Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The Great Exchange

Advent 4B

December 21, 2014

Have you ever gone to a party or get together and realized you were dressed wrong for the occasion.  I remember hearing once that if you find yourself out of place, it is easier to dress down that it is to dress up.  Going to a costume party and having no costume.  Going out to a fancy dinner in tshirt and shorts.

Now imagine this. You’re headed off to a funeral of a close friend. You dress nicely, maybe even in all black. Eyes red because of the tears. Head downcast, the memories, the sense of loss.  It is a hard thing, as most of us know.

Well, imagine that you show up to the church prepared for a funeral and when you get there, you are informed that there was a mistake.  There is no funeral today, instead there’s a wedding!  You’re dressed for the wrong occasion, mind and heart set on sorrow instead of joy, but now everything has changed.  Relief has set in! Sadness turns into joy.  Tears turn into a smile.  And all the while, someone is there with a change of clothes just for you, a change from the black of morning to the white of joy and celebration!

This is the message that Isaiah’s proclaims to us today in the 5th Servant Song. The mourner with ashes on the head, wrapped in sackcloth, and with a spirit crushed with despair is replaced by one who celebrates with a beautiful headdress, smelling of costly oil, and wearing a garment of praise.  Everything is different now, for the time has come for the Lord’s favor to be upon His people.

The day is dawning when those reconciled to the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, will weep no more.  Reading from the portion of Isaiah, Jesus spoke to those of His hometown Nazareth as recorded in Luke 4.  And what He spoke was this, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  This is why Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at His baptism, to carry out this messianic ministry. This was His mission, this is His purpose.

The Servant, the Messiah, advents and brings good news and everlasting joy to the redeemed of Israel.  But make no mistake, Jesus comes only for sinners. He has not come to announce the Gospel to those who are comfortable, in control, and in good health, thinking they have no sin, but to those who know they are mired in sin, guilt, shame, and disease.  No, Jesus comes only for sinners.

Are you poor, poor in spirit, realizing your spiritual poverty before God? Jesus has good news for you. You will share in his riches. Is your heart broken by all the damage that sin has done in your life and in the lives of people all around you? Jesus will bind you up and create in you a clean heart. Are you captive to your sinful nature, or in prison in your thoughts, or in debt up to your eyeballs in God’s heavenly account book? Jesus comes to set you free and to pay off your debts. This is the time of the Lord’s favor. For Jesus ushers in the great year of Jubilee, when all debts are canceled.

What’s more, Jesus takes vengeance on your enemies of sin, death, and the power of the devil. Do you mourn the loss of loved ones who have fallen asleep in the Lord, who you would give almost anything to celebrate Christmas with just one more time? Jesus comforts you with the words of eternal life, that death is not the end, and that there is a great reunion of God’s saints on the way. That day is coming, when Jesus will advent again. 

In the meantime, through His Word and Sacraments, He gathers you of faith into citizens to reside forever in the new Zion’s splendor.  A great reversal happens in the baptismal flood, wherein Jesus changes prisoners of hell into citizens of heaven.  In those blessed waters, you were clothed in the garments of salvation, covered with the robe of righteousness in your Baptism into Christ.  With His Sacramental body and blood, Jesus turns your emptiness to His fullness and your temporary sorrow into everlasting joy.  In the comfort of God’s Absolution, you hear again and again that you have been freed from sin’s death and brought into abundant life. This life is forgiven and free and forever!

Jesus is the One anointed for you, anointed to bring you poor in spirit the good news of Him crucified for your forgiveness, to bind up your broken hearts, to proclaim you justified and free through faith in Him, to open up the prison of hell and unlock the gates of heaven, to proclaim His undeserved favor of good will toward men, to bring His righteous vengeance upon the wicked, to comfort your mourning, and to exchange all sadness for the joy of His righteousness.

So rejoice in the Lord, exult in your God, for He has dressed you in righteousness for the right occasion. For today, you have been invited to both a funeral and to a wedding. The funeral is for that old enemy death, and that wedding is for you. St. John writes in Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”   Our Lord adorns you, unworthy as you are, with all that He has to present you to His Father as His holy and pure bride.  The great Christmas gift exchange has taken place, your sin for Jesus. In the name of the Father and the Son T and the Holy Spirit. Amen.