Advent 3 2020
December 13, 2020
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
We’re in the thick of it now, for good or bad. The planning, the decorations, the stress, and the headaches of preparing for Christmas is in full swing. While Christmas time is often portrayed as the happiest time of the year, for many people it is the worst. And this year is different than most. The loneliness from missed loved ones. Uncertainty of the what the future holds. The pain of conflict within families and friends. To such people, to such a nation during Isaiah’s time, who was wrapped up in sin and its effects, God spoke comforting words to those oppressed and guilt ridden because of their sins.
“Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended…” Do you see the passive verb? “is ended.” Nothing the people have done, but something done for them has ended their warfare. They could not pay their own debt. They could not free themselves from the burden of their slavery to sin. And neither can we.
Someone else had to do that. Attempts to justify oneself only compound the guilt. Iniquity, the guiltiness of sin, can only be pardoned. And Isaiah leaves us with no doubt who this is: the Lord has done this thing, giving us double for all our sins. We have received the gifts of His undeserved favor: forgiveness, peace, and eternal life. And this comes through the Suffering Servant, who will pay for the sins of all so that their iniquity is forgiven solely because of His atoning sacrifice.
This is what our Lord did Himself—which is why we’re in Advent. He became a baby boy to become a man to speak comfort —our God in soft human flesh who knows the taste, smell, and feel of a grape, of bread, of lamb, and of wine; the ache of tired muscles, the anguish of death taking a loved one, and the sting of tears. And even more, taking upon Himself the inquity, the guiltiness, of the world’s sin.
Because of Christ, your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is forgiven. Drink deeply and firmly believe, for this is the heart of our Christian faith. The war is over. You need no longer fear that God will hold our sins against you. The warfare by which you tried and tried to make yourselves acceptable to God is over. You’re already acceptable, made so by grace through faith in the Savior of the world, in His advent to His people.
The coming of Christ offers a joyful homecoming to all who have been exiled from the Father because of their sin, and He levels the road into our lives. He flattens the mountains of unbelief, the barriers that our sin puts up separating us from God. He fills up the deep valleys in our hearts of loneliness, of sorrow, of pain with His overflowing grace and mercy.
For many, especially at Christmas time, those mountains and valleys seem insurmountable. "The best answer to seasonal depression is the voice crying in the wilderness. Turn not to some quick fix or easy answer, but to the Church's joy, to the angels' joy, to Mary's and the shepherds' joy. That joy is joy in the midst of poverty and hardship. It is joy at the birth of Jesus Christ, of God becoming flesh, pleased to be a man and to go to hell for men, that men would not pay for their sins or die eternally. It is the answer to the curse, the end of our rebellion, and the pledge of the reunion to come." (an excerpt from God With Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen)
And He, your Jesus, sent men to speak His word and kingdom into your ears, hearts, and lives. A voice crying from the wilderness, John the Baptist, making the way for Christ the Comforter. And he doesn’t hold back. He isn’t out to get eth world to like him. He’s not worried about his popularity. For it isn’t about him. He cries out against sinners of all kinds that thy might repent and be ready for Christ to come. He calls the self-righteous, the broken, and the distressed alike. He cries “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever (Isaiah 40:6b, 8). John points to Jesus.
And it doesn’t stop there either. Jesus says in John 20, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21-23). Jesus continues to send His servants, stewards of the mysteries of God, to proclaim the eternal Word to the world, to condemn sin and comfort repentant sinners. Salvation is not for Jerusalem so that they can just bask in God’s mercy. Rather, it is for the sake of the world. This tasks begins as Zion, seeing the Lord’s approach, shouts the good news to all around them. We must boldly announce the good news: “Behold, your God!” Who else is to go up to the top of the mountain so that all may hear the good news but “Zion” and “Jerusalem”? Who else but those who have tasted and seen the grace of God in Christ Jesus?
The message is not to behold just any god, but to gaze upon your God. A god who is powerful but unloving would have little concern for us. On the other hand, a god is loving but not powerful would not have the ability to help us. But our God, your God, is both sovereign and saving! He is now here for us in grace in the person of Christ, in the Word of Christ, in Baptism into Christ, and in the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood.
Christ is where comfort comes for the troubled conscious, the only place in fact. H provides the only medicine for the disease of the soul, for the sin-sick, weary world. Comfort, comfort, you My people. There is victory over sin! Victory over death! You are at peace with God, your sins no longer being held against you. Peace is yours through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What greater comfort can there be? Your warfare is ended, your iniquity is pardoned. You have received from the Lord’s hand double for all your sins. Yes, double! Double the comfort, that is. “Comfort, comfort My people.” A comfort so wonderful, a comfort so nice, God tells it to us twice. A comfort that comes only through Jesus. In His name.