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Advent 2 – “The Way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:1-11)

04 Dec

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Old Testament which was read earlier.
The prophecy was told of long ago in Isaiah: a Savior was coming. Today is about John the Baptist. Today is about the message that he is proclaiming: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The message that John the Baptist is one “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John is the one who is coming to herald the coming of Christ. As you can imagine, this must be a daunting task. Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of John, proclaiming the coming of Christ. You are the forerunner to the Christ. You are the opening act with Jesus as the headliner. The message that you proclaim is one that needs to be less about you and more about Christ. That is exactly what John the Baptist did.
For the Israelites of old, they were in exile in Babylon. They were displaced and unhappy. Many of them were without hope. They recognized that God was punishing them but believed this was only temporary. Everything that God had promised to them now lay in ruins. Surely God would not allow this to go on forever. But as one generation passed, and then another, the Israelites’ hope dwindled. Some argued that God cannot keep His promises. Others said that it was even worse than that, that God had cast them off forever. Ultimately, there was little hope that God would take action and rescue them.
What the Israelites failed to realize was that everything happened on God’s timetable and not theirs. Isaiah records, “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 only did God not abandon them, God continued to provide and care for them. And to make things all the richer for the Israelites, God is giving them double for the sins they have committed!
Now if you’re an Israelite, then this is very good news for you. It means that God has not forsaken them as they had thought. It means that not only has God forgiven them of their sins, He grants to them double. How strange that must sound. For every sin that they had committed, God grants to them twice the blessing. Things can’t get any better for them, or can they?
This message of Isaiah to the Israelites is also a message of hope and comfort to you as well. This tiny Baby who will be born in a manger has come for you. He has come to pardon your iniquity. He has come to give to you double for all of your sins. That message is what John the Baptist came preaching.
God did not want His people Israel in exile to despair. He sent His prophet with a message of great hope and comfort to them. The prophet called for Israel to look forward eagerly, to expect God to return them from exile and set up His rule and glory for all to see. What a remarkable message – if you could dare to belief it!
Why couldn’t they belief it? This was what had been promised for so long. When did God ever go back on His promise? When did God ever totally abandon His people? There was no reason why they should doubt it. Isaiah’s message was a message to remind them of God’s promises.
What was the message that Isaiah preached? It was the message of Jesus. It was the message of a Savior. As Isaiah records, “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” These weren’t just foolish dreams and wild musings on the part of Isaiah. These were the prophecies that God revealed to him. It can’t be foolish dreams and wild musings if they come from God. God gave Israel a new lease on life, and vindicated His prophet who dared Israel to hope.
John the Baptist took these words to heart. Actually, John reinforced these ideas for the people. He proclaimed that he was himself “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD,” not by making himself the focus but by turning to the Lord, by turning to the One whom the Lord had spoken of, Jesus Christ. John the Baptist came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Then, the glory of God came in the person of Jesus. God sent to us His Son to live and to die a criminal’s death. Does that sound like God’s glory to you? Yes it is! It is the glorious suffering that Isaiah speaks of in chapter 53: “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” This is what Christ came to do. This was what John the Baptist came preaching and this is what Isaiah prophesied.
God called on His people in exile to take comfort and hope in His impending rescue. Today, He calls on us as well to take heart, for He is taking over and caring for His people throughout history since the promise was made in the Garden.
When we are a people in exile, where God’s promises and power seem far from us, where shall we find hope? The answer is in God, of course. In the hints of His glory that is breaking through, one sees the face of Jesus. In Him, God’s glory is breaking in, setting up God’s rule. God’s love pours through the lives of His people in the promised Savior, Jesus.
The Gospel is our hope and our comfort, and the changing winds of time cannot touch it. People come and go, but God’s Word is true, His promises are unchanging, just as Isaiah says: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Our salvation is sure because God is guaranteeing it. Our sins have been forgiven. This comfort doesn’t rest upon us or our opinions. It isn’t a fad or a fashion or some other creature of time. It is the Word of God. It is the truth of God. It is the gift of God. It is the Gospel, and it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe!
It cannot be changed. Don’t get me wrong, people are always trying to change it. But, if we change it, it is no longer the Gospel! It doesn’t need to be improved. It cannot be destroyed. We can abandon it, but it will not abandon us. We can mess it up, and proclaim something else much more in keeping with the times – but that ‘something else’ won’t have the power to save. It won’t have God’s promise of salvation. It won’t have the power to comfort anyone. And God calls to us through the centuries, through His unchanging Word, to proclaim His Comfort. The Comfort we are looking for, the Comfort that we need comes to us in Jesus, heralded by John the Baptist, prophesied by Isaiah, given to you in a manger. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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Posted by on December 4, 2011 in Advent, Sermons

 

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