A Homily for Advent IV
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott AZ
December 24, 2017
Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
This year is a peculiar year as Christmas Eve is tonight, falling on the fourth Sunday of Advent. It is always a little overwhelming when we have so much packed into one day. Advent ends abruptly and we go from penitential preparation, to preparing our church for Christmas Day, to rejoicing for the coming of the Lord into the world in less than 12 hours.
This season of Advent we have been focused on what it is to prepare our hearts, souls, and minds for the coming of the Lord into the world, into our lives, and for His second coming at the end of time. Last week Deacon Joe reminded us how our expectations aren't always in line with what God calls us to expect, how often we get lost in our own expectations, and in that lostness we tend to find only disappointment. Yet, our expectation in Advent isn't an earthly expectation but an expectation for the coming of the Lord.
This morning we read from Isaiah 40, and are reminded that Christ's coming into the world was to comfort the people. Not to provide an earthly comfort, but a heavenly one, to be a balm for our sin. The people of Israel were looking for an earthly hope, they were expecting that the Christ would come, would be a second King David, and would drive out the Romans. We see this expectation with all those whom Christ interacts with.
His disciples thought they would be the new king's right hand men. As the first Good Friday drew nigh, they became increasingly distressed, as they realized their presumptions were wrong. Instead Christ had come to establish an eternal, heavenly kingdom.
We see this misunderstanding with the religious authority of the day. Who felt threatened, concerned that their tenuous balance of power would be thrown off by this messianic man. Their concern was not for the glory of God but for their personal power, safety, and comfort.
Even the masses that gathered around him thought that he would heal them, give them a better life than they already had. If you've been reading along through Morning Prayer this month, or along with the Advent bookmark you've noticed the theme of Christ exhorting those who he healed not to share with others what he had done. For although Christ can heal the inflictions and pains of the world, he heals something much more important: he came to heal the relationship between man and God. He came that we may know God more fully, and be able to live to the Glory of the Lord and walk with him in all we do.
We see this emphasis on the forgiveness of sins when the paralytic man is lowered into the house, and instead of immediately healing his leg, he tells the man that his sins are forgiven. It is out of the forgiven life that all other things flow.
So, Christ exhorted those people to stay quiet, in hopes that the masses who came to him would listen, would hear the good news of being set free from their sins, and realize that in his death and resurrection open the gates to walk into the kingdom of heaven, and to walk with God.
Often, our misconceptions of life, and Christ distract us from His saving work. We want a savior who gives us what we want, but he came into the world, walked among the people and to comfort us in our sin, not to make sin okay - but to open the door that we might have fellowship with God, to wash away the sin and make our hearts as white as snow.
The cry of Isaiah when he says "comfort, comfort!" Doesn't mean a comfortable house, a nice car, or a cozy bed, but comforting our souls from the pains and anxiety of sin. It means saying to us, repent, repent and turn back to God, turn back and know that the Lord is good. Know that as we dwell in Christ and Christ in us we are made citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
So, comfort, comfort! Dear Christian people for Just as Christ came into the world, he comes into our lives, to be the cure and balm for our soul, for our struggles in our walk with God and our struggles as we attempt to live at peace with our neighbors.
Repent and believe this goodness, come to know the Lord for his yoke is easy, but it means trusting in Him in all things. For the easy Yoke is light compared to the burden of sin. For the burden of sin leads us to death, leads us to pain and sorrow. It leads us away from fellowship with our fellow men, but the yoke of Christ brings us back to Him, it frees us to worship and fellowship with God and with other people. This is the comfort of the Christmas message, that in the darkness of the sin and the sorrow of the world Christ has come to free us from these heavy burdens.
Isaiah's promise for Israel and by extension the church is that: her warfare is ended, and her iniquity is pardoned, yet war still happens and iniquity ravages our world. For some seem to get ahead without trying and others struggle constantly, and can never seem to make ends meet. In the same way, war still happens, still destroys lives, homes, hopes, and dreams. We know too well the pain and sting of this as young men go away to far off countries never to return.
So, how can we believe and say that war is gone and there is no more iniquity when we know this is untrue? There are two things to understand here.
