Sunday, December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Third Sunday in Advent; December 13, 2020;

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Third Sunday in Advent; December 13, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 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; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I, the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Some things seem almost inevitable. If you don’t take care of your body, you’ll pay the price… stop eating for a few days and you get hungry… stop sleeping and you get run down and probably sick… too much of anything good has its effect on our waistline… But there are good things that are generally predictable too. If you do a good job on a project, you’ll probably feel a sense of accomplishment and joy. If you work hard at work, you’ll generally get along with your employer. It happens again and again in life. A certain consequence seems to follow a cause, so naturally and regularly that we even take them for granted. But, once in a while we are surprised by a totally unexpected result, either pleasantly or unpleasantly. We watch out diet carefully and still get sick. We make mistakes raising our children and yet, they seem to turn out all right. Things in life don’t always turn out how we expect them to. Spiritual things are no exception. Some results seem inescapable. Violate God’s law and you must pay the price. When you are guilty in God’s eyes, you must suffer punishment and death. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, ESV) But in the face of those terrible threats, the Gospel promises something totally unexpected. We receive an undeserved blessing because of Jesus Christ. That Gospel makes it know to all who will listen, that the Good News is that salvation and rescue are available for all people. In this text for today, God speaks to us through Isaiah, about this very thing; we call it the Great Reversal. This text in Isaiah is one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah uses this image over and over again in his book. He talks about one who is sent, and anointed by God to do a wonderful, and very unexpected thing. This Servant would deliver God’s people from their suffering. But amazingly he will do it by suffering himself. The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. (v. 1) Says the Servant. He is anointed by God to preach this good news. The surprise comes several hundred years later, when Jesus reads these very words in his hometown synagogue. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV) Calmly Jesus rolled up the scroll and returned it to its proper place. And he sat down. Then, as was the Jewish custom after reading a scroll, he began to speak about it. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21, ESV) Those around Jesus were shocked, to say the least. “Isn’t this guy Joseph’s son?” Jesus responded, And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. (Luke 4:24, ESV) “How can he say that?” they shouted and ran him out to the crest of a hill to throw him down and kill him. But Jesus simply walked through them. Things weren’t as the people in Nazareth expected them to be. They couldn’t accept that God would not just for them, but for all people. The unexpected is found in Jesus Christ. God comes to earth as a human being to be, not a great earthly king, to rule over people with his armies. He comes as a lowly baby in a manger. He comes to poor parents in a poorer city. He comes as a servant. He but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8, ESV) He doesn’t come to destroy he comes to suffer himself, even death on a cross. It just isn’t what is expected from God. What God accomplishes through Jesus Christ is a Great Reversal. He comes to change around everything for us. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah says he comes to preach to the poor. He isn’t just talking about earthy poverty. He’s talking about spiritual poverty. He is talking about people who would by nature deserve nothing from God but his punishment. Isaiah says in another part of his book: For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, (Isaiah 26:21a, ESV) We don’t want to see ourselves as poor. Especially at this time of year, we pride ourselves in giving something to the poor. We puff up with pride when we think that we’ve made a difference in someone else’s Christmas. When we’ve given them something they didn’t have? But God’s Word tells us that that’s who we are. We don’t possess anything that can help us face up to God when he comes to punish. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV) In God’s eyes all of the things that we try to do to please him fall well short. When we come to see this, we are indeed poor and alone, bruised and broken hearted. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:56, ESV) But Jesus accomplishes the Great Reversal he comes to bind up the broken heart. We are the poor ones, but he became poor for us. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV) He stood in our position as one having no right to anything good. And as a matter of fact, he became sin for us! For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV) He willingly took on himself the punishment of our sin. He, who had no sin of his own, took ours. He suffered our death and punishment on the cross. And in exchange he gives to us his righteousness. It’s as if we had never sinned at all. That’s the unexpected. The perfect one is punished, and the sinful ones are made perfect. When Jesus himself proclaims that to us our hearts are soothed. Jesus Christ comes to proclaim freedom to captives. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. (Genesis 8:21, ESV) Again, we are the captives. We are bound to sin. It entangles us in its web of Death. We think that we have free will, but our free will is bound to sin. “Our sins have snatch us like thieves.” Said Martin Luther. And our final destination is death. We know very well what we deserve. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, ESV) Our lives are continually tied up in it. In fact, our whole lives are really lived out beside the grave. No matter how successful we are, no matter how much money we make, or how many bushels per acre we raise, it all ends the same. We can’t effect a change in our day of judgment. Death comes to take us even if we have given our entire fortune to feed the hungry. It would leave us in a state of grief and despair, if it were not for the Great Reversal brought by Jesus Christ. But the web of sin and death are not stronger than he is. When he lay in the tomb cold and dead, he only seemed to be permanently entangled and defeated. He reverses death for us. Through death he makes us alive. He crushes death by dying and by rising again. It is our death that he dies, and his life that we receive, life forever. Isaiah says it like this, “to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (v.3) Life doesn’t end in death instead death ends in life. Jesus Christ has turned everything around. He brings to us the unexpected. So, here we are in Advent. We are sitting here remembering and thinking about what happened in Bethlehem, some 2000 years ago. It was an unexpected thing. Mary was surprised, Joseph was surprised, and the shepherds were certainly surprised. God, himself came in human flesh to do the unexpected. He came to preach Good News to the poor, to bind up broken hearts, and to free captives. That baby born in an unexpected place changed everything around. He came to do a Great Reversal for you and me. Let’s rejoice in that today, as we look forward to Christmas day. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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