate the Manger. It is at the Manger that we find the ultimate answer to all of our questions and the ultimate end of our waiting. What’s Next this week is the birth of a baby—God’s gift of love—whose life changes the world and us, if only we hear his call and follow Him. We wait in faith with hope and love, because “Love has Come.”


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] W.H. Vanstone, Love’s Endeavor/Love’s Expense: The Response of Being to the Love of God(London, ENG: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1977), 71.

[2] Robert H. Stein, “Luke” in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture Vol. 24 (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1992), 103-111. Ordinarily, Mary would not have been required to go with Joseph to be registered to pay taxes, though there were some exceptions to the general rule. Joseph probably took her because of the prejudice against her in Nazareth or because she was due and he wanted to be present for the birth. of the reasons.

[3] Waiting for God does not mean being passive. We must work, plan, and act while we are waiting. While on the grace of God can bring us the future we hope for, we still must work for it. See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centering Leading; The Way of Light and Love(San Antonio, TX: Book Surge, 2016). The concept of active waiting is inherent in wisdom.

PS: Kathy and I want to wish all of our friends a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Year’s!

Longing for Leadership

The subject of leadership increased in importance during the late 20thcentury. In the aftermath of Watergate, the Vietnam War, and many national scandals and failures, hundreds of books have been written on leadership. In the church, the scandals of the recent past and the decline of many congregations resulted in hundreds of books on church leadership. Today, every year there are more books written on leadership than any leader could possibly read! Did we just discover a new interest or is there something wrong with our society that we are so focused on leadership!

Some people are born leaders. Others struggle. Many times, the best leaders are people who have labored in obscurity for a long time, failed, and finally become the leader they are capable of being. Abraham Lincoln is an interesting case in point. During his life, he was not respected as a leader. He was not handsome. He had a high-pitched, annoying voice. He had a habit of telling jokes during cabinet meetings that many cabinet officers found offensive. He was vacillating a good bit of the time. His life involved a lot of failure.

A common list of the failures of Abraham Lincoln contains the following:

  • 1831 – Lost his job
  • 1832 – Defeated in run for Illinois State Legislature
  • 1833 – Failed in business
  • 1836 – Had nervous breakdown
  • 1838 – Defeated in run for Illinois House Speaker
  • 1843 – Defeated in run for nomination for U.S. Congress
  • 1846 – Elected to Congress (success) but a bid for reelection
  • 1849 – Rejected for land officer position
  • 1854 – Defeated in run for U.S. Senate
  • 1856 – Defeated in run for nomination for Vice President
  • 1858 – Again defeated in run for U.S. Senate
  • 1860 – Elected President (success) [1]

When Lincoln died, Edwin Stanton looked down at has body and said, “Now he belongs to the ages.” His commitment to the Union, freeing of the slaves, his willingness to suffer for the nation, and gentleness with people had made of him the greatest of our national leaders.

A Prophetic Longing

Our theme for Advent this year is, “Longing for What’s Next.” This morning, our meditation is on the theme, “Longing for Leadership.”  Our text is from the prophet Isaiah. The early church valued Isaiah because it contains a foreshadowing of the birth, character, ministry, and sacrificial death of Jesus the Messiah. As the early church read Isaiah, it saw in Jesus the fulfillment of the promise God had made to David that he would never fail to have an heir on the throne of Israel (9:7; 11:10). Let’s read together God’s word from Isiah 11, verse 1-6:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
     and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them
(Isaiah 11:1-6).

Let us Pray: Eternal God, King of Heaven, Lord of Hosts: Come to us this morning by the power of your Holy Spirit that we may understand the kind of leadership that pleases you and become such leaders in our families, businesses, schools, clubs, friendships, and other places we minister your grace. In Jesus Name, Amen.

The Leader We Long For

 The Prophet Isaiah lived in the times of two of the best kings of Israel and two of the worst. The prophesies of the historical Isaiah covers the period from the reign of King Uzziah (791-740 B.C.), the reign of King Jotham (750-732 B.C.), King Ahaz (736-716 B.C.), and King Hezekiah (725-687 B.C.). Uzziah and Hezekiah were good kings, but Ahaz and Jotham were not. Isaiah 11 was probably written sometime during the disappointing reign of Ahaz. [2] The prophet was understandably concerned about the future of his nation and about the quality of its leadership. Even Uzziah and Hezekiah, as good as they were, were not perfect leaders. They made mistakes.

