Thursday, December 15, 2011
Sermon on Isaiah 40:6-9, for Advent 3, "Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates"
1. Frailty and shortness of our own flesh and life contrasted with the Word of our God will stand forever. This is not any word of God that stands forever, but the word of the covenant God, Yahweh, who graciously reenters into a relationship with Israel to bestow his gift of double comfort. The psalmist says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, your word brings me life” (Ps 119:50).
2. The entire book of Isaiah is dominated by a profound theology of Yahweh’s word. Creative Word. Word going from Jerusalem to call all nations to learn Yahweh’s ways of peace (2:1–5). Spiritual life is depends on hearing and responding to this word (37:33–35).
3. As all flesh, all human achievement, effort and striving could be seen to wither and fade away around them, the Israelites left in exile in Babylon were despairing, longing for home. They wept as they remembered the “good old days” when they worshipped in the splendor of Solomon’s temple, worked and shopped in the City of David, and saw the beauty of the Mount of Olives. Oh to be home again! Instead they were surrounded by false gods/idol worship. Wept as they remembered that they had no king, no temple, no royal city, no land, no liturgy, no sacrifice, no hope, no future and no song. How can they sing God’s songs while in a foreign land?
4. Some of us are far away from home; all of us are far away from the Father. It’s the way we operate. We are, again, right here, just now, exiled in a Babylon of our own making. Like the Israelites who were exiled for their idolatry, we too have engaged in making ‘gods’ of our own design. We chose what it looks like. We personalize it with our preferences. It’s just what we want in a god. It’s a god who likes what I like, hates what I hate, and who shares my opinion. It is a god who increases my standard of living and happiness. This is a god who gives me what I want and stays out of my way the rest of the time. John Calvin states that the human heart is a perpetual idol factory. First commandment, Luther states in his Large Catechism, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.”
5. What are some of the idols you and I are building? We’ve sold our baptismal inheritance and faith in the True God, and ended up with double lives, empty relationships, and inflated egos. We’ve manufactured gods of our own design, and as a result, we’ve learned the hard way what the Psalmist says: “The sorrows of those who run after other gods shall multiply.” (16:4). And so we have no song to sing. In our exile God speaks.
6. So what is the answer? In the context of such massive idolatry we have a word from God. Isaiah says, “Behold your God!” we who love God must make a dwelling place for the eternal Word of God (40:8), in our minds and hearts, for he dwells in our hearts by faith. (Cyril of Alexandria).
7. The eternal Word of God came in human flesh. In the fullness of time he came, and in one instant, he made himself breakable. He who was larger than the universe became a Babe. Our God came, not as a flash of light, or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard in a cattle stall along with cows and sheep. His feet will feel the cold sea water and writhe at the invasion of the nail. His heart will be torn by people’s accusations and be crushed under the weight of our sin. His eyes will see our shame, for we cannot hide. They will see our selfishness, for we cannot give. And they will see our pain, for we are so full of hurt. His hands will touch lepers, hold little children, break bread, feel the ground at Gethsemane, and be stretched out on a Roman instrument of death.
8. Because he bled and died in our place, Jesus demonstrates that he alone is able to heal our hurts, forgive our sins, and defeat our death. No wonder the Bible says that idols are nothing and chaos and only compound our pain because a cross-less “god” is no god at all. No other god has the marks of nails in his hands. A “god” who doesn’t suffer, a god who knows no agony, a god who doesn’t die; this is a god without grace, a god who cannot deliver, and a god who offers no hope and no future. But this is not our Jesus! He is crucified, but risen indeed! So it is time to turn in our tools, stop building substitutes, throw away the idols, and to fall down and worship in glorious awe, the True God who is powerful to save, and who has ransomed us from our exile, and brought us home. “Behold your God!” Behold your God Jesus Christ, and receive in your heart His eternal word that is powerful to save. Here at last is reason for our songs of praise to return, and for us to lift up our heads with joy and thanksgiving at the sight of our coming King!