Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: Week 3 (December 18, 2019)

ISAIAH 40:9-11

Advent Points To A Person.

In the name + of Jesus.

     If you ask people about the special feelings that Christmas brings, you will hear a lot of common answers—even from people who have no interest in the church.  People will say Christmas brings peace, joy, and love.  You can find the words “Peace, Joy, and Love” stitched into hand towels or painted onto wall hangings.  I don't think anyone will fault you if you want to find peace, joy, and love at Christmas, or at any point in the year. 
     The problem, however, is that peace, joy, and love are pretty hard to locate.  For some,  peace, joy, and love are supposed to be found in a quiet, candle-lit, cozy setting.  For others, they are to be delivered by a raucous, chatter-filled party.  At least, that's how the advertisers say it's supposed to work, but rarely do our lives and homes match the ads.  Even if you can fabricate your moment of peace, joy, and love, the moment does not last.
     When Isaiah proclaimed his Advent message, he wanted sinners to know that peace, joy, and love can, indeed, be found.  In fact, they are not captured for a moment, but endure with you through all seasons, moods, and circumstances.  For Isaiah, peace, joy, and love are not abstract things.  Advent points to a person.  Peace, joy, and love are all found in Jesus.
     Peace, joy, and love tend to elude us because of sin and the consequences of sin.  Blessings are ripped away from us.  Regrets haunt us.  Fear cripples us.  When Isaiah declares, “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him,” (Isaiah 40:10), this sounds like a threat.  If God comes with recompense, that sounds like God comes with revenge and that we are getting our comeuppance.
     It is understandable that we would feel this way.  Our own conscience testifies that we are not as good as we credit ourselves for.  While we knock ourselves out to create peace, joy, and love, we get annoyed by others who are trying to do the same thing.  We assume others are self-absorbed and rude.  We voice our judgment with an eye-roll, a groan, or even a low-toned-“I-hope-you-could-hear-that” comment.  But all we have done is demonstrate is our own self-absorbed priorities. 
     We fail to know or to care about the burdens others are carrying.  Who knows if that woman consumed with worry about her son who is deployed?  Or if that man is coping with his wife's Alzheimer's?  Or if that young lady is recovering from a miscarriage?  These people may be doing what they can just to get through the holidays.  We assume the worst of them, writing them off as annoying or rude.  If we fear God's judgment for this, it's because it is deserved.  Repent.
     Peace, joy, and love do not come naturally to sinners.  Nor can they be fabricated.  They must be given by God.  They are.  And they are not given in abstract, theoretical terms.  Advent points to a person.  Advent reminds us that a Savior comes not just to talk about blessings and healing and compassion, but to give them.
     Isaiah summons those who bear good news to raise up their voices and to declare to God's people, “Behold, the Lord GOD comes!” (Isaiah 40:10)  Since it is good news, the reward and recompense he brings is not judgment.  It is the opposite.  It is deliverance from judgment.  It is the pardoning of guilt.  It is the end of God's wrath upon sinners.  Once again, these things are not proclaimed out of thin air.  Advent points to a person.  Your God comes in the flesh to save you.  God's love is revealed in person. 
     All people recognize that love is best expressed in person.  You might get a letter from your beloved, scented with perfume or cologne.  Their smell makes you feel like they are closer, but it certainly does not replace that person.  A phone call is better, because you get to hear their voice.  If you Skype, you can even see their face.  But when that person walks through your door, you drop everything and wrap that person in a hug.  It is not that you loved your loved one less when they were away.  But love in person is much more real, tangible, and endearing.
     Therefore, God did not limit his love, his peace, and his joy to words that are preached or written.  Advent points to a person.  The Savior comes in the flesh to rescue sinners from God's wrath by taking that wrath in your place.  God's wrath is not theoretical, and therefore Jesus' crucifixion was not either.  Behold!  Your God comes to redeem sinners from their guilt by bleeding and dying as the sacrifice that pays for sins.  That payment does not happen in theory, but by God in the flesh.  God comes in the flesh to save sinners from death and renders the grave powerless by rending the tomb open in his resurrection.  Behold, the Lord GOD comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. (Isaiah 40:10)  His reward is the salvation he won by his life and death, and now he rewards you with his gifts.
     Advent points to a person.  Just as his salvation was earned by real and tangible ways, so he delivers his love, peace, and joy to you in tangible ways.  Yes, it comes by proclamation.  But he also attaches his word to water so that you are visibly, tangibly cleansed of all sin.  He attaches his word to bread and wine so that you literally taste and touch and smell and see that the Lord is good, and so that you ingest the body and blood which has paid for sins and has destroyed death.  Advent points to a person, and this person comes to you in real ways with love, peace, and joy.
     Advent points to a person whose love, peace, and joy continue through all seasons, moods, and circumstances.  Isaiah declared, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)  Jesus assures you, again and again, of divine love, peace, and joy.  He is the faithful shepherd who knows that you are weak and that your world is fragile.  It does not take much to bring us to tears, to become overwhelmed with stress, or to recoil at the bitterness that life makes us swallow.  This is why Jesus has come for you.  He has not only rescued you from the sin that produces death, but he also guides and carries you through the difficulties of life.  You may struggle against temptations, but his mercy endures through all of it.  You may lose many blessings in this world—wealth, reputation, and even friends.  But you never lose Jesus or his blessings.  He lives and reigns forever.  Therefore, his love remains constant.  His peace survives every disaster.  His joy sustains you even through grief. 
     Advent points to a person—a person who came to our world and knows that it is a gritty, cruel place.  But this person, Jesus, consoles you, strengthens you, and gives you a kingdom to look forward to which is everlasting peace, joy, and love.  But he does not make you wait to have these.  God is not disinterested in you; he loves you.  God is not angry with you; he has declared peace.  God does not leave you in doubt or grief; his promises produce joy. 
     Love, peace, and joy are not feelings to be fabricated; they are personified in Jesus.  Advent points to a real person who gives real blessings.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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