The Lord is My Strength and My Song

Text: Isaiah 12

Sing to the Lord a new song…for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him…He has remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.” Such does the Psalm writer sing in Psalm 98. We didn’t speak that psalm today – we spoke Psalm 66 – but the words of Psalm 98 give us our theme for worship this week as we sing to the Lord a new song. The sermon text today is the reading we heard from the prophet Isaiah, particularly these words, “Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously,” and “the Lord God is my strength and my song.”[1]

These words were spoken by the prophet Isaiah during a time when the Lord’s victory felt to His people as if it were far from certain. In their time, the kingdom of Israel had been ruled by a line of kings for nearly 300 years, many of which were terrible. Those years were filled with war and hardship. Before that, they were ruled by what were called judges, governors more like. Those years were terrible, too. Before that, they were in slavery in Egypt. And yet, Isaiah said, “Sing praises to the Lord.”

Isaiah encouraged the people to sing praises to the Lord, for the day would come when the Lord would deal gloriously with His people, when He would finally put all their enemies and all the things which caused them distress to flight. The day that Isaiah spoke of has now come to pass; Isaiah spoke of Easter. On Easter morning, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. By His resurrection, He defeated for us all the powers of sin, death and hell. He secured for us rescue from this valley of the shadow of death. That Good News gave Isaiah’s audience hope, as we also now have. Through His death and resurrection for us, Jesus has become our strength for this life and our song.

I.

The prophet spoke in our text, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.’ ‘Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.’”[2] Isaiah spoke these words to the king and his officials in the palace courts and to the people in the temple about 700 years before Christ was born, but even he actually wasn’t the first to proclaim these words. They were first sung by Moses and the children of Israel after they had crossed the Red Sea. It says in Exodus 15, “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”[3]

You might remember the story of the Exodus, how for over 400 years God’s children lived in slavery. The image of Charlton Heston in the movie The Ten Commandments will forever be ingrained in my mind. The slavery in Egypt was not pleasant; it was a rough life that continually became worse. From the Bible we know that, when the slaves began to outnumber the Egyptians, Pharaoh ordered that all the male children be thrown into the Nile. But then, after a little while, the Lord answered the cries of His people. He delivered them from their slavery, from their distress and fear, by leading them through the Red Sea on dry ground. No water touched their feet. When Pharaoh and his army tried to do the same, the sea swallowed them up.

It was with that in mind that Isaiah spoke to his people. In Isaiah’s time it wasn’t the Egyptians they feared, but a people called the Assyrians. The Assyrians were conquerors, they were bad guys. A good word to describe them would be, bloodthirsty. The people of Israel were afraid that the Assyrians would come and conquer them and place them in slavery again. And, well, they did. But not for long. The Scriptures tell us that God disciplines those He loves, just like a father disciplines his child. A father disciplines his child for his good. Assyria came and conquered Israel, but the Lord delivered them just as He always did. But, that’s not what Isaiah’s singing about in our text.

II.

Instead, this reading from Isaiah 12 works as both an Easter and a Christmas text. Isaiah said, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the peoples, proclaim that His name is exalted.’ ‘Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously’”[4] From the context, we know that the day of salvation that Isaiah spoke about was not the day of deliverance from Egypt nor the one from Assyria, but something bigger. The day Isaiah’s talking about is the day we hear about every Christmas season, where the shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, the day when the wolf and lamb shall dwell together and the cow and the bear both graze.[5]

Isaiah is talking about the day of Jesus Christ and, in particular, the day of His resurrection from the dead. Jesus Christ, true God from all eternity, became also true man by His conception and birth of the virgin Mary. Though He was without sin and obeyed the Law of God to perfection, He suffered and died on the cross. He did this to pay for our sins. See, our actions – the bad things that we do which hurt others around us – aren’t just bad. They are sinful. A sin is something done against God’s holy will, and God punishes transgressions against His commandments with death. But the wrath and punishment that we deserve were removed from us by Christ. By His death, He took our place in death, so that we might share His place in eternal life. This is called forgiveness. Jesus Christ died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and He gives to you and me eternal life – not because we deserve it, but as a free gift.

III.

I will give thanks to You, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me. ‘Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation…Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously.’”[6] In our congregations, we use what’s called a lectionary. That means that the readings for each Sunday are selected for that Sunday. The readings we use here have been heard by Christians for generations. I selected this text to preach on today because, sometimes we need a reminder of the Lord’s goodness to us, and that He doesn’t leave us hanging.

