Third Sunday in Advent
December 17, 2017
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Isaiah 61:1-11 Mark 1:1-8
Isaiah is proving to be a prophet for the physical season and the hope of the season. As the days get shorter and colder and the nights get longer and colder still, he called us to look at the dark and cold places within ourselves. He pulled no punches declaring, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” There was a shift last week. Isaiah called us to look forward to a herald of good tidings who will declare “Here is your God!” The God being declared is one who “will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” A Psalm 23 ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ like divine leader is described.
Starting this third week in Advent Isaiah speaks about what this savior leader will do. When all is said and done, because of the savior each follower can make their own declaration, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
This image of God so dressing us is something worth taking time for reflection. God saves us from a comic panel I saw about two decades ago. A couple approaches heaven’s gates and the wife says to her husband, “And whatever you do, Harry, do not demand to get everything that’s coming to you.”
In contrast to God clothing us in robes of salvation and righteousness out of holy love is a far prettier picture than standing before God, completely exposed and demanding I get what I have coming to me. In the first third of my adult life I enjoyed being in my military officer uniforms and clericals. I still enjoy costumes for special events. Deep down, I know God looked right through the special outfits and sees those aspects of me that I’d rather not admit are there.
That awareness makes me understand more that we have a society that wants God talk, and especially Jesus talk held to a minimum in public discourse. Jesus the penetrating observer who speaks of a divine moral order running in creation is discomfiting. A seminary classmate’s then two year old son summarized the feeling well with his negative description word ‘Yucko.’
With such a focus we miss the point. Jesus gaze as our Savior is Good News. We do not stand stripped with our sins ever present. As the Word says we are given clothing marking God’s salvation and righteousness. God erases and replaces. Instead of getting what we have coming we get what the Son Jesus provides, a place in the heavenly court in a future where we stand with the angels. We stand in the present life with fresh direction and guidance.
When I lived in the Northern half of the Nebraska panhandle in the winter we experienced 20 to 40 mile per hour winds bringing a dry cutting, and piling up snow. It is not the snow Linda and I enjoy watching here, gently falling, quietly to earth.
There I was very thankful that we had come to create, thermal socks, long underwear, sweats, thinsulate gloves and mittens, only eyes showing ski masks. Instead of shivering while shoveling, I worked up a warming sweat. I stood protected from the cold.
In a similar way Jesus provides the warm clothing of grace that keeps the chill of sin at bay, either as a protective shield from or healing warmth after being caught in, a sin laced storm.
The prophet provides quite a laundry list from this ‘servant song,’ that describes God’s action, through a special agent or agency. The servant brings good news to the oppressed, binds up the wounds of the brokenhearted, comforts the mourners by giving garlands instead of ashes, and gives a mantle of praise, a base to be oaks of righteousness and not faint spirits.
The change in perspective is something people note. They see them as blessed and as agents of blessing. From recognized saints like St. Paul, writer of 1/3 of the New Testament and John Newton, writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, I heard it visiting a person in a hospital who had been hit with one medical condition after another. He said, “At first I asked ‘Why me?’. After some reflection I asked, ‘Why not me?’ The Bible does not promise exemption from trouble. It promises the support God declares in Isaiah. God binds himself to “an everlasting covenant.”
This Advent I have been reading the booklet reflections provided by Eagle’s Wings, a ministry in northern half of Canada’s province of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. For last Monday, the day before I wrote this sermon, Rev. Dane Neufeld, pastor of All Saints Anglican Church in Fort McMurray, Alberta, wrote about Jesus, the type of servant Isaiah wrote, and what he brings.
Fort McMurray, where I live, is not the true north as north goes, but it is as far north as I have ever lived. The dark winter days were something I had to get used to, and though they can be challenging I have also grown to appreciate them. Especially in Advent, as the days grow shorter in anticipation of Christ’s birth, there is a feeling that the world is narrowing in on something very important.
Sometimes the darkness, in whatever form, has a way of focusing our gaze on the light, even if it is just a little light in all that darkness. Jesus said that is was in the middle of great trials and tribulations that we were to “look up and raise our heads”. Right at the moment when we are struggling to see much at all, Jesus tells us that our redemption is drawing near.
It is often when we feel most burdened, anxious or afraid that we begin to see more clearly and intensely the light Jesus brought into our world. Indeed it was a small light at first, that grew and grew and will one day fill all things.
After four years in Fort McMurray I cannot think of anywhere I would rather be during Advent but in the Canadian North. As the world grows quiet in cold and darkness we wait upon Jesus to bring light and warmth to our hearts.
He leaves us with this prayer:
In the midst of our darkness O Lord, come and fill us with the light of your presence. Amen.