Sunday, December 11, 2005
Sermon - Isaiah 61:1-3,10-11 - Advent 3
3rd Sunday in Advent – December 11th, 2005
I. Introduction –
How many different ways can you say the same thing? How many ways to say “I love you”? How many ways to say “yes” or “no” or “thanks”?
How many different ways can we express the content of our faith? Jesus loves me this I know. Jesus died for us on the cross. He forgives my sins. He saves me, reconciles me to God, renews my life, makes me his child, promises an inheritance, makes us holy, righteous, blameless. He redeems us, he defeats the devil, he rescues us, restores us…. Well, I could go on.
While sometimes it’s a challenge for the preacher to express the truth of the Gospel in a fresh way, in reality, there are so many ways it can be said. Just ask Isaiah. Today’s reading, a messianic prophecy, bubbles over with a multitude of expressions – all telling the same good news that Christ brings.
II. …Good News to the Poor…
A young child was working feverishly to draw a picture. Breaking his hard concentration, his mother asked him,. “what are you drawing?”
“I’m drawing a picture of God,” he said.
To which his mother inquired, “But nobody knows what God looks like…”
This didn’t stop the boy, who simply said, “They will when I am done!”
Isaiah, in a sense, is painting a picture for us today of what it will look like when the Messiah comes. He was looking forward to that day. And we look both back on the Christ who came and forward to the Christ who is to come. Either way, when Christ comes, things look different.
Jesus turns everything upside down in this listing of opposites – “not this, but that”
In our sin, we are all these things and more: poor, brokenhearted, captives, prisoners, mourners, filthy with ashes, filled with despair.
But in our savior we are: rich, healed, free, comforted, clean, beautiful, and full of praise to our great God.
The good news he brings is ALWAYS the answer to the problem we are having. Are you poor? Christ makes you rich. Are you soiled? He makes you clean. Are you mourning? He brings you comfort. Are you captive? He makes you free.
Perhaps you’ve seen the series of commercials, in which someone has a problem, and another says, “but I have good news!” “well what is it?” “I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance…”
Jesus has good news, and it has nothing to do with insurance. It is a good news which actually applies to us and our problems. It is a good news that is real and meaningful and powerful. He comes to turn our sinful world upside down.
John the Baptist had a part in painting the picture too. John’s news was that someone was coming with greater news. But (in Luke 7) even John had his moments of doubt. Thrown in prison for speaking up against Herod, John sent some disciples to ask if Jesus really was the one after all. And better than giving a simple yes or no, Jesus says,
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
Jesus reverses all these conditions: Blindness, Deafeness, Lameness, Leprosy and even Death. But the real kicker, the most important part is the last – that the good news is preached to the poor. It’s as if Jesus is pointing John (and us) back to Isaiah 61 – to show that, yes, he fulfills the promise, he delivers the goods, he brings the good news.
But there’s two more pictures of what life is like when Christ comes, two more ways of describing this good news:
III. Dressed for the Occasion
With Christmas approaching, perhaps you have a special outfit in mind.
We often dress up for special occasions. And perhaps no life event is more formal than a wedding.
Isaiah picks up on that image – that when the Lord comes, it will be like a wedding. A day which is long awaited. A day which is a great celebration. A day which is a highpoint of the year – even, of your life. So dress appropriately!
But what if you have nothing to wear? That’s how we all are. We look in the closet of our heart and find that the moths of sin have destroyed the garments. We have nothing of our own to wear, except, as Isaiah puts it, “a spirit of despair”.
We are like Adam and Eve, shamefully hiding our sins from the Lord. The best they could do was sew together some fig leaves – makeshift coverings at best. When God comes to the garden, He is well aware of their sin. But rather than shame them further, he provides for them. In his mercy, he makes them clothing from the skin of animals.
As Adam and Eve are dressed by the Lord, we too must be dressed by him. But for us, there isn’t a dead animal and a fur coat. Instead God sacrifices his son, and we are clothed with Christ. As Revelation 7 says it, those in heaven have “washed their robes in the blood of the lamb”. Or, as Isaiah here says, “he has clothed me with garments of salvation, and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness”. That’s what things look like when the Messiah comes. That’s how God dresses us in Christ. That’s the good news!
And one final image:
IV. The Garden of Righteousness
Now to the agricultural. Twice Isaiah refers to this planting. And here too there is a great change afoot, and good news to hear.
From the tiny acorn to the might oak tree – one of nature’s great contrasts.
Like the faith the size of a mustard seed, which grows to a large bush.
When God begins, he seems to start out small. But before you know it, big things happen.
Our faith is like that too. It begins with a few words, and a little water. And this small thing we call baptism has the power to save a soul for eternity! God starts small, and ends big!
Not too unlike the humble babe in a manger, who as a man dies in shame on a Roman cross, and by doing so pays for the sins of the world. God takes the small, the humble, the lowly, and he works wonders.
And of course, as always, God does the doing. Just as he sends the messenger with the good news, just as he takes the spirit of despair and clothes us with a garment of praise, so too the righteousness he brings to us and for us, he plants it, he waters it, he makes it grow. We simply receive the blessings.
Today, we hear the good news. Whether it’s about new clothes or an impressive garden, or a little baby in a manger - it’s the same good news we always hear, told in slightly different ways. Christ always brings good news to the poor.
Isaiah’s poetic prophecy makes it clear - the good news of Jesus brings rejoicing where there was despair. Let us ever delight in the Lord!