Sometimes it feels like that. “Running on fumes,” is a good description for how we feel most days. We put on a good face for others because we don’t want to bother them with our troubles. Little by little, our strength grows weak. Illnesses and financial uncertainty, family and work troubles, seem to pound us into the ground until there’s nothing left. The Lord knows this. That’s why He became our strength. He died and rose for us, for the forgiveness of our sins and so that we might have hope. He died and rose so that we might have hope of a life to come, a life with Him and with those who’ve died in the Christian faith, a life without pain or suffering, a life with only joy and happiness – as God intended when He created man. This life that is in Christ, the forgiveness and joy of the life to come, He gives to all freely. In your Baptism and by faith in Jesus you have the forgiveness of sins and the hope of a joyful future. And this gives us strength now.

We have strength now not because of anything in us, but because of Christ. St. Paul said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”[7] St. Paul meant that, by faith in Christ – through hearing His Word and receiving His gifts in the Sacrament – he can endure and prosper in all things. And, so can we. We have been brought here together by the Holy Spirit, and He will continue to gather us until that day when we feast in heaven with all the saints of God. Though our days now be filled with sadness, we shall reap celestial joy, one hymn says. By His death and resurrection for us, Jesus has secured for us forgiveness and eternal life. He has become our strength in this life, and our song. Amen.


[1] Isaiah 12:5, 2. English Standard Version.

[2] Is. 12:1-2.

[3] Ex. 15:1-2.

[4] Is. 12:3-5.

[5] Is. 11:1, 6-7.

[6] Is. 12:1-2, 5.

[7] Phil. 4:13.

Make a Straight Highway

Text: Isaiah 40:1-8

Bulletin: 12-17-2017 the Third Sunday in Advent

Last Sunday we sang the hymn, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You,” during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. The hymn is in the Advent section of our hymnal, but it could also very well be in the Confession and Absolution section. This hymn praises our Lord for His coming to us, humble and mounted on a donkey, which we heard about two weeks ago. Yet, the hymn takes a turn when it also talks about why Christ became flesh. Pastor Gerhardt writes, “I lay in fetters, groaning; You came to set me free; I stood, my shame bemoaning; You came to honor me.”[1]

The hymn recognizes that Christ’s Incarnation was not just for fun. Christ, the eternal Lord, took on our human flesh to suffer and die for us, poor, miserable sinners. Because we are so wrapped up in our own sinfulness, by which we have created a vast chasm between us and our God, Christ became flesh. No one else could bridge that divide. He suffered and died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. That forgiveness, He freely gives those who repent of their sins and look to Him in faith. Our text today is from our Isaiah reading, where we hear that we have received from the Lord’s hand double forgiveness for our sins. Since, therefore, our Lord comes to bring pardon to our iniquity, let the valleys and mountains of our hearts be made straight, that we may meet Him with joy at His appearing.

I.

With this service, we are now three weeks into the Advent season. Advent is a season of joyful expectation. We celebrated the First Sunday in Advent by hearing of the Triumphal Entry of our king into Jerusalem. Just as He entered humbly then, He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. For that day, we are joyfully waiting. Yet, in this this in-between time, we are also aware of what prompted our Lord’s visitation, our sinfulness. Advent is a season of expectation, but also one of repentance. This theme started coming out in last week’s readings. Our Lord encouraged us to watch ourselves, lest we be weighed down by the cares of the world. In the Old Testament text, John the Baptist was promised. He would be the one to come and prepare the way of the Lord.

John prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and faith. You know John’s words to the Pharisees, that they were like a brood of vipers only seeking to escape the wrath to come. But, to others, John preached repentance and faith in the One who was yet to come. He preached that the axe is now at the root of the tree, and that every branch that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down. When the people asked him what to do, he said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”[2]

John’s preaching consisted of pointing out to people their sinfulness, and then pointing them to the Christ. Though their sins were like scarlet, they would be made white as snow through the blood of the cross. Those who mourned and confessed their sins, were baptized in the hope of the forgiveness that was yet to be revealed. John was the one who prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance. Or, in the words of Isaiah, lifting up every valley and making every mountain and hill low.

II.

The ministry of John the Baptist carries on even today through pastors, and our own Christian selves, when we encourage each other toward repentance. The first of the 95 Theses is very good. It says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[3] The goal of all Christian preaching is repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. This is carried out by the preaching of both Law and Gospel. We know that Jesus Christ came to defeat the devil and take away the sin of the world. He made full payment for all sin by His perfect life and death. The forgiveness which He won, He gives freely to all through faith. Faith receives the forgiveness of sins. The one who receives forgiveness, is the one who first acknowledges their own sinfulness.

