Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent 3 of Series B (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11)

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this the third Sunday in Advent is from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the prophet Isaiah the sixty-first chapter. Dear friends in Christ, “there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the Light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” God did not send our Savior into a vacuum, but instead prepared the way, just as He promised. John the Baptist was a man of the wilderness, a man hardened by Judea’s harsh deserts. He came to call all Israel, indeed all people, you and me, to repentance. The day of salvation was drawing near, and his job was to prepare the way. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!’” John preached and baptized, but not to gain fame and a following for himself, instead his job was simply to point to another: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

God also did not send John into a vacuum. He sent the witness to the Light into a world, our world, which was devastated and filled with mourning. The consequence of the first sin of Adam and Eve was that of death, and in every generation since, humanity has been in a constant state of mourning. We are sinful, and therefore must die, as Paul says in Romans “the wages of sin is death.” This is made graphically demonstrated again to us every time that we lose a loved one, every time that we hear of another tragedy, and every time that someone we have looked up to who has died. When the casket sits at the front of the church, or when we walk through a cemetery, we need no one to tell us of the consequence of sin. A person does not die because of specific sins, but instead they die because of the infection of sin that fills us all, that has consumed us since the earliest days of creation. We screwed up God’s perfect world, and through humanity death came into the world, and it has not left. Humanity is therefore condemned to mourning throughout our days. We are condemned to fear death because of our sin, because deep down our human conscience knows what we deserve for our sin. The wages of sin is death, but that phrase does not only describe temporal death. The wages of sin is eternal death, death forever in hell.

That is what humanity’s sin deserves after death, but even in this world sin wreaks havoc. Every one of you could tell me a different story of how sin has invaded your lives, or the lives of your parents, or the lives of your children. Sin destroys lives, it destroys marriages, it destroys families. Humanity’s sin has left us the legacy of devastated lives, lives in ruin, lives that may never be the same. Our sin, this infection that clings to our very bones, leaves us in this situation. But there is even more than this. Our sin causes us to only look at our own problems, our own legacy. However, humanity’s guilt extends far beyond our own lives. The sin that fills us from conception, the sin that has been passed down to all who are children of Adam and Eve, has left a devastated world, a world in ruin. It may be hard to comprehend, but the simple fact is that humanity’s sin, your sin and my sin, has created a world filled with death, a world that is in shambles, a world that is in decay.

It was into this world, our world of death and mourning, desolation and despair, that God sent His anointed One. The Messiah declares in our Old Testament lesson for today: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” This Advent season we greet God’s Anointed One, the one appointed from all eternity to preach the good news to all who mourn and all whose lives are devastated. A little baby born in a stable in a dusty town called Bethlehem was this Anointed One, He was the one who was to proclaim this good news. When this same Jesus Christ stepped into the Jordan’s muddy waters to be baptized by the desert preacher, He began His mission of restoring and reversing all that our sin had so completely and utterly corrupted. As He says in our text, His mission was “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In the Old Testament, God established a Year of Jubilee for His people, a time when slaves were liberated, debts were forgiven, and people returned to their homes. But this Year of Jubilee was not only for the people of Israel, it was a prophecy of what God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, would do.

As our text says, Jesus was anointed to “bring good news to the poor.” His proclamation was the proclamation of Advent, the proclamation of Christmas- the Messiah has come, and He has come in the most unexpected way. He has come as God in the flesh, true man yet true God, a baby born in a stable in Bethlehem, yet the Lord of heaven and earth. He has come to the poor of this world, all who have been beaten down by sin, all who have spent their days in mourning, all who have seen their lives and their world devastated by sin. He came to “bind up the brokenhearted,” you and me, all who are burdened with the loss of loved ones, who fear the consequences and the just punishment for our sin. He came to us to bind up our wounds, to heal and make new all that had been ruined by the rule of sin.

Jesus Christ was on a rescue mission. He was anointed to release all that were in the bonds of fear, the shackles of sin and death. He declares the He was sent “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison to those who are bound.” The word here used for ‘liberate’ is only used in the context of Year of Jubilee, when the nation of Israel freed all of her slaves and cancelled all debts. Those who had been bound were now truly free, but they remained in bondage to sin. The Year of Jubilee had no power over sin and death. Only Jesus could deal with those slavemasters, and He could only do this by allowing Himself to be bound, by giving Himself up to sinful men, to the very ones He had come to liberate. And so He was seized by a mob, God in the flesh bound and delivered to death. Jesus Christ refused to exercise His heavenly power, He allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross, because it was only through the blood flowing from His forehead, His hands, and His feet that all mankind could be saved. He who was free was bound for you, for me, and for all who languished in the bondage of sin. There He died, and was bound once again, this time sealed into a tomb. But the bonds of death, the supposed triumph of sin and Satan, did not keep Him there. Jesus broke those bonds for you and when He did, He broke your bonds as well. His message of liberty and freedom was fulfilled that Easter Sunday, and it was fulfilled for you!

His shed blood on the cross and victorious resurrection reverses all the consequences of sin, all the mourning and desolation that has filled our lives and this world. Because of His death and resurrection, Jesus comes “to grant to those who mourn in Zion- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” This proclamation is for you! We have been delivered from the dominion of death, our deaths no longer are a doorway to hell, but instead are the beautiful gateway to heaven! We still mourn, we still miss those who have gone before us, but now our mourning is mixed with rejoicing, the oil of gladness and the garment of praise now cover us. We rejoice because they now taste eternal glory, they are at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, we rejoice because we too will join them someday. Moreover, we know that the devastation of this sinful, corrupted world will be renewed. As our text says: “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” On the Last Day, all will be made new and perfect, the dominion of sin in this world will be ended, and we will live in the new heavens and the new earth.

Until that Day, God promises us: “I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.” Because Jesus Christ came to us as a little baby, as the Anointed One come to save, because He set us free through His death and resurrection, reversing the mourning and desolation that fills this world, we are given an everlasting covenant. The nation of Israel has fulfilled its purpose in bringing forth the Messiah, and now it gives way for the new Israel, the Church, which is in the midst of the people, the offspring that the Lord has blessed. We can say triumphantly with those in our text: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” The garments of salvation were placed on us in our Baptism, they cover us like a white robe with Christ’s very own righteousness, when God looks at us He sees His children, those redeemed by His Son. We are covered in Christ’s blood, we are clothed with the garments He won for us, and for that reason we rejoice.

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.” The Gospel, the good news that the Anointed One proclaims, makes us righteous and motivates our praise. As those who have been liberated by Christ, what else can we do but praise Him? But as our text says, this is not something we do, it is the work of God in us, He is the actor in bringing forth righteousness and praise. God is working within us so that the concluding benediction of our Epistle lesson will be fulfilled: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” Amen.

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