As Isaiah thought and prayed about the situation, God revealed that what was needed was not better leaders of the kind that Israel had already had, but a new and different kind of leader. Such leadership would be Spirit-filled, loving and caring for people, wise, knowledgeable about the world and about the ways of God, insightful about the motives of people and the potential of situations, just, and righteous. Here are just a few of the Messianic descriptions of Godly leadership Isaiah contains:

  • The Messiah will be a wonderful counselor, a Mighty God, a Prince of Peace, an Eternal King, whose kingdom will not end (9:6-7).
  • The Messiah will be filled with the Holy Spirit, respect and fear God, delight in God, and have supernatural, Godly insight and wisdom (11:2-8).
  • The Messiah will be just and righteous to an extraordinary degree (32:1).
  • The Messiah will be a liberator, who will free God’s people from captivity (41:2-4).
  • The Messiah will be the Servant of the LORD, filled with God’s love and gentleness, he will not even break a reed without cause and will patiently bring about God’s kingdom of peace (42:14).
  • The Messiah will be the suffering servant of God who will liberate people from the burden of their sin and spiritual brokenness (53:4-6).

From the time of Isaiahforward, the people of Israel longed for that new kind of leadership. Over time, the vision of Isaiah and other prophets resulted in a hope for a Spirit-filled leader the prophets called, the “Messiah,” or “The Anointed One.” [3] By the time of Jesus, this hope was fully worked out in the minds of most Jews. Unfortunately, the way they worked it out was not correct. They made of the Messiah just another King David, only more moral and without some of David’s most serious shortcomings. They lost the fact that this king was so unusual that his leadership could not be contained in any single human being. Only the Son of God could be such a leader.

Over the years, I have come to realize that too often pastors, church professionals, Sessions, and church members want church leaders who model the leadership style of their favorite leaders in business, government, the military, and other areas. The problem is that secular leaders always disappoint, and church leaders, who are just like secular leaders but nicer, are bound to disappoint us as well.

Alternatively, we want leaders who are wise. Sometimes the church can exalt a leader who demonstrates a kind of otherworldly foolishness. I was visiting this week about a nationally recognized leader who goes around giving advice to young people that is, frankly, silly. At fifteen, a young person may celebrate that advice. Years later that same young person will leave the Christian Faith on the theory that Christianity is foolish and supports foolishness. Christian leaders need to demonstrate a wisdom that is greater than human wisdom, not a wisdom that is, in fact, silliness.

An important thing to remember is that God never gives a church or society better leaders than they want and deserve. Leaders reflect the society that creates them. If we want impossible things from our leaders, then we will get leaders who promise impossible things. This is true in business, in government, and in the church as well.

The Unexpected Leader We Receive

We should yearn for better leadership. At the same time, we have to realize that no human being is capable of satisfying our deepest longings. Even the most Spirit-filled leaders, even the most caring leaders, even the wisest leaders make mistakes. If we get into our minds the idea that our leaders will not be fallen, limited human beings, who make mistakes and fall short just like we do, we will always be disappointed. More importantly, we will make foolish decisions about our leaders seeking for a perfection that no one can possibly achieve.

In the end, we will not make real progress in Christian leadership unless and until the transcendent example of Christ forms in our hearts an ideal for which we strive. The leadership we long for can only be found, and our longing satisfied, in Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Only Immanuel, God with us, could possibly fulfill the human desire for better leadership. Because of this, we need to remember our human leaders are not Jesus.

The last few election years have been times of tension and conflict. I wonder sometimes if we don’t put too much importance our elections. In fact, I wonder if our focus on politics is an indication of a lack of trust in God and a foolish hope for a kind of leader that does not and cannot exist in fallen, sinful, human history.  During the 2016 election, I wrote the following mediation:

One thing most of us long for is a world in which we have better, wiser, more ethical, godlier, and more caring leadership. This longing for better leaders cannot be completely fulfilled except by Christ. All human leaders fail. All human leaders fall short of our expectations. All human leaders are like us: they are flawed, finite human beings. Therefore, we can come to expect too much from them. Only God can give us the leadership we desire in the depths of our hearts. Only Christ can give us the self-giving, servant leadership for which our spirits made in the image of God long. Only the Spirit can help us come closer to being such leaders.