So that we might acknowledge our sinfulness, Jesus sends pastors to preach His Law. When the Law is preached, it’s not the pastor – or whoever – being mean; the preacher is simply helping to us understand how things are and where we really stand before God. The preaching of the Law goes like this: God has revealed to us His will for human life in Scripture, and we have not done it. We have not kept God’s Law, and we fully deserve the punishment due. There is one punishment for sin – death and eternal separation from all things good. The preaching of the Law is not being mean; it is simply speaking the truth of where we stand before God.

And, to be honest, I think the Law that needs to be preached today is what St. Paul said a few weeks back, “The hour has come…to wake from sleep…Let us walk properly as in the daytime…not in quarreling and jealousy.”[4] This is something we have all struggled with. Satan has planted seeds of jealousy and quarreling in our hearts, and we have not treated each other as we should. We have not explained everything in the kindest way, we have assumed the worst. We have not forgiven each others’ faults. We have despaired of what the future holds for us. We have been sinful, and we have deserved eternal condemnation.

III.

Let us mourn our wretched bands and, in the words of Paul Gerhardt, bemoan our shame. But, let us do so in faith. It is true that we are sinners. Of that, we can be sure. But, true, also, are these words from the Lord, “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.”[5]

We are sinners, as were the people in Isaiah’s day. Yet, His words to us here are not words of condemnation, but comfort. God called Isaiah to comfort His people, for they have received pardon for their iniquity. Israel has received double grace for all her sins, through the eternal sacrifice of Christ. The forgiveness He won stretched back to them and forward to us through faith. There is no sin too bad nor sinner too sinful for His forgiveness and pardon. There is no heart of stone that He cannot turn to flesh, nor dead person that He cannot raise to life in Baptism. In Christ, there is free and full forgiveness and pardon from iniquity, and He gives it freely through faith.

Let us then, in this Advent season and especially as we see the Day drawing near, make straight the valleys and mountains of our hearts. We have treated others poorly and thought more highly of ourselves than we should. Let us confess our sins, be forgiven, and by the Holy Spirit seek to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Acknowledging that, by faith in Christ’s blood, we have received twice the forgiveness for all of our sins, let us care for one another and build each other up in love. Then, when Christ comes, we may meet Him with joy and a clean conscience. “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.”


[1] “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?” Lutheran Service Book, 334.

[2] Lk. 3:8.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 25.

[4] Rom. 13:11-13.

[5] Is. 40:1-2.

Thrice-Holy Forgiver of Sins

Text: Isaiah 6:1-7

 

“Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.” This Sunday is one of the few, if not the only, Sundays, where we focus not on an event in our Lord’s ministry or life, but a doctrine. In Scripture, the God of all creation reveals Himself to us as a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three are co-eternal and co-equal, none existing apart from or without another. We worship one God in three Persons. This is how God has revealed Himself to us.

Unfortunately, over time different and competing understandings of God began to spread. The Jews, for example, believed in the Trinity in the Old Testament, but rejected it when the Son of God became flesh. The Gnostics also rejected the divinity of Jesus. Both of these are addressed in Scripture, in St. Paul’s letters and St. John’s. But, then, in the fourth century, a pastor named Arius began teaching that there was a time when the Son of God didn’t exist. He was a very popular pastor, and his teaching in part led to the Nicene Creed being written, and also the Athanasian Creed.

Today, the Church sets aside time to both praise our eternal, Triune God and to firm up and make clear our confession of faith in the Trinity. We asked in the Collect of the Day that God would keep us steadfast in this faith and preserve us against all adversity. In Sacred Scripture, the one true God reveals Himself to us as a Trinity, who alone takes away our guilt and pardons our iniquity.

I.

I said that today we want to firm up and make clear our confession of faith in the Triune God. The first step in that, though, is acknowledging that we aren’t going to understand everything. There will never be a time in this sinful flesh, when we will perfectly understand the Trinity. I am confident that we will in the new creation; But, for now, we see as in a mirror dimly, St. Paul said. St. Paul also said in our Epistle text, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!”[1] This passage comes at the end of St. Paul’s discussion of another difficult doctrine, predestination. I’ve always pictured him, at this point, as just throwing up his hands, confessing his faith in the Trinity, and being done for the day. And, that’s actually how it ends. He says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”[2]

That text is good, because St. Paul’s brings out this idea: that we aren’t called to understand everything, but believe. Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. We aren’t called to understand every little bit and piece of it, but we are called to believe it and confess it as truth. Why? Because the Triune God is the true God, who takes away the guilt of our sins and pardons our iniquity. That is plain what the Scripture says. We like to tell ourselves we live an age of science and reason, and we must therefore have a logical backing, first, before we can believe anything. You aren’t going to prove the Trinity from human reasoning nor from science. Don’t even try. Instead, believe; because that’s what Scripture says. It is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”[3] Our Lord also said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”[4] The Triune God has hidden Himself from human reason, but reveals Himself even to little children through Scripture.

