Roger's Postings

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Isaiah 40:1-11. - by Vicar Kees Sturm

Last week the church season of Advent began. Advent is a time where we, God’s children, spend our time preparing for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

It is a time to reflect on the promises of God, and to proclaim the coming of our Lord.

 But this is a difficult thing to do. In our modern world the Word of God has been obscured. It has been placed on a shelf with the other books on spirituality and mythology. It has been labeled as someone’s version of truth, rather than ‘the truth’. It gets hidden behind the events and festivities of our society, and I can’t help but feel that society has hijacked the Advent and Christmas seasons (and Easter for that matter) and twisted them into some sort of worldly festivity ready to be used for commercial gain.

 Let me give you an example, I was in a supermarket the other day, and at the check out there were some Advent calendars. These Advent calendars had no nativity scene, nor a mention of Christ, not even a Christmas tree. Rather there were the Crows or the Port Power mascots, and the only thing that was pointing toward Christmas was the small Santa in the corner wearing an AFL guernsey.

 When you think about it, society has turned its back on God and the traditions of the church. The world has stopped listening to Him. By placing His Word on the shelf, as if it were like any other piece of spiritual mumbo jumbo, society has effectively rejected God and in turn pokes fun at Him. But like we know, a life without God is doomed to confusion, futility, and finally it will succumb to the dread of eternal darkness.

This of course is nothing new; our modern world is no different than the ancient world. The bible shows us that the history of God’s people is filled with the same attitudes that we are seeing here today. There was scheming and conniving, in-justice and unrighteousness, and it led the nation of Israel to commit acts of evil in the sight of God. And it removed the people of God from His presence.

This unfortunately is the reality of our world today too. We live in a society that is confused. Our values, our laws, and our expectations are all screwed up. Our lives are futile, they are devoid of a greater significance and we make ourselves busy by running about all over the place doing all sorts of things, but achieving very little.

 We busy ourselves by looking after our houses, and possessions, we spend countless hours driving our children from event to event, only to spend even more of our valuable time at work earning the money we need to keep up our self-chosen hectic life-styles. And if you’re not busy doing those things, then it is likely that you are relaxing on the couch either watching the tele, or reading something.

 Think about all the things that take up your time, what do you give priority to in your life?

Now, think about that and ask yourself, what have I really achieved?

 Realistically, whether we realize it or not, most of us in our society today keep ourselves busy, so that we don’t have to think about the reality of our situation. We keep ourselves actively preoccupied so that we can look the other way; so that we can focus on something other than the confusion and futility of our lives and that of our society.

 Just like in the days of the prophet Isaiah, where the people had given up their loyalties to God, and replaced them with loyalties to a whole pantheon of foreign gods and beliefs, our society today has given up its loyalty to God for a loyalty to the next big thing, or fad that is sweeping our nations.

 This is exactly what Isaiah prophesied against, in the first 39 chapters of his prophecy. He warned the Israelite people of the impending doom that would befall them if they did not change their ways. A warning that appears to have fallen on deaf ears. The people continued in their evil ways, and because the people refused to listen, God brought down His anger upon them in the form of the Babylonian army: Who invaded the Israelite nation, destroying the temple and leading the people out of the Promised Land to be exiled into Babylonian captivity.

 The people were torn away from the Lord; they were removed from Him physically by being taken into exile, and spiritually by their loss of the temple.

They were dragged into eternal darkness, a place removed from God, where His light did not shine.

But, this morning’s reading on the other hand signifies a major turning point in the lives of the exiled Israelite people. The prophetic word given here by the prophet Isaiah is one that announces hope for the people of the Israelite community.

 In the reading we heard Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the end of the Babylonian oppression, and the coming of a period of relative peace for the Jewish nation. We heard the Lord say,

Comfort, comfort my people. 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.

 Isaiah’s prophecy gave a renewed hope to the Israelites; he announces that God still loved His people, that He hasn’t forgotten them in spite of the fact that He was punishing them.

 Through the prophecy the Israelites were reminded that it was God who would lead them out of darkness. He would be the one who would lead them home.

Isaiah says,

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.

