“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this joyous afternoon is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifty-second chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Dear friends in Christ: the feet are dirty, dusty, smelly. They are caked with mud, covered in callouses, afflicted with blisters. Every mile is revealed in those hardened soles, every step is reflected in the filth that dwells between the toes. The feet are a horror to look at, their stench causes many to recoil, it drives some people away. But not those who were waiting for just such feet. To them, these feet are the most beautiful sight of all. The mud and dust is a delight to the eyes, the stench is a pleasing aroma, for these feet carry a voice. The filth doesn’t matter, in fact, these feet are treasured despite their dirt and grime because it was their task to take a voice to those who were appointed to hear it, to those who needed to hear it. The voice carries words that he has been sent to speak, words that are not his own, but have been given to him. These feet are treasured, they are beautiful, because they carry a voice that publishes peace, bringing good news of happiness, publishing salvation. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!”
This voice, carried upon beautiful feet, speaks to ruins, to a desolate waste. This voice speaks to eyes that can only see destruction, a city that has become a desert. Eyes look around them and see tottering buildings, steeples falling, pews emptying, budgets getting tighter and youth groups dwindling. Eyes see a culture that has become a wasteland, that swallows up the unprepared and kills them slowly with its promises of freedom, freedom that is actually bondage. Eyes see a church that is increasingly marginalized, that is driven out of the public square into the wilderness. Then eyes look closer to home, and see the wasteland that is their own life. Their relationships are a barren land, torn by anger and enmity, shattered by divorce and break-ups. Their body is a ruined city, as their health fails, as they live in the bondage of disease and addiction. And every day spent trying to get ahead in the wilderness, trying to provide for their family, just shows how parched the desert really is. The eyes can see no hope of salvation; the ruins cannot resurrect themselves, the wasteland cannot make itself a fertile field. Scaffolding cannot save a tottering church or society, any solution that the ruins propose is doomed to failure. Government cannot legislate away the desert, medicine cannot overcome the wasteland, the church finds each of its own solutions futile against the wilderness.
It is to those very ruins, the ruins of a shattered society and shattered church, the ruins of shattered lives, that God sends a voice, a voice to speak His Word: “The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.” The voice is the voice of the watchman, who declares the return of the Lord to His people, who calls on them to make themselves ready for His coming. The voice calls for paths to be made straight, for mountains to be laid low, for rough places to be made a plain. In short, the voice calls for repentance. The voice calls on eyes who see the desolation around them so well to see the wasteland within and turn away from it. The voice calls out sins by name, specifically warning his hearers from the paths of the desert, from the bondage of the wilderness. He has a solemn charge from God: “Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” Woe to the voice who does not speak! The wicked will die in his sins, but the voice will be held accountable; he is compelled by God Himself to speak.
But the voice is not only compelled to speak a word of warning; he prepares for the coming of the Lord by calling for repentance, but as a watchman on the ruined walls, it is his joy to announce the coming banners of the King. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” The voice cannot bring salvation, any more than the ruins can resurrect themselves, but it is his great joy to announce it. The King has returned, He has come in the flesh, and He has returned to resurrect the shattered walls, to renew the desert, to make the wasteland a fertile field. The voice announces that the King, Jesus Christ, came into the wilderness to overcome it, that He gave Himself up into death, even death upon a cross, to destroy the power that the desert of death had over you. He bore your sins, every one of them, to the cross; He laid them on His own back, and then exposed that back to the scourge and the whip for you to break your bonds. Jesus Christ came to His people, He came to you, in the midst of your distress, in the wasteland that fills your life, and He conquered it with His death and victorious resurrection. He comforts you in your distress, for He has redeemed you, He has paid the price for you with His own blood; the wilderness could not overcome Him, to the King belongs the victory, “Your God reigns!”
God reigns despite all the desolation that eyes see; God reigns, and the victory of Christ is given to all who are baptized into His Name. That is the message that the voice has been sent to speak into your life, in every situation: God reigns; look to the cross, not to the wasteland, to see the truth: sin, death, and hell, the wilderness, the wasteland, the desert, have been overcome, triumphed over by the King who returned, Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One. That is what the voice declares: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again! The voice tells you who dwell in the wilderness of sin that your sin is forgiven; when specific sins are condemned, the voice speaks specific forgiveness: Christ died for all sins, and the voice who hears your confession tells you that Christ died for that sin, too. The voice tells you, as hands splash water on your head, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and it declares to you with the words of Jesus, as hands place bread into your mouth and hold wine to your lips, “This is my Body; This is my Blood.” This voice comes into the midst of your lives lived in the wilderness, into your living room, to your bedside, holding your hand at the point of death and declaring, “Your God reigns!” The voice doesn’t bring salvation; all he can do is announce it, suffer for it, and die because of it. He cannot heal disease, fix every problem, or ‘save your congregation.’ He is only a voice, but a voice speaking of the victory that overcomes the devastation of sin.
And this voice calls on the ruins to rejoice in the salvation brought by Jesus, to celebrate the resurrection in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death. “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem.” The voice calls on the ruins to rejoice even now, even in the midst of the wasteland, because salvation has come, victory has been won, and the day of vindication is near. God reigns, despite the desolation that fills this world; it is not what the eyes see but what the ears hear that is true: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. The fact of the cross and empty tomb stand against the wilderness, they testify that the wasteland will one day be made fertile again, giving you hope as you walk in the desert. And so the ruins rejoice, they sing praises to the King, to Jesus Christ, their crucified and risen Lord, because they know that a Day is coming when eyes will see what voices speak and ears hear, when the victory proclaimed by the voice is seen clearly by the entire world. “The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
The feet are dirty, dusty, smelly. They are caked with mud, covered in callouses, afflicted with blisters. They have traveled from Montana to Nebraska, from Nebraska to Indiana, from Indiana to Iowa to Indiana and back again, then from western Iowa to central Iowa. Every mile is revealed in those hardened soles, but there is more to this grime than the lengthy journey. These feet are those of a sinner, they carry not only the dust of the miles but the corruption of the Fall, they are in as need of the absolving Word of Christ as you are. The feet of a sinner cause many to recoil, they drive some people away; they cannot imagine that God would use such an instrument to speak His Word, and so many reject such earthly means. But not those who were waiting for just such feet. To you, the saints of Redeemer Lutheran Church, these feet are a beautiful sight. These feet are treasured despite their dirt and grime because it is their task to take a voice to those whom God appointed to hear it, to those who need to hear it. He brought the voice to you, for the voice is His instrument, to stand as a watchman on the ruins, warning from sin and proclaiming the Savior who has overcome it. This voice carries words that he has been sent to speak, words that are not his own, but have been given to him by Jesus Christ Himself. These feet are treasured, they are beautiful, because they carry a voice that publishes peace, bringing good news of happiness, publishing salvation. Rejoice in these feet, rejoice in the family that these feet have brought with it, but rejoice even more in the message the voice speaks. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.