Sunday’s Sermon

23rd Sunday after Pentecost – November 13 (Rev. Stan Temme)

Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 20 (Rev. Stan Temme)

First Sunday of Advent – November 27 (Rev. Stan Temme)

Second Sunday of Advent – December 4 (Rev. Stan Temme)

Third Sunday of Advent – December 11 (Rev. Stan Temme)

Hope in the Lord’s Coming

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Our text is from the Old Testament Reading, the prophet Isaiah.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come and save you.”  Here ends our text.

            There are certain seasons of the year that I find more difficult to get through than others.  One of those times is late summer in August when the temperatures are sweltering, the air is stagnant, the ground is dry and dusty, my lawn is brown with crabgrass, and the roads smell of oily asphalt.  But I always have hope that September and October will bring cooler weather and gentle breezes.  The day-long rains will come to soak the ground, rejuvenate the grass, and wash the oil from the roads and the dirt from my car.  The trees will burst forth in the glorious color of autumn.  In the dog days of summer, I know that change for the better is coming in the fall.  I have hope that gets me through the tough season.

            Another season that I find difficult is beginning now.  Besides the already shorter hours of daylight, winter begins next week with subfreezing temperatures, ice, and snow.  The trees have dropped all their leaves, and the barren ground is frozen tundra.  But I always have hope that the spring will bring sunshine, longer days, and new life.  The tulips will pop up, and the crocus will bloom.  The trees will bud again and even my lawn will look good for a few months.  In the cloudy and dark days of winter, I know that change for the better is coming in the spring.  I have hope that gets me through the tough season.

            Our Old Testament reading today from the entire chapter of Isaiah 35 is also a chapter which brings hope during a tough season.  The preceding chapters speak of God’s judgment against the nations for their idolatry and immorality.  The following chapters speak of the decline of the one remaining tribe of Judah during the days of King Hezekiah, which end with his death and the prophecy that the remnant of Israel will also be exiled to Babylon.  Certainly, dry and dark days were coming.  But Isaiah chapter 35 gives a respite from this gloomy season.  It gives hope that better days are coming, better because the Lord is coming to save.

            Isaiah begins, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.  The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.  For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”  Isaiah gives hope for a change of seasons for the better.  He describes hot, dry, and thirsty land which is cooled and rejuvenated with springs of water.  The grass greens and grows.  The crocus bloom, and flowers blossom.  The great trees of Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon are alive and majestic again with foliage.  Why this change of seasons?  Because “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”  Indeed, the Israelites endured a tough season, seventy years of exile in Babylon.  But these words from Isaiah give them hope to get through it.  Just as sure as the new seasons come, so the Lord would come and change their life for the better.  Isaiah encourages them, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your Godwill come with vengeance.”  Vengeance not against God’s people but against their enemies.  Babylon would fall.  But God would come with His recompense for His people, that is, a compensation for their suffering.  “God will come and save you.”  These words of the Lord’s coming to save them gave them hope.  They believed that their difficult season of exile would end, and they would enjoy better days in the Promised Land.

            And this hope in God’s promise came true.  Two hundred years before it happened, Isaiah prophesied that God would turn the heart of Cyrus, King of Persia, to release the Israelites.  Indeed, the Persians conquered the Babylonians, and Cyrus decreed that the Israelites could return home to rebuild the Temple and their city Jerusalem, also known as Zion, the city of God.  The Lord strengthened their weak hands and made firm their feeble knees for the journey home.  Isaiah prophesied that God would give them a safe highway to travel back to Zion.  “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; but the redeemed shall walk there.  And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.  The Israelites were sustained through troubled times by their hope in the Lord and His coming to save.
            But this hope in the Lord’s coming to save is not for the exiled Israelites alone.  Isaiah also prophesies that when the Lord comes, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”  In the days of Jesus, John the Baptist came baptizing and preaching repentance.  John was preparing a royal highway for the Lord to come and save them.  John saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan.  John pointed to Jesus as the one who, like Cyrus, would come with vengeance and judge their enemies, but who would also free them from their oppression.  But in today’s Gospel reading, John is languishing in prison on death row for preaching against Herod’s adultery.  John is enduring a tough season, but he doesn’t see Jesus judging their enemies.  John begins to wonder whether Jesus is really the Lord’s Messiah.  So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  Now Jesus could have just claimed, “Yeah, I’m the guy,” without offering any proof.  But instead, Jesus says,“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. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Jesus proves to John that He is the Messiah by doing the miracles that Isaiah prophesied the Lord would do when He came.  Jesus is opening the eyes of the blind and unstopping the ears of the deaf.  By His healing, the lame leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.  Jesus is even raising the dead.  These words of Jesus, fulfilling the words of Isaiah, give John hope.  John knows that the Lord is not just coming to save, but Lord has now come in the person of Jesus, the Son of God.  This hope in the Lord gets John through this difficult time of imprisonment.  He knows that better days are coming.  He believes that the Lord will even get him through beheading and death because Jesus raises the dead.  John has hope.

            Now I don’t know what difficult season that you’re passing through in life.  It’s probably somewhere between gloomy weather and being exiled to a foreign land or being imprisoned and beheaded.  Maybe its being bullied at school or persecuted at work.  You might feel all alone, exiled from family.  As you’re walking along the path of life, the devil is there like a roaring lion seeking to devour you with temptation or guilt.  Maybe you’re being treated for cancer or taking medication for a health condition.  Worse yet, you may have an ailment that can’t be treated.  You’re losing your sight, your hearing, your voice, or your ability to walk.  All these things give you an anxious and worried heart.  You’re afraid about what the future holds or maybe a little depressed.  How will you get through this troubled season of life?

            Well, just like the coming change of seasons gives us hope, so we have hope in this season of Advent.  Advent means coming.  In this season of Advent, we’re looking forward with hope to the coming of the Lord to save us.  We remember the Lord’s first coming as a baby at Christmas.  The Son of God became flesh, became a child, and became a man.  Upon the cross, God the Father came and poured out all His vengeance, not upon us, His enemies, but upon His only Son.  And then the Lord came with His recompense, not His compensation for our suffering, but His compensation for Christ’s suffering.  God rewards us with forgiveness of sins and welcomes us into His family of believers because of Christ’s first Advent, His first coming.

            But also, in this season of Advent, we look forward with hope to the Lord’s second Advent, His second coming.  On the Last Day the Lord Jesus will come with vengeance against the enemies of His people, those who bullied or persecuted you for your faith in Christ.  The Lord will come with vengeance against our enemy the devil and cast that lion into the abyss of hell.  And finally, the Lord will come with vengeance against the final enemy of death.  The Lord will raise our body free from any ailment.  Christ will restore our sight, our hearing, and our limbs so that His redeemed may walk on the highway to heaven.  We’ll leap like deer and sing for joy as we safely come to Zion, the holy city above.  The ransomed of the Lord will return with everlasting joy upon our heads for we “shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”

            These are the words and promises of God which get us through the troubled seasons of life.  Just like the change of seasons bring the rains and the spring, the Lord is bringing change for the better.  So for you who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come and save you.”  We do have hope, hope in the Lord’s coming to save us.  Amen.

            The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.