Christians can and should be in the forefront of demanding and seeking good leadership from ourselves and those who lead us. One strength of faith is that it provides an unchanging and humanly unreachable moral goal in all our striving, including our striving to be good leaders. This strength can become a weakness unless it is coupled with grace. [4]

This is an important time. Our church is about to elect a new pastor. The success or failure of our church will depend to a certain degree upon that person. On the other hand, we can expect too much. Our new pastor will be a human being. He will have strengths and weaknesses. He will have good days and bad days. He will make good decisions and not-so-good decisions. That is the way of human leadership. There are no perfect human leaders. Only Jesus is the perfect leader. The rest of us are fallen and flawed.

The Session has dedicated next week to prayer and fasting. There are going to be opportunities each day for you to come to the church and pray for the decision we will make next week. Please take some time to pray or fast in some way, giving up something for the week as we pray for our new pastor. In addition, please take the time to come to the church and pray in the prayer room. How can we pray?

  • First, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and our new pastor in a mighty way (see, Isaiah 41:2-4).
  • Second, we can pray that we and our new pastor will be filled with the love of God, and will be a selfless, servants to those around us (Isaiah 53).
  • Third, we can pray that we and our new pastor will have that hidden wisdom of which the Apostle Paul speaks (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). We can pray that he and we will be able to see beneath the surface to the true causes of things and situations (Isaiah 3-4).


This morning is Communion Sunday at Bay Presbyterian Church. Communion is a reminder that, when the Messiah came, he was so much different than what everyone expected that his own people rejected him. He was submitted to God and did not always please people. He was filled with a kind and unusual wisdom that did always give people what they wanted. He emptied himself of pride and self-seeking and demanded that both he and those who followed him take up a cross.

It’s at the cross, and at the table of the One who went to the cross for our sins that we see revealed the deepest and most important kind of leadership for which we long—the leadership of the Living God at work in human hearts. Crucified on a cross, Jesus looked to be a weak and defeated leader. But it wasn’t weakness that kept Him on the cross, it was strength– and a kind of leadership the world had never seen before.


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The internet is filled with such lists. While the listing of the failures of Lincoln may be overdone, the reality is that he experienced failure. See one such list. Lincoln’s leadership was not recognized during his life. Only at his death, was his true greatness recognized, especially by the elites of his day.

[2] See, Gary V. Smith, “Isaiah 1-39” in The New American Commentary(Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2007), 233ff. Most likely this section is related to the time period of Isaiah 7:14 (“A virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son”). The reign of Ahaz had been disappointing to the prophet and many other religious Jews. In such times, there is a longing for wholesome, renewing leadership.

[3] The Hebrew term “Messiah” is “Christ” in Greek. In English, the translation for Christ is “Anointed One.”

[4] The philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi in his book, Science, Faith and Societyspeaks of the frequent moral inversion of the modern world, especially in socialistic societies. The moral ideal of Christianity cut free from a recognition of human sinfulness, creates in modern (and even more alarmingly, postmodern) people a rejection of present human society and a desire for a perfect society cut free from a realization of human limitations. This enables such people to commit horrible injustices in the search for a perfect society, as has been experienced in Russia, China, Cambodia, Germany, and other places. See, Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith and Society: A Searching Examination of Scientific Inquiry. 2nd ed. (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1946).

What is Next? Longing for a Word from God

St. Augustine is one of the most important figures in Christian history. Although he died over 1500 years ago, he was, in many ways, the first modern, or even postmodern, person. He grew up in a decadent time, and lived to see the fall of Rome. His mother was a devout Christian. His father was a pagan. Augustine’s life as a young man was characterized by loose living and a search for answers to life’s basic questions. He followed various philosophies, only to become disillusioned. He experimented with various religions.

Around the year 386 A.D., Augustine was teaching rhetoric in Milan and heard the eloquent preaching of Saint Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. Over time, the Bishop’s preaching led Augustine to a new understanding of the Bible and Christian Faith. Sometime in the year 386, while outdoors in a garden, Augustine heard the voice of a child singing a song, the words of which were, “Pick up and read.”

Realizing that the song might be a command from God to read the Scriptures, he located a Bible, opened it, and read the first passage he saw, words from Romans: “Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh”(Romans 13:13-14).

Augustine had received a personal word and revelation from God. He went on to become a priest, a bishop, a great theologian, and the founder of the Augustinian Order. Later, reflecting on this experience, Augustine wrote his famous prayer: You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. [1] 

Today, we are talking about our need for a word from God for our lives.

