Sermon - 12/20/17
2017.12.22 00:04:18

ADVENT MIDWEEK 3/B (2017), Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11


Favor,          The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… bind up the broken hearted… liberty to the captives… opening of the prison to those… bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor; and the day of vengeance of our God…” (vv. 1, 2). 


Last Sunday’s Sermon ended with comment on St. Paul urging us to, “Test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21), i.e., by the Light of God’s word.  Christ, the Light and true Torah of God comes into our lives confronting us in a crisis of grace or judgment.  Every circumstance requires us to decide in either joyous trust in his Light or rail against participation in the sacrificial love of God given in Christ. 


Before ancient Israel entered the Promised Land Moses expressed the same thought, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life… loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days” (Deut. 30:19). 


After conquest in the Land Joshua spoke, “[C]hoose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (24:15).  Crisis, grace or judgment, always comes to us in the presence of the Lord. 


Today Isaiah gives voice to the pre-incarnate Christ out of the councils of God. In short, Zion, now the NT church must choose either the Lord’s favor or his vengeance in Jesus; there are no Christian fence sitters.  Both grace and judgment come in the same event, the crucified flesh and death of the man Jesus for the sins and unbelief of the world. 


Lutherans become nervous on hearing “decision” language; and rightly so. We are incapable of making “a decision for Jesus”, the popular lingo and touchstone of salvation for denominations and non-denominational bodies.  But man’s nature is so bound-up in sin as to be without “freedom” to choose God.  Invariably we choose the god we most love, and so a life of servitude to our flesh. 


But God first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19) and so by grace has chosen us, calling all who will receive and not reject his crucified Son for life and salvation in baptismal faith. By baptismal faith we receive new life in the HS.  All this is to say; when as today Jesus comes to us we must face crisis; acceptance of his coming in word and Sacrament for sin and so the revelation of his grace or judgment for lukewarm ennui and un-repentance. 


Simeon upon whom the HS rested, received into his hands the Christmas Babe describing our crisis; “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against, and of you [Mary] yourself, through your soul a sword will go, in order that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34, 35).


Jesus grew up in Nazareth. After his Baptism; anointed with the HS and tempted by Satan, St. Luke reports Jesus returned to his hometown.  There, Jesus took up the Torah text from Isaiah and declared, he is the heavenly Speaker whom Isaiah heard entering our presence either for the Lord’s favor or vengeance.


Jesus came implicitly announcing to his family, friends, and neighbors that he is the fulfillment of Israel’s seventh year Sabbatical Year, instituting the Lord’s end time Jubilee (fiftieth) Year (Ex. 21:2; Deut. 15:12; Lev. 25:8-55). Jesus, the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy of grace extends to all who will receive him, a new beginning and new life, freed from bondage and mourning over sin.  In Jesus crucified for sin, all debts to God are wiped clean before God.  Our Christmas celebration beholds Jesus come as our Jubilee liberation.


Jesus’ Nazareth neighbors were aware of JB’s, their southern cousin, witness to Jesus to be Light of God, Son of God, Christ of God, and Lamb of God. At first the town folk accepted of Jesus as bearer of God’s end time grace, inclined to receive and make straight the way of the Lord come in their native son.  St. Luke reports, “[A]ll were bearing witness concerning him and were marveling at the words of grace coming out of his mouth” (4:22). 


But crisis and decision for or against always comes with Jesus’ word about himself that hearts and thoughts might be revealed. In the synagogue Jesus pressed the meaning of his coming, comparing his ministry to that of Elijah and Elisha, both who delivered God’s grace to foreigners, the widow of Zarephath and the Syrian general Naaman. 


The thought that Gentiles would coequally participate in God’s grace with the sons and daughters of Abraham was for the Nazarenes a monstrous scandal; salvation, after all, was a matter of physical connectivity in Abraham’s seed.


But Jesus, true Torah and Light by which God is known, taught the one unacceptable thing; that all men, Jew and Gentile are saved in the same manner as Abraham, we are all reckoned righteous by faith alone, a righteousness that has no birthright but that of faith in the flesh of the One man, Jesus who would die once for all and germinate a harvest for God.  


Jesus’ hometown reacted Jesus’ testimony about himself as an enraged mob; previewing of his rejection three years hence in Jerusalem; “And all were filled with anger in the synagogue when they heard these things, and having risen they drove him outside the city and brought him to the brow of the hill upon which their city was built in order to throw him over the precipice” (vv. 28, 29); like the place of Jesus’ crucifixion they intended to dispose of him outside the city onto Nazareth’s garbage dump.  


This evening we are reminded that in word and Sacrament, Jesus comes to us in the one and the same reality of grace and judgment. In one there is Life and the other, apart from a repentant heart, is death. 


That “Jesus comes to comfort the afflicted; and afflict the comfortable” may be hackneyed bromide; it is nonetheless true. It is easy to approach our twelve days of Christmas as the world does, distracted by twinkling lights, commercial excess, and the general schmaltz of the season. 


As we behold the crèche and images of the Christ child we dare not forget he always comes to us for crisis. He does not come with good news for those who are comfortable in their health, wealth, and control in this world. 


The good news of God’s grace is singularly for those mired in sin that ruins lives and affects families, begetting loveless responses toward those who offend us. He comes with Light and release for the poor in spirit, the broken hearted, and those blind in the world’s darkness to expose and recognize the truth of sin that estranges us from God. 


For those who despair of resolving sin on their own, the good news of Christmas is that Jesus comes in mild humility for comfort in giving his all for us. Christ takes the ashes of our guilt and shame and bestows on us a priestly headdress; instead of mourning, we receive the oil of joy; instead of faint and doubting spirits, the mantle of praise, Eucharist and thanksgiving. 


By gift of saving faith God calls us “oaks of righteousness” (Isa. 61:3) because we possess that which God in eternity first “decided” to give us, his love in Christ crucified for the ugliness of our sin and unbelief. 


The twinkling lights, excessive gift giving, and general schmaltz which the world attaches to the Christmas season causes some to marginalize the Nativity as for children; perhaps it is, as long as we understand that Christmas is for the children of God into which relation all who choose Life are invited as he comes into in our presence Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. Amen. 





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