II.

Okay, so we aren’t going to understand the Trinity this side of Eden. That’s alright. We aren’t called to totally understand what has been revealed to us, but to believe it. St. Peter says it this way,

Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him…there are some things…that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist…as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore…take care that you are not carried away…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.[5]

We aren’t called to understand, but believe. And, in order for us to believe in the Trinity, it must first be revealed to us. In Scripture. Where, in Scripture, is the Trinity – one God in three persons – revealed to us?

We’ll start with the words straight from our Lord’s mouth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (notice, singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[6] We remember also the revelation of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism. Remember how the Father spoke from heaven, the Spirit descended as a dove, the Son in the water? Just last week, in the Gospel lesson, Jesus said this: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name…will teach you all things.”[7] Jesus even proved the Trinity, along with His own being God, from the Old Testament. One time the Pharisees came to Him, and Jesus asked them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [the Christ] Lord, saying ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’”[8] Jesus linked the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son together from the Old Testament and pointed out that David believed in the Trinity.

Time doesn’t permit us to list all the other proofs of the Trinity in the New Testament, how Sts. Paul, John, and Peter, James, and Jude all make mention, as do the Gospels and the letter to the Hebrews. But, what about the Old Testament? Is the Trinity just a New Testament thing? Nope. Where can we go to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament, and show that Old Testament believers knew this doctrine?

The simplest place to go, and the one you already know, is Creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Later it says, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Then it says, “God created man in His own image.” Even in English, you can hear the one God saying, “Let us.” In Hebrew, the word for God here is Elohim, which is plural. And yet, all the actions are singular. And, of course, it also says in Genesis 1, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The easiest place to go to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament is Genesis 1. But, how can we prove Old Testament Christians believed this, and that we aren’t just making it up after the fact? Fast forward to Moses. In his final days, he spoke to the people of Israel, “Is not [God] your Father, who created you?[9] Moses mentioned the Father specifically. Move forward to King David. In Psalm 33, he linked all three persons together when he said, in addition to the Father, “By the Word of the Lord (Jesus) the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth (the Holy Spirit) all their host.”[10] You could go backwards to Job, which some believe is the oldest book, and hear, “By His Spirit the heavens were made.”[11] You could jump to Isaiah, two hundred years after David, or to Ezra – some three hundred years after that – both of whom speak of the Father, the Spirit, and the promised Messiah. Suffice it to say, not only is the Triune God revealed to us also in the Old Testament, but the Old Testament Church believed in and confessed its faith in the Trinity.

III.

So now, why talk about all this? Why take a Sunday and cram this all in? Or, why even talk about the Trinity? After all, a large chunk of the world believes in “God,” whatever that means. Couldn’t we just, for the sake of unity, jettison the talk of the Trinity and hope that it’ll all sort out in the end? That doesn’t really jive with the Creed we just confessed, which all Christian church bodies believe, “Whoever desires to be saved, must above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And that catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity.”

Why talk about the Trinity? Because this is how the true God has revealed Himself to us. He alone, is the true God who has acted in and throughout history. And, not only has He acted, but He’s acted for us. See, when Isaiah saw God in our text, he feared for his very life. The seraphim were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” and Isaiah knew God’s holiness and our unholiness cannot coexist. Then, one of the angels flew to him and touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of sacrifice. He said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sins atoned for.”[12]

We talk about the Trinity because it’s how God has revealed Himself, and it’s how He has revealed Himself for us. God the Father created us, He takes care of us and provides for us. He guards and defends against all evil. For us men and for our salvation, the Son of God took on flesh. He shed His blood for us so that we might live. When His blood touches our lips in the Sacrament, our guilt is taken away and our sins atoned for. God the Holy Spirit, reveals this truth to us through the Scripture. He calls us to faith, and preserves us in the same until we die. We confess our faith in the triune God, not fully understanding, but believing that He is true and has taken away our sin. “Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.”