 Their journey would be a triumphant processional, announcing the mighty acts of God. It is God who would show mercy on His people and deliver them from their captivity, all done so that the Israelites and the nations would see His glory.

Furthermore, Isaiah reminds the Israelites that it is God who is the Almighty, He is the one who would over power the Babylonians for them in order to set them free,

Behold, [prophecies Isaiah] the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

By His work He would show Himself to be the Almighty God and His recompense, His reward, would be the freedom of His people.

 For the Israelites Isaiah’s prophesying removed any doubt of God’s sovereignty, they were reminded that before God all people and earthly powers are like the grass of the field. And for this reason, they should only place their trust in Him.

Isaiah reaffirmed for them that,

            all flesh is grass, [and] the grass withers when the breath of the Lord blows on it.

But this prophecy is not all just for the exiled Israelites. In it we too hear the word of God that gives us hope as the prophet proclaims his message. In this prophecy Isaiah also heralds the coming of our Lord. He says,
herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, say to the cities,
“Behold your God!”

Just as the Israelites were captive in their isolated darkness, we are captive to our sinful nature; which continually draws us into darkness. This dreaded darkness is never far from our thoughts, even for us worshiping here this morning. It’s like the darkness is just lurking around the corner, waiting to catch us unaware.

But thankfully there is hope for us, St Mark tells us;

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ”

The voice of one crying in the wilderness was the voice of John the Baptist; he came preparing the way of the Lord saying,
After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist himself was a prelude to the coming of the Messiah. He came proclaiming that our hope is to be found in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Christ is the one who sits at the right hand of God and He is the one on whom we can lay our burdens.

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.

As we go about our daily lives, we are faced with the dangers of a society that is confused, and the temptations that come with it. We struggle to fit our devotions and worship in to the hectic life-styles that we lead, and often stumble head first into the darkness as we fail and sin.

 But although we stumble, we have hope. We have the assurance of God’s promises, we can have faith in His word that we, like the Israelites of the exile, will be delivered from the darkness of sin by faith in our Lord.

 Jesus Christ, who’s birthday we celebrate at Christmas, is the one who gives us hope for the future. He was born to save us. He took on himself the punishment that we deserve, death. Death on a cross. Through His death we have all been set free. And through faith in Him we have been granted access to this free gift, given to us so that we might have eternal life with Him in the kingdom of heaven.

When we were baptized, we were joined to Him; we were given our faith in Him and we were given a place in the family of God. We were joined to the one through whom all things were created, under whose authority all things exist and in whose love we were graciously shown mercy.

As we gather together in the Divine Service, we confess our sins and receive forgiveness, we hear scripture readings, we pray to our Lord, and we take part in the Lord’s Supper, and we can rest assured that we are being prepared for the future coming of our Lord. We partake in the continuous process of being sanctified, being made Holy in the sight of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Just as Isaiah’s prophecy was the word of God given to prepare the Israelites for the coming of God to set them free, this prophecy is also a word of preparation for us.

Today, just as then, God calls His people to prepare the way of the Lord. This is the meaning behind the season of Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. It’s a time of fasting and spiritual conditioning in preparation for the Feast of Christmas and is focused on the "coming" of Jesus the Messiah. Not just His birth 2000 years ago, but also His second “coming” at some point in time somewhere in the future, on the “Day of the Lord”

 As we look back, we prepare ourselves for the coming celebration of the birth of our Saviour, which is celebrated at Christmas. We do this, not by going out to the shops to buy presents and food, but rather by spending time with the Word of God, by meditating on it and praying it. When we do this, the Holy Spirit, our counselor, teaches us what the love of God means for us; how God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us so that we might be made acceptable to the Father through faith in Him.

 Although, we are like grass and all our glory is like the flowers of the field, that wither and fade, we have before us this great and wonderful message. Behold, here is our God, ‘the Lord God is with us’. Behold, the Sovereign Lord comes with power and his arm rules for him. Behold, His reward is with him and his recompense accompanies him. He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart, and he gently leads those that have young.

 Therefore during this season, as we slow down, take the time to think about your future. Look toward the end of time, when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. And when you do, do so with confidence, knowing that through faith in Christ you will be saved, and that you will be with our Saviour in the kingdom of heaven.


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