Audio of the sermon here.
Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Imagine: a city in ruins, walls torn down, stones chipped and broken, wood charred black. There are a few pieces of walls that still stand upright, a few people milling here and there (2 Kings 25:9). You have heard your parents’ parents talk about the great army that destroyed this city. You have heard them tell you how things used to be, how the city used to be full of people, and the children were hard to count, there were so many of them. They tell you about the great festivals, and the feasts, and the full Temple. But it’s hard to see now. Hard to believe. And no one really has any good ideas for bringing back the glory of those days. It is what it is, they say.
Wait, they put up a finger to silence the chatter around them, interrupting their stories. What’s that sound? It sounds like shouting. It’s coming from one of those remaining walls, over there, looking out over the valley. There are a few people standing on the wall, pointing and shouting. Someone is running this way, they yell. The watchers haven’t seen anything like this for years. Now they’re singing, they can see the banners now. Singing for joy! Can you hear them? “How beautiful are the running feet of the messengers! They bring good news of victory, unexpected victory to us who sit in these ruins! They are bringing news of peace, telling us of God’s Yahshua, His Salvation. Look! They are running under the banner of Yahweh; He has been crowned King! Your God reigns, Israel! Finally, Yahweh has rolled up His sleeve, and makes war on His enemies. Finally, everyone will see that we have not been waiting all this time for nothing. Finally, we will see our God’s Salvation.
That was Jerusalem seven hundred years before Jesus, waiting for God to set right His ruined city, where He said He would dwell forever. But even when the people came back from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, even when the ruins were cleared away, Israel’s enemies remained. Even then, the Temple was only a shadow of its former glory under Solomon. Even then, the idolatry of God’s people did not go away. So they kept waiting. The physical ruins were gone, but the spiritual ruins remained. And so it went for hundreds of years, Advent lingering on and on, always winter but never Christmas. But then: listen. Do you hear it? Some watchmen in the sky, shielding their eyes from the rising sun: Glory to God in the Highest places! And peace to His people on earth! The gloria which had been absent so long, now rang out across barren fields, scattering the seeds of hope in the hearts of shepherds. Tonight! they say, tonight God’s Yahshua, His Salvation, is born for you in Bethlehem. How beautiful are the feet of these messengers! How beautiful the echoes of their messages in the mouths of prophets and on the tongues of psalmists. Here is peace! Here is good news! Here is the Yahshua, the Jesus, of God, born in the ruins of a world that seems so old. But it was just in time. The watchmen sing for joy, they see the return of Yahweh to Zion. The King is born, soon to be crowned.
And then 30 more years, and another watchman cries out: the King is coming! His reign is spreading! He rebuilds what has been torn down! And the people wait, and they listen, and they watch. But the only crown they see is made of thorns, the only throne shaped like a cross. And the world decays, the ruins expand, and the devastation only gets worse. Children, now as then, are slaughtered. War, now as then, engulfs entire nations. Death runs rampant, and there are fewer and fewer to watch. Fewer and fewer who wait. “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of [Yahweh] been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1) the Church sighs. If He has indeed worked salvation, if all the ends of the earth have seen His Jesus, why are things so much the same? Why do we go on waiting, sinning, dying? Why do our children die? Why do our marriages end? Why do we still lie, and spit out those harsh words against the ones we love, and do all the things we hate ourselves for doing?
But still the runners come, prophets and apostles both. Still the Word Himself, enfleshed and living, whispers into the ears of the Faithful and shouts from the tops of broken towers: Peace! My Peace I give to you! I do not give as the world gives. The world is not peace; you do not feel peace; your lives are anything but peaceful, nor is the world without war. I am your Peace. These waste places, the north and south and east and west of this creation are not just any desolation, they belong to Me. They are the ruins of the place where I promised I would dwell until the completion of this age. The hope and the salvation that is proclaimed by My runners with their good news cannot be undone by the ruins we see around us. There is nothing that can hide My banners, nothing that can overthrow My Reign. Even death is nothing to you now: I have risen from the dead. Here: taste My living Body and Blood; even this bread and wine are no longer what they were. Even this water carries My life. Even these words give what they promise. Yahweh has comforted His people, even all the nations. He has redeemed Jerusalem, which means that He has become her own relative, her own flesh and blood. He has paid the price to buy her back. “For thus says [Yahweh]: ‘You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money’” (Isaiah 52:3). And so He has: redeemed us lost and condemned creatures, sitting in the ruins of our own making, purchased and won us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.
The song of Isaiah’s watchers is our song today, the song of angels and shepherds, the song of Zechariah and John; the song of Mary and Elizabeth. Our King, the Salvation—the Jesus—is born. With Him, our hope is born in the midst of the ruins. Our King is crowned with thorns and His side is opened with a spear. From Him flows our salvation, the mystery in which we are washed, and the mystery we eat and drink. Our King dies, and our sins die with Him. Our King rises from the dead, and our life is hidden in His resurrection. We see the ruins, but the City has been rebuilt, and we await only its revealing. Our King has come, and is coming again! Sing together for joy! “Oh sing to [Yahweh] a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him” (Psalm 98:1, ESV). “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation [Jesus] of our God” (Psalm 98:3b, ESV). And still they will see Him, revealed in glory, raising the dead, rebuilding forever the ruins of His creation.
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, 12/21/17