The Word of God from Isaiah

For the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at a selections  from the Isaiah that are important for Christian faith and understanding what God was doing in Jesus Christ. Isaiah is the most important of the Old Testament prophets. Augustine himself was told by Abrose that he should read the book. The only reason he did not as a new Christian was the complexity of the book makes it difficult to understand. Nevertheless, the early Christian church, and Augustine, saw in Isaiah the clearest picture of the Messiah as the Suffering Servant, revealed in Christ. This morning we’re going to be looking at the call of Isaiah. Hear the word of God as it comes to us from Isaiah chapter 6 verses one through eight:

 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”(Isaiah 6:1-8).

Let us pray:God of Wisdom, who has spoken to us by the prophets, by the apostles, and most definitely, through the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, please come to us this morning and open our hearts for your Word to us. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.

Isaiah’s Story

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Isaiah is one of my favorite books in the Bible. The prophet Isaiah lived around the year 750 B.C. His ministry began, as today’s text says, in the last year of King Uzziah, who was a good king who came to a bad end. In his later years, God judged Uzziah for his pride and overreaching. By the time Isaiah began to write, it was clear that Judah and Israel were decaying and that Assyria was the emerging world power. In 731 B.C., the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered and Judah was directly threatened. At this pivotal moment of Middle Eastern history, God called Isaiah to be a prophet.

If you’ve read Isaiah, or studied the book, you almost certainly have been struck by some facts. First, Isaiah, with Ezekiel and Jeremiah is a major prophet. The book is long and complex, just as Jeremiah and Ezekiel are long and complex. Second, Isaiah contains some of the most beautiful literature and poetry in the Old Testament. Third, and this is not so obvious, Isaiah is deeply influenced by Old Testament wisdom literature. The book is filled with wisdom from God.

We don’t know a lot about Isaiah, but we do know that he was both a great man of God and a great literary artist. We know that Isaiah was uniquely gifted with a clear vision of who Messiah would be, and what the Messiah would be like. It is in Isaiah that we learn that the Messiah is not going to be so much a conquering hero as a Suffering Servant. In Isaiah, we learn that the Messiah is not going to be a man of violence, but a man of peace. In Isaiah, we learn that the Messiah is not going to be so much of man of action, as a man of wisdom. In Isaiah, we learn the Messiah will be God with us, and not just another human being.

In today’s text, we see a young man, probably a priest, at the very beginning of his career. One day, he received a vision of the living God (Isaiah 6:1). In all probability, Isaiah was praying for a word from God about the condition of his country. In the midst of his prayers and worries, his thoughts and meditations, God appeared. Amidst the decay of his own society, in the midst of the death of his own people, at the time of the death a king, Isaiah received a vision of God high and lifted up, lifted up above all the problems and perplexities of our world, ruling in wisdom, power and love.

Many years ago, the author J.B. Phillips wrote a book called, Your God is Too Small. [2] Sometimes, we think of God as if he were a little old man far beyond his best years, without the capacity or the ability to really interfere in our lives or the world for the good. We think of God is a little bit like George Burns in the movie, “Oh God.” – a bumbling old man who is more or less out of it. [3] This is not the God of the Bible nor the God of Isaiah!

The God of the Bible is filled with glory, wise beyond our understanding, powerful beyond our imagination, good beyond our ability to comprehend, and loving beyond any possible human imitation. The God of the Bible sits on the very throne of heaven. Sometimes, God may seem not to be in control, but God  is always deeply in control of events. The God of the Bible is surrounded by angels and archangels and rules the universe and human history with endless wisdom, power, and love.

If you are like me, when times are tough or difficulties arise, I often forget this great truth: The God of the Bible is in control of history and of our lives. God loves us and will care for us, no matter what. God is never too small for the problems of our life. In fact, God is bigger than any problem we can have now or in the future. We can trust God in every circumstance. If there is anything we can get from this passage it that we have a big God.

Mary’s Story

This is the first Sunday of Advent. Often, we begin Advent with another message from God. One day, more than 700 years after Isaiah’s vision, a young woman in Nazareth was visited by one of those Seraphim who surround the throne of God. [4] She was not a scholar. She was not a priest. She was not from a wealthy or powerful family. She was not highly educated. She was not old and experienced. She was a girl about fifteen or sixteen years old. She was a Jew, and as a Jew she had waited for many years in hopes that the Messiah would come. She had been to the synagogue many times and heard the words of Isaiahthat one day that would come a son of David, the Prince of Peace, and everlasting God, the person who would save her nation and rule with wisdom and justice. I’m pretty sure that Mary never thought one moment that she would have any part in the story other than a person it would be rescued with everyone else.

