Archive for December 4th, 2011

Behold Your God!

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

2nd Sunday in Advent B, December 4th, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Isaiah 40:1-11

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What kind of God do we serve?  When we give a testimony about Him to our neighbors, what should we say?  Well listen to His own  Words and then behold your God: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her  warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Not just once, “Comfort”, but twice, “Comfort, comfort.” So the Lord begins with a single repeated command; it’s a command to the  preacher of God’s Word, that would be me, and it’s a command to God’s ambassadors, that would be you. This command flows from the  mind of God, and God himself directed it to his messengers, messengers who will announce the good news of his love. God wants  everyone to hear this message. He claims all people as His own when He calls them, “my people.”  Think about that for a moment; after  all of our unfaithfulness, all our rebellion, all our sins, we are still his people. God remains our God; for us He is still faithful and  gracious, just as he promised to be: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and  faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6, 7).

What is our warfare?  It is our struggle to fulfill God’s Law.  It is realizing that because of our sin we can’t make things right with God.  But in order for our warfare to be over, in order to receive a double portion of God’s own comfort we will need to see our sin and want it removed; we need to hunger for His forgiveness; we need to receive it according to His terms and not ours.  Each of us must admit that we alone bear the responsibility for our hard life, the hard service that our life represents.  It was our own sin that separated us from God’s love and it is our insistence on atoning for that sin our own way that causes such warfare.

This morning God’s is asking each of us to agree with Him that all of our accomplishments, the things that we count as good are like grass and the beauty of wild flowers in a field.  The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it, when He calls us home.  Then all of our goodness vanishes as we stand before a perfect and holy God.

This was the message of John the Baptist as he lived his life proclaiming the way of the Lord; preparing the way of the Lord!

This morning, that same Word, that same message is crying out to us from the wilderness of our hearts: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Prepare the way of the Lord. To our sinful ears, this is a hard word to understand, because it sounds like God is asking us to do even more to earn His love; but that is exactly what He isn’t saying.  No, instead, He’s telling us that He will no longer let us do things our way.   To prepare the way of the Lord means to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s activity in us, so that He alone may be our source of help and pride; so that our lives and eternities will be one with His Son Jesus Christ. But how is this way prepared? What are the obstacles and obstructions we are to remove?  Nothing other than our own arrogance and pride. Those are the very things that prevent people from receiving the grace of Christ.

So how hard can it be?  Well to walk this way, you have to get onto God’s royal highway naked as a Jay bird!  You can’t travel with any merits of your own; you have to receive only the clothing that God provides!  You must be clothed only with His double gifts of grace and faith!  Your heart must agree with the psalmist and say: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand,” (who could walk on your royal road to your royal kingdom)? “But with you there is forgiveness (there is grace and faith)” [Psalm 130:3]

Now, this is where all sinners equally stand at the edge of a cliff; they will either allow God to turn them away from certain death and see the beauty of God’s way, or they will ignore the way of the Lord all together and jump head-long into pride and an eternity of death.  Those who chose death hear the command to prepare the way of the Lord and say, “What more do you want me to do? I go to church every Sunday and I try to be good. What do you want from me now?” But what they fail to see is that if there is any doing to be done, it must be done by God.  They fail to see that the mountains and valleys that God wants leveled are in our own hearts.  Martin Luther said that the Mountains are saints, and valleys are sinners. As we stand before God all of us are the same without distinction, whether we are saints or sinners. In fact, you who are baptized are both at the same time!  This is the way of God; He levels the playing field.  But why? So that the gospel can be receive by everyone with the exact same assurance; God’s Word gives exactly what it promises… an eternal life of peace with God.  Before God all things must be leveled.

In God’s declaration of double comfort is the assurance that the Law has been fulfilled for us.  Our sin has been removed from us.  He is telling us that we have been set free from our sins, not by working and struggling but by the forgiveness that the Son of God, Jesus Christ provided for us through His suffering and death upon the cross. This is the continual message of God’s Word, which teaches deliverance from sins by forgiveness and grace; grace completely removed from anything we do or fail to do.  This is not the way of the world, but it is God’s way!  God’s way is the gospel, and the gospel doesn’t look backwards at the life we led, but it looks to Jesus Christ upon the cross Who and says, “Believe God, trust in God. For your faith receives forgiveness for sins.”

Faith is completely a gift from God.  It allows you to hear His Word and believe it.  It is a Word, which declares that you are no longer a slave to sin; you are no longer locked in the dungeon of fear and pain! Your hard service is over, not because you’ve earned it or because you’ve done your time and satisfied the law. No, your bondage is over because God has provided your release through his Son, Jesus Christ!

Jesus alone paid the debt, a debt caused by every twisted and perverted sin ever committed, even your sins!  Your debt has been paid off. Your sins are forgiven; they  were paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

So as our reading says this morning, we have been paid double.  Not only have we been forgiven and promised to receive the blessing of an eternal life of peace with God, but we may also enjoy that blessing in the here and now, in this sinful world.  But you have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  How?  By speaking the gospel.  The gospel alone saves people from all sin.  It alone is what saved you, correct?  So the voice of God speaks to us this morning and says, Cry out!  You who have heard the good news and been freed from the bondage of your own sins, “lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, and do not be afraid; say to the people in your community, “Here is your God!”  See the Sovereign Lord born in a manger; see Him high and lifted up, crucified for you… for your sins.  He is the Sovereign Lord who is coming again with power and His arm rules for Him.  His arm is His Holy Word, and His reward and recompense is in the gospel for you.  Jesus died to save you!

Speak the gospel, and do not be afraid to give your witness, because that witness and the Word of God are the very power of God!  No one can become a Christian, no one can be saved unless they hear the Word of God and receive the gift of faith from God which comes through the hearing of His Word.

I’d like to close with a Christmas story that explains very nicely how God prepares us and puts us on His road of salvation.  It was Christmas almost Fifty years ago when a man named Rex was stationed in Korea as a young Marine lieutenant. His wife and new born daughter were home in the United States.

On Christmas morning the thermometer hovered around zero with several inches of snow covering the ground. Outdoor worship services were planned and Rex decided to attend out of respect and “to set a good example for the other men.” Nearly two hundred Marines turned out for the service. They sat on their helmets in the snow. They faced a small portable altar. The chaplains had no microphones, and the portable organ suffered from the extreme cold.

Something happened to Rex in that worship service. God broke into his life. He thought of all that was precious to him: home, his wife, his unseen infant child. In that moment as they tried to sing Christmas carols in the cold air he realized that knowing God does not depend on anything he has done or will do; it doesn’t depend on a building or nice clothes, instead knowing God is an act that God does in our hearts so that it can be celebrated and shared with others.” Far from home and loved ones, Rex realized that Christmas Day — in itself — is not important, but the faith it represents is.”

The truth is, God often breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. He always does it through His Word and He does it through people speaking and sharing that Word.

Behold the mystery of your God; He comes to you in your own language!  Born as a baby in a manger; beaten and bloodied by the government and mocked with the words, “Behold your king!”  Crucified to silence Him, and now reigning with power and might!  Behold your God!  Behold the Lord God comes as your Savior who will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, (even you); he will carry (you) in his bosom, and gently lead to your eternal heavenly home.  Come Lord Jesus, come!  AMEN!