Third Sunday in Advent

~ Gaudete ~

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 | 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 | Matthew 11:2-11

Text: Isaiah 40:1-8

It’s been said that Isaiah is a reflection of the Bible, Old and New Testaments. The first 39 chapters speak of God’s judgment against His wayward people and the nations of the earth. The 40th chapter begins the proclamation of John the Baptist, announcing the coming of the Servant of the Lord and culminating in the New Heavens and New Earth and the rejoicing which follow (Isaiah 65-66).

I. The Hebrew word, “Comfort” ties together God’s judgment and His gracious pardoning of sin.

a. We’re familiar with this verse, especially from the hymn which we’ll sing during Communion.

b. This word—nacham—which here means comfort, is also used before the Flood:

i.  The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Gen. 6:5-6)

c. Human sin is so serious that He regrets making man. It grieves Him to His heart. So much so that He sends destruction on the earth except for Noah and His family who feared Him. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your sin doesn’t have a serious impact on your Creator. It’s no light, private matter that “doesn’t hurt anyone that much.” It grieves God to His heart.

d. Remember the judgment against the ungodliness, the drowning of hard-hearted Pharaoh, the death of the uncircumcised nations who fought against Him. Remember Jesus’ warning about the end of days, how it will come when people are “marrying and given in marriage, and then the flood came and swept them all away.” (Matt. 24:38-39)

II. But see what this nacham, regret, causes God to do—not just to save one family in an ark, but to give His Son as a ransom for all.

a. After the floodwaters had subsided, the Lord promised, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Gen. 8:21)

b. It’s not a bigger act of judgment, but a monumental act of grace and salvation for sinners. For even though the wickedness of God grieves God to His heart, His heart is love. It moves Him to send His Son. And from what His Son came to do, comes not regret on God’s part, but comfort to the contrite. The very same word in this new context, nihem, means to comfort.

c. Out of the suffering which His Son freely bore, behold what God has done:

that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

III. This Word has a real effect. Here a modern image is appropriate: that of a road grader.

    A voice cries:
                  “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
                Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
                  the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

a. The Lord’s work to lay down and restore according to His plan. A freshly graded road doesn’t puddle, or have cart tracks. What a bombed-out, washed-out mess our world is, and our own hearts because of sin.

b. His Gospel changes us from what our sin has made us, and restores us into the human beings we were created to be. Just as a road with a proper crown will drain and put the water in the proper place, the water of our Baptism works to restore us to God’s design.

c. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, not only to objectively save us from what we deserve, but to manifest God’s work through faith with a new heart. This is where we see a deposit of that salvation, the new creation which God works in His people.

d. Here is an example of this “road grading” of the Holy Spirit. In speaking about the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Luther writes:

He has set this up for our strengthening and assurance as a sign along with the promise that matches this petition in Luke 6:37, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”…
Therefore, this sign is attached to the petition so that when we pray we may recall the promise and think, “Dear Father, I come to you and pray that you will forgive me for this reason: not because I can make satisfaction or deserve anything by my works, but because you have promised and have set this seal on it, making it as certain as if I had received an absolution pronounced by you yourself.” For whatever baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which are appointed to us as outward signs, can effect, this sign can as well, in order to strengthen and gladden our conscience. (Large Catechism, III 96-98)

There are plenty of things around us that can cause us to doubt this proclamation of “Comfort, comfort” and that God’s Kingdom has come to us. Like John the Baptist asking in prison, “Aren’t you the Coming One who will proclaim liberty?”  But the Lord points us to these visible signs of His coming: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matt. 11:4-5)  You have been given eyes to see God’s work and your ears have been opened to hear God’s Word. You are daily cleansed from the leprosy of your sin and your body is daily being prepared for the resurrection (even if outwardly it wastes away), and the Gospel has been preached to you.

Not only do you hear of this Kingdom, but in these ways that the Lord points us to, we also see His Kingdom coming among us. So, take comfort, dear citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, when all else fades away, this Word of your God stands forever. In the Name + of Jesus.


Advent 3 Midweek (Isaiah 40:1-8)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Advent 3 Midweek – December 20, 2017
Text: Isaiah 40:1-8
Who doesn’t like to feel comfortable?  It sure is nice to not be annoyed, or hungry, or sleepy.  Your favorite chair, your favorite room in the house, your favorite food and the people around you. That’s what we’re all hoping Christmas will be like—even though for some of us we know that’s not going to be the case.
Often times, we believe that God promises like will be comfortable.  When things are good, we bless the Lord because He is good.  But when suffering is appointed for us—especially when health and finance problems pile up—we start question God’s motives.  “Can’t I just get a break?” we complain.
Perhaps the answer from God is “No, you can’t yet.  I still have more to teach you.  Take up your cross daily and follow Jesus.”[1]  That’s because God doesn’t promise that we will be comfortable in this life, but that we will be comforted.  But in order to know that comfort, we must also know hard service.
1Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2)
What sort of comfort is our God speaking to us?  Is it a financial windfall at just the right time?  Is it a miraculous recovery after illness?  Maybe the return and reconciliation of an estranged family member?  While all of these things are a relief, they are only symptoms of the bigger cause of our hardships.  When God seeks to comfort His people, He doesn’t scratch at the surface, but instead He goes to the root of all our tears—sin.
It is because of a broken relationship with God that our lives are so filled with misery.  It’s the sin of people around us—evil, insensitive, hurtful things that people say and do—which tear apart our dreams for a peaceful, fulfilled life.  It’s parents who act like babies and drive their children to counseling, bosses who unjustly favor your vindictive coworker over you, pastors who mistreat their flocks, elected officials who vote against the needs of their constituents.
Oh, how we love to be the victim and point the finger.  But there is no favoritism with God, and each of us must confess how our own sins bring trouble.  It was us who answered their hurtful words with still more, it was us who lost our temper and acted rashly, it was us who squandered our employer’s time with idle conversation, and it was us who started spending too much time with a special friend because things were hard at home.  The Word of God shows not just other people’s sins, but that we have lived as if God did not matter and as if we mattered most.  We have not honored our Lord’s Name, our worship and prayers have faltered.  Our love has been cold for God and for our neighbor.
That’s when we are ready for words of comfort.  In the light of our confession, God speaks tenderly to His faith-filled people (identified here as Jerusalem): “Your hard service is ended.  Your iniquity is pardoned.  In place of the justly-deserved anger of God and being abandoned by Him, you have received a double portion of blessing so that God even says, “You are my beloved child.  I will never leave you or forsake you.”[2]
From the Lord’s nail-pierced hands, you have received grace upon grace.  You have received a comfort that brings new light to our temporal life.
It is a comfort that you can’t but share with those in your life.
[1] Luke 9:23
[2] Isaiah 64:8-9; Joshua 1:5