Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC) Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, December 17, 2017 by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
GOD Is: “Vigilant, Watchful and Protective” [Third Sunday in Advent]
I remember the first-time hearing Bette Midler singing, “From a Distance.” The words kept reverberating in my mind. Here’s a few lines: “From a distance the world looks blue and green, and the snow-capped mountains white. From a distance the ocean meets the stream, and the eagle takes to flight. From a distance, there is harmony, and it echoes through the land. It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace, it’s the voice of every man…It’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves. This is the song of every man …God is watching us, God is watching us…from a distance.”
It’s a poetic song. Like that of any memorable song, the lyrics have meaning. The words resonate in our hearts. As well it might have in Old Testament times when God was thought to be distant from His people. God’s glory and majesty was said to be high above this dreary, forsaken landscape called earth. Yes, God dwelt in His holy abode far above His creation. Like the title suggests, “From a Distance.”
But that perspective changed dramatically with the birth of the Christ Child. No longer was God watching us from a distance. God’s only beloved Son came to earth as One of us. Scripture says that “…the Word became flesh” [John 1:14]!
In this portion of the Book of Isaiah [chapters 40-66], affectionately labeled, “The Book of Comfort”, we discover there’s meaning and purpose for our lives. God placed us here for a reason; for a time and a season. Oh, yes, it is true. God IS watching us…but NOT from a distance. God is here! As John said, “He dwelt among us” [John 1:14]. But not as the 18th century deists came to view Him as that of a dispassionate watchmaker. One who round up the universal clock and then stood idly by as time passed!
To the contrary, God is proactive. He divinely intervenes in the affairs of man. In this passage, Isaiah depicts God as being: VIGILANT (repeat).
Notice Isaiah’s wording: “…thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel…” The prophet goes on to say, “I have called you by name, you are Mine.”
Just as in ancient times, it remains true today, that throughout the Near and Middle East, a person’s name holds great importance. It perpetuates a person’s ancestry. It affords him legitimacy. Regrettably, the Western world has lost sight of a person’s identity. We’ve become a “nameless” society.
When you stand in line, we’re told, “Pick a number, please!” In some circles, the individual has become a nebulous, non-entity!
But not so in the eyes of our Creator! Isaiah goes on to say, “…everyone who is called by My Name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.” Each person is uniquely and wonderfully made! God created us in His likeness with respect to our being endowed with some of His divine attributes. It’s a part of our DNA! Yes, God is watching us…but NOT from a distance!
Max Lucado put it this way: “The Bible has a simple story. God made man. Man rejected God. God won’t give up until He wins him back. From Moses in Moab to John on Patmos, God’s still voice can be heard to say: ‘I Am in control. Your destiny is in My hands.’” 
Not only is God vigilant. He is also…WATCHFUL (repeat). But you say, “Vigilance and watchfulness are synonyms. They have similar meanings.” And that is true. They are similar. Ah, but not in the context of this passage. In verse two, Isaiah exclaims: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Then, again in verse five, the prophet says, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
The word “vigilance” suggests that God observes our circumstances, and our surroundings. However, the word “watchfulness” suggests the imagery of a doting mother. Like a mother hen keeping a watchful eye over her brood.
As a kid, whenever I had a temper tantrum, I threatened to run away from home. But such a veiled threat didn’t pass muster! For one thing, I always told my parents my intentions. And, when I did venture off, it was always close to supper time! But, to insure my safety, my dad kept close tabs…if only from a distance. Not so, with our heavenly Father. God is always nearby to His wayward child!
But what kind of god would he be, if he was vigilant and watchful, and yet powerless to protect you from evil? The God of the Bible forfeited His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who died so that we might live. What more could He do to assure us that He is: PROTECTIVE (repeat).
Echoing God’s promise of salvation, Isaiah wrote: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” The Greek word for “redeemed” is lutron. Commonly used in the marketplace where slaves were bought and sold. The psalmist tells us that God has “redeemed our life from the pit” [Psalm 103:4]. Through His Son’s atoning sacrifice, God has secured our freedom from the bondage of sin and death!
Isaiah speaks of God’s protective hand, both literally and figuratively, where he writes: “…and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
What comforting words for those who believe in Him. But what can be said for someone who is estranged from God? The person who has lost sight of God’s presence? Be assured of this, dear soul. Even the most righteous of men will, at times, feel estranged from God.
I am reminded of the person of Job. The Bible tells us that Job “…was blameless, upright, and feared God” [Job 1:1, 8]. Yet, he, too, felt distanced from his Creator. Job exclaimed: “…if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him” [Job 23:8–9]. During his fiery ordeal, Job felt alone and abandoned. Yet, despite his aloneness, Job declared: “But He knows the way that I take; and when He has tested me, I will come forth; refined as gold” [Job 23:10].
No matter how far you’ve distanced yourself from God; God is still here. At just the right time, and in just the right way, God will avail Himself to you. God will make His presence known. In yet another of his books, Lucado offered these words of comfort: “You will never go where God is not!” God will be there. “He is never far from each one of us.” 
Come to think of it. That’s what the Bible is all about? The Bible is a story; not a fable. A story about the relentless pursuit of God for His wayward child. God is watching. God is searching. God is ever vigilant, watchful and protective for your namesake!
So, during this Advent season, seek the Lord while He may be found. Search for Him in earnest. And when you do, He will come forth and hold you fast!
Let us pray…
 Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995) pg. 27+.
 Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2013) pg. 65.