[1] Rom. 11:33.

[2] Rom. 11:36.

[3] 1 Cor. 1:19.

[4] Matt. 11:25.

[5] 2 Pet. 3:15-18.

[6] Matt. 28:19.

[7] Jn. 14:26.

[8] Matt. 22:43-44.

[9] Duet. 32:6.

[10] Ps. 33:6.

[11] Job. 26:13.

[12] Is. 6:7.

New Heavens and a New Earth

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Thus says the Lord in the second to last chapter of Isaiah. He promises a time when His beloved children will no longer suffer the effects of sin. In that time He will rejoice over His people and dwell with them. No longer will there be heard among them the sound of crying or distress, no longer will there be an infant who dies only a few days old nor and old man who doesn’t fill out his days. No longer will God’s people labor in vain, nor will they build and others inhabit. The wolf and lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw. Finally, the promise made in Genesis 3 will find complete fulfillment: the serpent will eat dust forever. God says that there shall be no hurt nor destruction in all His holy mountain.

All this we understand to be a picture of what our lives will be like in the Resurrection. Last week the lessons took us to the end times and the return of our Savior. And now this week, the last Sunday of the year, we are given in our Old Testament text a vision and a promise of the blessed future that awaits us. In Gospel and Epistle readings we are exhorted to live and wait as those who are wise and have oil enough and more. But here in Isaiah, we see that for which we wait and pray. We await from our Lord the time when sin will be no more. Our God promises to us, His beloved children, a new heaven and earth. There He will dwell with us in a way that we can’t even fully comprehend yet, and He will cause us to live in joy, security, and peace forever.

I.

Thus saith the Lord, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” As we talked about last week, at the end of the Church Year our minds turn toward the talk of eschatology, the last things. Our Epistle and Gospel readings direct our consciences toward what will happen to us. Between recent funerals and the readings, we’ve reached a conclusion. Those who die in faith are immediately in the presence of Christ. Though we lay their bodies in the grave, those same bodies will be resurrected at Christ’s return. One thing we haven’t really talked about is, what happens to creation? After all, God created us with bodies. Bodies need space. Bodies need the creation. Yet, at present, the creation itself is corrupted by sin. St. Paul says in Romans that, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” until such time as sin will be no more.

That’s where our text comes in. God promises to create new heavens and a new earth. You might hear that and expect that we’re hearing from Revelation – because it’s there, too. But it’s also promised here in the Old Testament. It’s unclear to us exactly how the new heavens and earth will come to be. St. Peter says that the heavenly bodies will be burned up with fire. Hebrews simply says the foundation of the earth and heavens will be “changed,” like you would an old shirt. Whether by fire or other means, the Biblical witness and the promise of God is that all things will be made new. And, quite frankly, we’re due for it. Our Lutheran forefathers were of the opinion that the earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old, judging from the timelines in the Bible. This view we share. That’s six thousand years of death. Six thousand years of disease and decay, of crime and warfare, of sin and shame. But all these things will pass away. We who have been baptized have already been made new creations in Christ, but then will all creation itself be made new.

What will be new, is that the effects of sin will be no more. God goes to one of the most notable changes, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” In this new creation, the chief consequence of sin will be destroyed. Death will no longer exist. No more will we mourn the loss of our children nor grieve for those who passed too soon. There will be no more weeping nor cry of distress. For, God says, “I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people.” In addition, the former things shall not be remembered. Meaning, the sins that we committed will no longer weigh us down. There will be no death, and there will be no guilt.

II.

Because God will create all things new, death and sin will be no more. We will live in the joy of the resurrection and in its security. The language of building and inhabiting, planting and eating, calls to mind the many times in the Old Testament where God’s people were delivered into the hands of their enemies. God allowed them to be driven from their land as punishment for sin and their adultery against Him. Other families lived in their homes and other farmers benefited from their hard work. But, no more. Instead, “They shall build…and inhabit…they shall plant…and eat…my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” Think of all those times you’ve worked hard on something, only to see it fall to pieces. That won’t happen anymore.

For like the days of a tree shall the days of My people be…They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.” God returns us to the big idea here: there will be no sin, no death. Death is not a good thing. Jesus Christ died to put an end to death; at His Return it will finally be no more. The translators of the Greek Old Testament monkey with the Hebrew here, but I’ll allow it. They change “like the days of a tree,” to “like the days of the Tree of Life.” The lives of God’s beloved people will be like the Tree of Life, standing in the Garden of Eden forever for all to see and enjoy. This eternal life will extend not just to us, but to our children. No longer will we labor in vain, or bear children just to outlive them. Instead, we and our children will live together in God’s light. Remember what St. Peter said on Pentecost, “The promise [of forgiveness in Christ] is for you and for your children.”