As she was going about her daily life, another angel, this time Gabriel, which means “One Who Stands in the Presence of God,” appeared to her. He began with a strange greeting: “Hail to you most favored one” (Luke 2:28). Mary had no idea what to think of this. She had no inkling that an angel would ever appear to her, and she was afraid (vv. 29-30). You see, peasant girls in ancient Israel did not expect to get a personal message from God.

The angel went on to tell Mary that she should not be afraid, indeed she was honored, because the Spirit of the Lord was going to come upon her and she was going to be the mother of the Messiah (vv. 30-33). From Mary’s perspective, this was impossible (v. 34). Nevertheless, after the angel explained what was going to happen to her Mary simply said, “I am the Lord’s handmaiden” (or servant) (v.38).

Our Story

The stories of Isaiah revelation and of Mary have real importance for us. Here are a few things we can take from these stories about our own relationship with God:

  • God appears to those how are seeking God. Both Isaiah and Mary were people of faith. Both were devout. While God does sometimes appear to unbelievers, most of the time he appears to those who are already seeking God in faith.
  • God appears to humble hearts. Both Mary and Isaiah were awestruck by their revelations. They did not feel worthy and they made that known to by their response to the revelation they received. God most often reveals himself to the lowly of heart who truly depend upon God and not upon their own wisdom.
  • God appears to those convicted of their own sin. The scene in Isaiah where a hot coal touches the lips of the prophet is a scene of cleansing and the burning away of all that separates the recipient of the prophecy from God (Isaiah 6:5-6). Conviction of sin and repentance from it are important. This does not mean that we’re not still sinners. It means that we know were sinners and are repentant.
  • God appears to those willing to respond to God. When Isaiah responds to God, “Here I am, send me!”(6: 8), and when Mary responds to God, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord”(Luke 1:38), they are expressing a willingness to follow God where God leads.
  • Finally, God appears to those who are willing to suffer for God. Just after the passage we read this morning, God reveals to Isaiah that, although he is going to prophesy to the people of Israel, they are not going to listen (Isaiah 6:9-13). Mary was going to be slandered and thought ill of because she was going to be an unwed mother. Her betrothed, Joseph, was going to doubt her truthfulness. She was even going to live long enough to see her firstborn son die a terrible death. This reveals something that we don’t want to hear but need to know: God normally reveals himself to those who are willing to do God’s will and accept any resulting suffering.


The book of Hebrews begins with one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Here’s what the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. And, after he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-3).

At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that, although God will speak to each one of us at one time or another and ask us to do one thing or another, we have already received the most important word of all from God. He has sent us Jesus. In the manger, we see the one who created the world by his wisdom who redeemed us by his grace. That is enough.

You probably have a story like this in Ohio, but in the South we have a story to go something like this: Once, there was a great hurricane down in Louisiana. A poor Cajun was in the floodplain. The water rose and rose until the Cajun was forced to crawl  onto the top of his little shack to keep from drowning. He began to pray that God would save him. In a little while,  a family came by swimming  by together as a group. It looked terribly unsafe. A few minutes later, a small fishing boat, old and leaking, came by with the person in it. It looked terribly unsafe. He continued to pray, and a helicopter flew over, but the Cajun and was afraid of heights. Finally, the waters covered the house, and he drowned. He went to heaven and appeared before God, angry and wet. Immediately, he said, “Why didn’t you save me?” God replied, “I sent a family, and you didn’t jump in with them. I sent a boat and you wouldn’t get in. I sent a helicopter, and you wouldn’t wave it down. What more could I do?”

Sometimes, we are like that Cajun.

In my earlier years, I often prayed that God would reveal to me a path to ministry. What I learned was that God would never reveal himself to me until I was willing to respond in faith. The same is true today. We are not really listeningfor a word from God until we are willing to respondto God and do what he asks us to do. We should be thankful for the example of Mary and Isaiah: They heard and obeyed.


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Midwest Augustinians, “Conversion of St. Augustine “ November 27, 2018). The quote is from the Confessions of St. Augustine.
[2] J. B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small(New York, New York 1952, Touchstone Edition, 2004).
[3] “O God,” Dir. Carl Reiner. Wr. Larry Gelbart, Avery Corman, Starring John Denver, George Burns, Teri Garr (19777).
[4] Gabriel, with Michael and Raphael, are archangels or seraphim, who are variously described in Scripture and non-canonical works. See, Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael December 1, 2018).