First the spiritual answer. In the sinfulness of our world, our hearts, souls, and minds are corrupted. We are are given to wrestling with our own wickedness, and the wickedness of others. Yet in this struggle we have been given a peace we do not understand. This peace is a peace is an invitation to walk with God. When we come to know Him we are no longer our own, we are no longer seeking after our own desires, but we submit to him. In this submission, our warfare with the Lord is ended, in Christ we have peace.
The second way to look at this promise is the prophetic sense. In that, we know that Christ will come again. First will be the day of judgement, and then the eternal day of peace. We will be made whole and recreated. We will walk with the Lord in his peace. Isaiah is full of promises about this day, as is the Book of Revelation. In Revelation, we know that there will be a new creation: a new heaven and a new earth.
This new creation is not merely a spiritual recreation as the gnostics believed, but a physical recreation. In this time, there will be no darkness. Darkness of course meaning evil. Evil will be cast aside, and all will be holy. In this time, we will have perfect fellowship with the Lord and with our fellow humans. We will be given to the tasks of worshiping, glorifying, and enjoying the Lord for eternity. In that last day, there will be no more warfare, and we will be at peace with the Lord.
This is the same for our iniquity, we are talking of spiritual iniquity. Our relationship with the Lord was tattered and tarnished by the wages of sin, but through Christ this iniquity has been put aside and Christ's grace is double any sin we commit. There is nowhere that we can run that the Lord will not find us, and there is no sin that cannot be forgiven in repentance and coming to know the Lord.
This is the Christian gospel, the good news of the incarnate Lord coming into the world. For the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, He is our Light in the darkness, and our hope in our sorrow.
So, we get to our Advent call: 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."
For geography lovers, this doesn't mean that the eternal kingdom of heaven will be with out mountains, but rather, the author is speaking metaphorically here. He is speaking of our spiritual state. For in our separation from God, our hearts are deserts, and our lives are made up of mountains and valleys. Times of great joy and great sorrow. Times of ups and times of downs. For we have all struggled, and gotten discouraged, all had times when we did not know if we would have enough, all had times when life felt too difficult to carry on. Yet God is the with the faithful, even in the silence, He does not forsake his children.
So, this Advent season we have been talking about what it means to prepare the way of the Lord. To make our hearts and minds ready for Him to dwell within us, that we may be His faithful servants, His children that seek to glorify Him.
In one sense this passage about the barren land, the desert where the highway of our Lord is created is speaking to St. John the Baptists ministry in the desert of Israel, where men and women came out to hear him preach. Yet, it is also about the desert of our hearts.
Our hearts that wander and get lost, that we find chasing after every distraction, everything that can and will cause our hearts to ache. In this sense, the desert is our hearts without God, the highway is what the spirit is doing to us when we repent, when we come back to the Lord. He is making our way the way of righteousness, he is turning us away from sin and towards the way of following Christ.
This is the same for the leveling of the valleys and mountains of our life. For in the end of time the troubles that have plagued us in this life shall be put behind us, and we will enjoy privilege of knowing God. Although trials and troubles still plague us in this life, we can have confidence that the Lord will bring us through, and that he is by our side.
It is not for our earthly benefit, but rather that God would be glorified, not only for us to enjoy but so the whole world may see the goodness of the Lord. The purpose of God's chosen people has always been to show the rest of the world the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. We see this vocation for as long as God has called people to be his own.
For the church our first and central mission is to be witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Letting others know the good news that we have just discussed, that although we all like sheep have gone astray, choosing to be our own gods, choosing our own goodness and glory over the glory of the Lord, Christ came to set us free from that. For although the burden of sin is disunity, dissatisfaction, and death, we have been set free from that burden, and others can be set free too.
Though it is not merely enough to do this with words, but our actions must follow. We are called to show kindness, compassion and goodness to the world. We are called to dwell in the holiness of Christ, and in the same way emulate that holiness. These actions will let the light of Christ within us shine forward and we pray that in that God is glorified and others come to praise and know Him. So, we persevere, being His faithful witness both as a body and as individual Christians.