III.   

So much of this text is beyond our comprehension. We can imagine there being no death, but only to an extent. The entire experience of our lives is built upon the fact that things don’t last. None of us has ever lived in a world where there was no death. Soon we will. God has yet more to say in our text. “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Repeatedly God promises in Scripture to dwell with us. All of it – all of the work of Christ, His fulfillment of the Law, His suffering, His death, His resurrection and defeat of death – culminate in this. God will dwell with us in an immediate sense. There will be nothing between us. Truly, God does already dwell with us in Word and Sacrament, but in the new creation we will be in the presence of God. Before we call, He’ll answer. While we’re speaking, He’ll hear. It won’t be a terrifying presence, like in chapter 6 when Isaiah is sure he’s gonna die for seeing God. It will be a joy, and God Himself will rejoice.

Last things. “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD. So much of this we can’t truly picture, so God describes it in a way we can. The fundamental order of creation will be changed. There will be no death and no destruction in the new creation that awaits us. And so, at the end of another Church year, our minds turn to the glory ahead. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await from it our Savior. When He returns He will change our bodies to be like His and create all things new. Let us pray.

O God, the Father of all mercies, we bring unto You this day our sacrifice of praise for the innumerable and inestimable blessings which You have bestowed on us in Christ during the Church year which is now ending. You have caused Your divine Word to be preached to us, which is able to make us wise for salvation; You have permitted us to enjoy the holy Sacraments for our comfort and sanctification, and have accompanied the means of grace with the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We thank Your for Your goodness and praise Your holy name. We beg You, that in Your mercy, You would forgive us all our sins of the past year for Jesus’ sake, and graciously preserve for us and Your whole Church the light of Your Gospel. Lead us by Your Holy Spirit, that, receiving Your Word with gladness, we may be sanctified by Your Truth, and finally receive eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The Epiphany of Our Lord

Arise, shine, for your light has come,” says the prophet Isaiah in chapter 60. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, where the Incarnation of Jesus was made known to the world. Again, Isaiah speaks, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Over the last twelve days we’ve heard the story of our Lord’s birth. We’ve heard the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah that John would be born to prepare the way of the Messiah. We’ve heard the announcement to Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, and she shall conceive and bear a son. We’ve heard the account of our Savior’s birth; and now today, Christmas is given to the world.

The Epiphany itself, is an ancient holiday. From its beginning, it was a holiday commemorating both the birth and Baptism of Jesus. It moves from Christmas, where God is revealed as man, to the time where the man, Jesus, is revealed as the God of all creation to creation. In our calendar today we celebrate an entire season, beginning with the arrival of the wise men where Jesus is revealed to the Gentiles. We also see His Baptism, where the Spirit rests on Jesus’ shoulder and the Father speaks from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We learn of His first miracle, the first sign that He is the Messiah, the changing of water into wine. Finally, the season ends with the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appear in glory to speak with Jesus concerning His exodus – His death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

But it all begins today. Today these words are fulfilled,

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah spoke the word of the Lord in a time of turmoil and suffering. The chosen people of God were fractured into two nations, with many enemies designing even further destruction. The faithful continued to hope and pray for the Messiah, longing for the Son of God to come and forgive their sins, but all they saw around themselves was thick darkness. As Isaiah said, “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” As the darkness of fear surrounded God’s people, so the darkness of sin covers the whole world. Each person goes his own way, ignoring and disregarding God’s will, striving after the wind and even hiding from the Light of the Lord.

We also are included in the darkness of sin. St. Paul says that, apart from faith in Christ, we are by nature children of wrath. St. John also says that those who walk apart from faith walk in darkness and do not practice the truth. But arise, and shine, for your Light has come. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. The Light of the world has been revealed to the nations. As the wise men were led to worship Jesus through His Word, so is Christ revealed to us in the preaching of the Gospel. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in us, and the Light of Jesus scatters the darkness of our hearts.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany. At our Lord’s birth, the Light of the World was worshipped by Angels and shepherds, but now He is been manifested to the world. Soon, we will celebrate His Baptism and Transfiguration, where it is revealed that Light of the World has also come to suffer death for the life of the world.

