[This was preached during the Divine Service for our circuit pastors’ meeting on December 14]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This time of year is good for a lot of things, but one thing that it does very well is expose the cracks and the crevices in the smooth facades we construct for ourselves. There’s all sorts of casual talk about joy and hope and peace, especially “peace on earth,” but the evidence is all to the contrary. Who is foolish enough to talk about peace on earth? Where is it? Joy? Not with the world economy crashing down around us (although that somehow doesn’t seem to stop the major retailers from raking in billions of dollars in Christmas shopping). Hope? For what? Hope cannot last long as a generic feeling. It has to have an end, a goal, a conclusion. Everyone is talking about these things or looking for them, but I wonder if anyone has any thought that joy and hope and peace might actually exist anywhere? Are they just nice things that we put on Christmas cards; are they just the reverse of nostalgia: not something that once existed and cannot be regained, but something in the future that we’ll never attain?
Isaiah—or rather God—appears to be the last one who actually holds out hope for humanity. But that hope has nothing to do with the power or prestige of humanity itself. Isaiah has no optimism about the human condition. He’s not counting on Israel saving herself from exile. Nor does he think that the people will turn out, in the end, to be decent and to give generously and to make up at the end of the year for all their selfishness during the first eleven months. Notice the words in Isaiah 61 that describe humans: poor, brokenhearted, captive, bound; mourners, covered in ashes and shame, faint in spirit. And then, the words that describe what God does: bringing good news, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty, the opening of prison, and the year of Yahweh’s favor; vengeance on the enemies of His people, comfort; giving a priestly turban, the oil of gladness, and a garment of praise; clothing His people with the garment of salvation and the robe of righteousness.
The fact is, people can look and look and look; they can lament the sad state of the world; they can sense, rightly, that the way the earth looks in winter is a good metaphor for the prospects of salvation out of the goodness of human hearts. And all the while, here is Jesus, the one Anointed with the Holy Spirit in the Jordan River, bringing and proclaiming and giving; binding up and opening and comforting. Here is the new creation: everyone claims to want it, but who wants the only One who actually enters human flesh to accomplish it?
In the beginning, God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation” (Genesis 1:11). In the beginning, the Lord Yahweh “planted a garden in Eden…and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord [Yahweh] made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:8-9). As it was then, so it is in the new beginning, “the Lord [Yahweh] will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:11), planted in the womb of a Virgin, growing up as a Tree that is only pleasant to the sight of faith, from which comes the Food of eternal life. To you He gives this new life and this Food, so that you will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that He may be glorified. In you, He is building a new City, a new People, remade in the image of the God-Man. A People prepared for the great Marriage, clothed in the garment of salvation and covered with the robe of righteousness.
Now, don’t get me wrong: you can still see the cracks; they can still open under your feet while everyone around you seems to be chattering meaninglessly about “that Christmas spirit.” December is good at exposing broken hearts and the bondage of hopelessness. But Advent is all about the promise of the one who has come, and still comes, and will come again to bind up your broken heart and release you from your bondage. He bound Himself in your flesh, and was imprisoned in the grave; but His resurrection is the release that cannot be undone. Advent is the promise of your release, your resurrection, your recreation. And the God of peace is still in the process of sanctifying you completely. Only He can keep your whole spirit and soul and body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, without a doubt, He who calls you—again, He calls you!—He is faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/13/17