Having That One Back Again

Sermon for Sunday, December 7, 2014
Advent 2B
Isaiah 40:1-11

“I’d love to have that one back again.”  Serious sports fans who watch the post-game interviews will have heard the phrase.  Pitchers who let a pitch hang too long so that it was hit for a game-winning home run will say it:  “I wish I could have that one back again.”  Quarterbacks who under-throw the ball and have it intercepted on the final, losing drive of the game will say it:  “I’d love to have that one back again.”  Golfers who miss an easy putt that costs them the tournament will say it, too:  “I wish I could have that one back again.”

I bet all of us have had times in our life when we would love “to have that one back again.”  Maybe it was something we said or something we did.  And even though we said it or did it many years ago, we might still wish “to have that one back again.”

The Israelites to whom Isaiah writes this morning’s lesson had a real-life opportunity to “having that one back again.”  In the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, Israel had really messed up.  They worshiped idols.  Their kings made unholy alliances with foreign powers.  Justice was lacking in the land.   For 39 chapters, Isaiah had told the Israelites, “Look.  This infidelity is going to catch up to us.”  And he was right.   When the Israelites refused to amend their ways, God let the Assyrian army invade, the land was ravaged, and citizens were carried off into exile.

But now, in chapter 40, God gives the Israelites a chance to “have that one back again.”   By this time the Israelites had lived in exile in Babylon for 70 years.  Isaiah writes them, “Comfort, O comfort my people.”  Let Jerusalem know “that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.”  “You may return now,” God says:  “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  “You can have that one back again” and once again live with God as your shepherd:  “’Here is your God!’… He will feed his flock like a shepherd… and carry them in his bosom.”

Though the Israelites had been unfaithful, now they have the chance “to have that one back again,” to come home, to let God feed them, to let God shepherd and lead them.

We are in the Church’s season of Advent, a penitential season.  Penitential seasons remind us of God’s offer “to have that one back again.”   As long as we are alive, and no matter what we may have said or what we may have done, God offers us the possibility to “have it back again.”  Not that we can turn back the clock to undo or unsay something.  Not that God is going to put everything back the way it was before.  Not that God is going to relieve us of making restitution to those we may have wronged.  But God is offering us an invitation:  “Come home.  It’s time.  Just as I gave the Israelites the opportunity to ‘have that one back again,’ so will I give you a chance ‘to have that one back again.’  The way may not be easy – you have wandered far, after all.  But I love you.  I want you.  And I forgive you.   Why not come home again where I can be your shepherd and care for and feed you?”

Our tradition has a word for this coming home: “redemption.”   Redemption doesn’t mean we can turn back the clock and get a complete redo.  Redemption means we can have another chance as did the ancient Hebrews.  Even though they messed up and were sent into exile, they heard God’s call to come home, and God gave them another chance.

Whatever it was that we wish we could have back again, if we ask, God gives us the grace to clean up what we messed up, so that we might come home again.  God’s offer applies to us as individuals – don’t we all have things we’d like to have back again?  It applies to us as a people  — how badly have we as a country messed up, for example, in our treatment of minorities, or the poor, or in regards to the environment?  God is all-loving and all-merciful, and God wants nothing more than for us to dwell with Him.  If we ask, God will always give us the help we need to be reconciled, he will lift up the valleys and make low the mountains so that we can come back from exile, and come home to the one who is our Good Shepherd.

There is a wonderful song about redemption sung by the “Canton Spirituals,” a gospel music group founded in Canton, Mississippi in the 1940’s.   In their song “Clean Up,” Harvey Watkins, the lead, sings:

I’ve Gotta Clean Up What I Messed Up
I’m Starting My Life Over Again
I’ve Gotta Clean Up What I Messed Up
I’m Starting My Life Over Again

If we’d like go home this Advent, Isaiah – and the Canton Spirituals – remind us that God stands always at the ready to help us find our way.  Even though that way is long and through the desert, God will help us clean up what we’ve messed up, so that we might come to a place in which we know – and live – how much God loves us, desires us and wants to be with us.

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One thought on “Having That One Back Again

  1. Reblogged this on Like Mendicant Monks… and commented:
    Sounding at least one last note of repentance for this beloved season of Advent before we ramp up to the festivities of Christmas. My boss has done it again with this sermon from a few weeks ago. He did not directly intend this resonance, but I had a phrase from the confession at Anglican Morning Prayer drumming through my head the entire time:

    CONFESSION

    ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

    It seems like this phrase from sports is a wonderful and contemporary rephrasing of an old idea of “leaving undone those things we ought to have done.” May this nostalgia for righteousness inspire our upcoming celebrations of the Lord’s birth in our frail human flesh.

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