Rise and Shine

Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

There’s a popular children’s song called, “Rise and Shine.” It’s a song about the Flood, but the refrain repeats the words, “Rise and shine and give God the glory… [you] children of the Lord.”[1] Aside from singing that often as a child, whether in Sunday or Vacation Bible School, most of the time that phrase came up it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. “Rise and shine!,” mothers all over the world yell to wake up their children. Maybe it’s accompanied by the smell of breakfast, maybe not. The phrase, “Rise and shine,” is reference to the Old Testament text for the Epiphany, Isaiah 60:1-6. In it we heard, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”[2] In this cold, dark time of the year, and of the world in general, we are less then twelve days removed from the joy of Christmas. Today we celebrate the Epiphany, which is the revelation of God the Son in the flesh, particularly to the wise men from the East. We learn that Jesus Christ, the true Light of the World, has now come and has redeemed us from the darkness.

I.

In the text from Isaiah we hear of the future glory of Israel, a future that has now come to fulfillment in the revelation of Jesus Christ. We read, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”[3] The Old Testament is filled with visions and promises of the future, promises of glory and peace. It seems that at almost every corner of the Old Testament, there is some prophecy or promise of a glorious future for Israel. We Lutherans are known for seeing the Good News of God everywhere in the Bible, but we also know that there is Law with the Gospel.

Before the Lord speaks of the coming Light and His rising glory, He shows why it is necessary. He says in the previous chapter of Isaiah, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you…your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness.”[4] The Lord contends with His own people, even with us. He says that when we look around and see the world filled with evil and death, it’s not because God isn’t there. His hand is not too short to reach out and save, and He’s not deaf to our pleas. Instead, it is the sin of the world that has led things to the way they are.

God’s indictment is that the iniquities of mankind have hidden His face. His own holy people have transgressed: their hands are filled with blood, both from violence and from sacrificing to idols, their fingers are dripping with the iniquity of their actions. The transgressions then seep inwards, their lips speak lies and tongues wickedness. Their wickedness even extended to gathering for worship. God explains, “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God.”[5] Their gathering to worship was a charade. They delighted to hear God’s Word, as long as they didn’t have to change, as long as they could remain concerned only about themselves. Likewise, our sinful temptation is always to gather but then not do…at least, not until later.

Therefore, Scripture says, “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.”[6] God looked upon the thick darkness of the earth, knowing that, in it, there was no one capable of following His Law, no one capable of not sinning, no one capable of truly seeking Truth and Light, and so He resolved to do something about it. St. Paul writes in Galatians 4, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.”[7] This we celebrated at Christmas when Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, was born to redeem us from our sin.

When the wise men came to Jerusalem, they were seeking that Light, but they did not realize the extent of the darkness. When King Herod heard that they were seeking the King of the Jews, he was afraid that there would now be a credible threat to his throne. See, Herod ruled by force, and when you are a tyrant, you are always afraid of challengers. He implored the wise men to find the child and report back, so that he could worship, too. This, of course, was a lie. Herod was interested in the Light only insofar as it fit into his system. The King of the Universe would bow to him or be destroyed, or so he thought. We behave the same way when we expect that the will and Word of God as revealed in Scripture bend to our way of thinking and powers of reason.

II.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” Rise and shine, for your Light has come. Though the world had been covered in darkness, and in many ways is still covered in the darkness of sin, the Light has come that shines in the darkness and is not defeated. Once we were in darkness. We were each conceived in iniquity and born in sin. Before we received the gift of faith through Baptism, through the preaching of God’s Word, there was nothing truly good in us; for there is no good apart from the Light of the world. But now, in our time, in our presence, the Light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.

Once we were in darkness, fumbling our way through life. Indeed, the sin that still resides in our flesh still tries to push and pull us in whatever direction. But now, we are not in darkness, but in Light. And the Light is this: Jesus Christ, true God yet fully man, was born of the Virgin Mary. For our sake, He who knew no sin, became sin. He bore the weight of our sin, the guilt of our bloody hands – both from being at times physically violent and the angry thoughts we harbor inside, the shame of our lips which are so quick to gossip and lie, and He died. He died to exchange His righteousness for our transgression and His light for our darkness. By His resurrection, which we are united to through Holy Baptism, the power of darkness over us is obliterated by His Light.

So darkness is destroyed by the Light; Jesus Christ has come into the world to redeem us from the power of darkness, but now what? Scripture says, “The Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”[8] The Light of Christ, which we receive freely through His grace, is not something that we keep to ourselves. The text says later that those who receive the Light are made radiant, made to shine outwards. Are we then to take the Light and hide it under a bushel? No!