Yet, as the grass fades, we know too well that our bodies will fail us and one day we will be no more. It is hard for us to comprehend that Christ has ushered in new life when we morn the loss of someone we hold so dear. We wonder how we can rejoice in the newness that Christ has promised. For we sing of how death has died, and yet we know it's sting altogether too well.
When Christ comes into our lives we were spiritually dead, the consequence of the sin we inherited from our first father is death. So, we die to this sin that we may be spiritually alive, but our bodies still break down and fail. Death still comes. Take heart, in the last day we will share with Christ in his resurrection. It is in this resurrection that we are finally, fully renewed, made new and given bodies that have not been infected by the curse of sin.
The prophet reminds us that all that the temporal is temporary. Like the grass of the field, death comes in this life time. Death even comes to the most beautiful of things and they too will pass away, so even though there is goodness in true beauty, for it points us back to God, beauty is not God. It will fade and fail.
But the word of God will stand forever. Governments, churches, institutions, and people will inevitably fall, but Christ never will. With this in mind, we are called to place our trust in the Lord, to place our trust in the one thing that will never fail us.
It is easy to think, if I become friends with this person, or invest in the right stock, or get a good job, or go to the best school, or even to the right church, everything will turn out fine and success will rise to meet us on the road. But these things will fail you. Eventually, someone at your church will hurt you, your job could become downsized, your friends may not have time for you. The only thing that will never fail is the word of God. Enjoy the gifts you are given today, use them to glorify God, but don't trust in them for your salvation or even betterment. Simply, give thanks to the Lord for all the good things you enjoy and seek to glorify Him.
Our passage ends with our charge - get you up to a high mountain, and be a herald of the good news. We are called to be faithful witnesses of that good news to the world around us, to cry out behold our savior and make him known.
This isn't simply the job of the priest, or senior leadership at the church, but every Christian person. You may not be called to be a missionary in some foreign country or a presbyter here, or even to lead Sunday school. You may be called to be a housewife, a mechanic, or a ranger. You may be called to something simple, or complex, but in that calling you are to work out all you do as though to the glory of the Lord. You are to love your neighbor as yourself, and chiefly, you are to Love the Lord with your heart, soul, and mind. It is in that we proclaim the good news of Christ.
So that when people see us, and say "why do you work so hard?" "Why are you always honest?" "Where do you get that joy?" We can tell them the source of our life, our joy, and all we do is Christ our Lord. So rejoice, stay faithful and let that light shine.
A final thought for today is this: The passage we read shows us three sides to the Lord: a conquering king, a generous benefactor, and a gentle shepherd.
For the Lord is the king of kings, Lord of lords. It is He who conquers evil and sin, and sets us free. It is he, who is ultimately sovereign over all the world. So we trust, we glorify and we give thanks to Him, for his love.
In the same way, as we have discussed, he gives us all that we need for our spiritual edification. He turns our hearts and minds constantly back to Him and works out all that we go through that we might have a closer walk with him. He is, indeed, a generous benefactor.
Finally, Christ is the shepherd of our souls. He tracks us down when we wander far from Him and guides us away from those things that we may stumble into. He is the good shepherd, and his voice calls out to follow him.
So, this morning Advent ends and soon we will be celebrating the nativity of our Lord. We will be celebrating that the Lord became incarnate, descended to dwell among us. That he calls to our hearts and helps us to walk with him.
Tonight, we look forward to the fact that some 2000 years ago, the Lord came into the world in the innocence of an infant, that he was born, walked among us, and died to free us from the death that comes with sin, and to make us white as snow.
We rejoice in the fact that Christ comes into our hearts to conquer that sin we want to follow, to provide for them that we may grow in Him and to be our shepherd and guide in this life that in the next we would know him.
We look forward to the day when he will come again, when death will finally be no more, when the valleys and mountains of trial are leveled and we finally walk with the Lord in peace, singing Glory to God in the highest with all his angels and arch angels and with all the saints through out all time.
So, we turn now from penitential preparation to hearty rejoicing for the great coming of the Lord to be the light that shines brightly, even in the darkest of nights.
In the name of that Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen