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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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God’s Surprises

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

December 10, 2017

Isaiah 55:1-13

 

 

“Our God is full of surprises!” Our choir sang of some of those surprises – some of the times when God stepped into human life in surprising ways. Like Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine. Like Peter walking on the water. Like Elijah’s dramatic exit in a chariot of fire. God has a way of surprising us over and over again, because as our scriptures say, “God’s ways are not our ways.”

 

Today’s scripture brings more surprises from God. In it the prophet, Isaiah, reminds God’s people about God’s abundant love. He writes: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). God’s love is freely available. It cannot be purchased.  It is a free gift. Pure grace. If you are thirsty for God, come and God will quench your thirst – both your spiritual thirst, and your physical thirst.

 

This was good news for people who lived in the dessert, people who knew how precious and life-giving water really is. This was good news for people who were in exile, people thirsty for signs of God’s love and care. This is also good news for people like us. For we also thirst for God. We also long to have our thirst quenched by God.

 

Last week we heard about God’s surprising move to send his people into exile in Babylon. This was an unwelcome surprise – not what they were expecting. They had forgotten him and turned from him and were worshipping other gods, so God sent the Israelites into exile. It was God’s way of disrupting their unfaithful living, of giving them a “time out” to think about what they had done and change their behavior.  It was God’s way of encouraging their repentance, of turning then around and bringing them back to himself.

 

At times, God does this for us too. As our song says “Our lives are full of surprises. We can’t know God’s pathways. Down in the world there is trouble and strive…” There are times when God sends us to places we’d rather not go, to learn lessons he seeks to teach us. Those times can be times of growing in faith and learning to trust God. Those times can build resourcefulness and character. Those times may not pleasant, but that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. Our song goes “Down in the world there is trouble and strife, in you Lord we find new life!” God is with us in the toughest of times,

loving us and caring for us and guiding us through it God brings us to new life - as he did for those Israelites exiled on Babylon.

 

Our scripture for today is written to God’s people at the end of their 70-year exile. As God is preparing to bring people home, he sends a message of hope. That is the kind of surprise they are happy to receive. That is the kind of surprise that brings hope and joy. That is the kind of surprise that brings new life.

 

In this surprise God reminds us that even when we turn from God and don’t live as God would have us live, God still loves us. God still provides for us. God still cares for us and helps us learn the lessons of faith. And ultimately God brings us new life him.

 

Our scripture highlights one way that God nourishes us, and in doing so, Isaiah uses a farming analogy. Isaiah speaks of rain that falls from the sky, watering the crops, bringing life to seedlings as it blesses the parched earth. Every farmer knows how welcome a nice rain can be at just the right time of the season. It helps the crops to grow and flourish, to produce a big harvest. So too, God’s Word brings life to our thirsty souls, quenching our thirst, nurturing us, so that we may grow and blossom in his love. God’s Word is like the rain that falls from the sky and does its work bringing life to all that it lands upon before returning to the heavens. As we seek God through his Word, God reveals himself to us. God lets us find him. God plants himself in our souls sprouting forth in love and joy.

 

As surprising as it was to those ancient Israelites to be exiled to Babylon, so too it was surprising when God led them home from exile. The notion that they would go forth in joy and be led back in peace, was welcome news. Isaiah’s image of the mountains bursting into song and the trees clapping their hands, applauding their return home, reinforces what a big deal the end of the exile was. All the earth participates in this grand return. All the earth welcomes these exiles home. What a welcome surprise indeed!

 

What a welcome surprise when Cyrus, the new ruler of Babylon, not only lets the Israelites return home from exile but also provides them the means to rebuild the temple. Solomon’s glorious temple had been destroyed by Babylonian army 70 years earlier. Now, the leader of the nation who destroyed it Is helping to rebuild that temple. God works in surprising ways!

 

And in this passage Isaiah speaks of the best surprise of all. Isaiah writes that God said “I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” This is an extension of the covenant God originally made with Abraham, that through him all the world would be blessed. It the covenant that we dwell in this Advent season as we await the coming of the Messiah, as we celebrate God’s love come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a covenant that was made with each of us on the day we were baptized, as we were named and claimed as God’s beloved children forever. It is the covenant we trust in for eternal life.

 

How surprising it was to a teenage girl, that an angel would tell her she would be the mother of God’s son! How surprising it was to her fiancÚ to learn that she was pregnant, especially since he knew he was not the father. How surprising it was to Joseph when an angel appeared to him to tell him, “Don’t worry, it’s okay. Take Mary as your wife.” How surprising it was that this couple embarked on a journey that would lead them to Bethlehem, to give birth to God’s Son – in a stable. How surprising it was that this birth was marked by angels and shepherds and wise men paying their respects. How surprising it was that the great King Hared perceived this little baby boy as a big threat. How surprising it was that this young family was warned in a dream to flee from danger. How surprising it was that God would step into the chaos of human life, become one of us, live among us, and eventually die for us so that we might be in relationship with him. God really goes to great lengths for those he loves.

 

“Our God is full of surprises. His ways we cannot know.” God’s ways are different from human ways. God works in ways that never cease to surprise us.

 

“Our lives are full of surprises. We Can’t know God’s pathways.” But we do know the God who loves us. We can learn to trust in his love. We can learn to trust the plans he has for us, plans for our welfare and not for harm, to give us a future with hope

 

So, “Surprise us Lord Jesus. Abide with us. Lord Jesus. Surprise us Lord Jesus today!”

 

Amen!