The world spins on the axis of grace, whether you are aware of it, or not; without God’s mercy, life as we know it would cease to exist. The terrible blights in this world of devastating circumstances, destructive forces, severe depression, and even death do not have the final say over the earth – grace is the word that changes it all and transforms the impossible into the possible.
The large biblical book of Isaiah is thick with the message of judgment for both Israel and the nations that surrounded her. The sins of the ancient Israelites were chiefly: a calloused injustice toward the needy, the have’s taking manipulative advantage of the have-not’s; and, empty worship rituals toward God that were nothing more than keeping up appearances. The very air of ancient Israelite society stank with corruption. God pleaded with the people through his prophets to stop doing wrong and to start doing right in their justice system and in their business dealings. The Lord of the universe wanted his people to encourage the oppressed, and to defend the cause of those who did not have the power to defend themselves (Isaiah 1:10-17).
Although God’s judgment was aroused, ripe and ready to act through the powerful Assyrian Empire, God would not annihilate his people. God promised that a Righteous Branch would grow up from the seemingly dead stump of Israel. A child would be born. A Messiah would be given. There would be hope in Israel. Heartfelt authentic praise will again fill the air. Proclamation of God’s great name will again be on the lips of Israel.
The remarkable thing about all this is God’s grace. God made promises to Israel not based upon what they would or would not do; God made promises to his people by his own radically free love. It was not a situation of making a deal – “if, Israel, you get your act together then I, God, will be good to you.” No! Before Israel even had a chance to return to the Lord, God was already choosing to be gracious and merciful.
If you miss the message of God’s grace in the Holy Scriptures, you have missed salvation because only grace can save us. What we have in common with the Israelites of old is that we are totally dependent upon God’s amazing grace. Without grace, we are lost. Praise is a response to the incredible grace God gives which is completely undeserved (Isaiah 12:1-6).
Grace is the thing that is distinctive about Christianity – no other religion, no other place will you find grace amidst the awful muck of the world. Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is ridiculously generous. Grace does not use carrot sticks, scorecards, or power politics. Grace does not demand – it only gives.
Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.
That is what God did for Israel. That is what God has done for you. And when we get a hold of this truth, even a little bit, there is a cascade of praise that comes rolling out of your heart and onto your lips.
The prophecy of Isaiah is an adventure of God’s determined love toward unlovable people. That is why it is one of the most quoted books of the Old Testament by Jesus in the New Testament Gospels. Jesus came because of grace.
Jesus came to release us from our obsessive need to be right, our compulsion to be rewarded, and all our anglings to be respected.
Because Jesus came to set wayward captives free, life does not have to be a joyless effort to justify and validate ourselves before others. The grace of God in Christ is a game-changer – and when we get a glimpse of it, we are forever altered and undone by its mercy. Grace brings praise.
When grace takes hold of a person, a family, and a congregation there is no mumbling of songs – there is a shouting aloud and singing for joy because God is great! Grace brings such joy and gladness that we do not care what we look like to other people; we are going to shout and sing and express our joy! Yes, there is a very necessary and important place for contemplative, reverent, reflective worship… and, there is a place for completely letting go, becoming unhinged, and dancing before Jesus!
Advent, Christmas, and every season of the year is really all about God’s relentless and dogged pursuit of wayward people – the bringing of grace to a people living in darkness. Therefore, return to the Lord. Be captivated by grace. Renew your love for Jesus. Lose yourself in praise and adoration of the One who gave everything just for you. Worship Christ the King. Proclaim his merciful Name as exalted over everything.