The Light that scatters the darkness, that heals our infirmities, that frees us from the punishment we deserve, is for all people. This is revealed as well by the visit of the wise men. They were not Jews, and yet God led them by the star to revealing of the Son made flesh for the world. By this God was showing, yet again, that His free salvation is for all people. This salvation comes as a gift through faith in the Son of God, whose revealing in the flesh we celebrate today. We may be small, but as we gather to receive Christ’s gift of forgiveness through His Word and Sacrament, we are strengthened, called, and led to share the Light we receive with the world around us.

We didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate the New Year together, but as we learn from Christ’s Epiphany today we begin a new calendar year in His Light, the light the scatters the darkness of our hearts and leads us to proclaim His Word to the nations. In His name, amen.


[1] http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/r024.html

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is. 60:1.

[3] Is. 60:1–3.

[4] Is. 59:1-3.

[5] Is. 58:2.

[6] Is. 59:15–16.

[7] Gal. 4:4–5.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 60:2–3.

To Proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor

Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

During the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry He went all around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and being praised by all. Then He went to Nazareth, His hometown. It was His custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. There He stood up to read and the scroll of Isaiah was handed to Him. He unrolled it and it opened to our text this evening. He rolled the scroll back up after He had finished reading and said to all the people staring at Him, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[1] The account ends with Jesus’ own people driving Him up a hill to try and throw Him down the cliff.

Jesus claims our text this evening as His own. The work of God’s servant in the text is Jesus’ own. Christ did not come to be a new lawgiver, He did not come as an example, nor did He come to make us try harder. Instead, Jesus Christ, the anointed Messiah, came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and to release the captives of the law of sin. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and to set the prisoners free.

I.

The text begins, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”[2] This reading comes from near the end of Isaiah. The Fall of Jerusalem has been prophesied, as has the return from exile. The tone then shifts to the coming Day of Judgment. God laments, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually.”[3] Thus, wrath is coming for those who reject God’s favor.

But that is not our text tonight. Here the Lord speaks of salvation, of His work on behalf of sinners. Jesus says that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him and He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor. Many at Christ’s time were looking for a Messiah to come who would be an earthly ruler. They expected a king that would throw off the Romans and establish a new kingdom. I guess the flip side is that, in order to establish a kingdom, rules and taxes need to be imposed to make things work. That’s not what Christ came to do. He did not come to impose, but to bring cheer to the poor and afflicted with His good news.

The Spirit of the Lord was upon Christ to come and bind up the brokenhearted. Christ came to bind up those have been broken by life, those who have been tossed to and fro by the waves of the world. He came to save those who sought after the world, its riches and pleasures, only to end up in the gutter brokenhearted. But this brokenhearted means something else as well. It means those who have been broken by God’s Law. It means those who have tried and tried to be a good person, and yet have found themselves lacking. Christ came for those who hear God’s Word and wonder how God could demand things we cannot do, and then punish those who don’t do them. That’s brokenhearted there.

Jesus said that He came to bring good news to the poor and to bind up the brokenhearted. He also came to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of prison to those who are bound. In the Greek text, it says that He came to bring recovery of sight to the blind. Christ came to bring liberty those in the chains of sin and in the prison of death and the devil. These are also the chains worn by the brokenhearted, the chains of the Law. Prior to faith in the Messiah the Law hangs around all our necks demanding that we do work to earn the forgiveness of sins and to inherit eternal life. Christ came to set us free from that as well.

II.

The text proclaims that the Messiah came to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken and to proclaim liberty to the captives. The question is, how? How do all these things take place? How are ashes exchanged for a beautiful headdress, or mourning for the oil of gladness? I think you know the answer. These things happen through Jesus Christ, through His saving work on our behalf. It was for us that He created the earth. It was for us it was promised to Adam and Eve that one would come to destroy the power of the devil. For us, Jesus took upon flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.

Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. He is both perfectly God and perfectly man. He fulfilled the Law perfectly, and then suffered and died for you. He took your sin, and the sin of the whole world upon Himself. God Himself suffered brutally so that your sins could be forgiven. And so they are. This is not because we are especially good, and it certainly isn’t because it’s what we deserve, but it’s because God is love. In love Jesus Christ was born to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the forgiveness of our sins. In love, He has clothed us in His own robe of righteousness, purchased by His own death on the cross. Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk. 4:21.

[2] Is. 61:1–2.

[3] Is. 65:1–3.