Bible Text: Isaiah 1:10-20; Hebrews 9:11-15 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Our Great High Priest Isaiah 1:10-20 & Hebrews 9:11-15 by William Klock As you went about your daily business this week, did any of you happen to touch anything disgusting? I mean something really gross. When I worked fixing computers, it was a regular occurrence. You’d think that fixing computers would be a pretty clean job, but there are lots of times when it’s not. We’d get stuff from the mildly icky, like cracker crumbs in the keyboard, to the truly gross, like cat spray and dead mice. Sometimes you’d start taking a computer or a printer apart and the deeper you got into it the more you wished you had rubber gloves, and what’s especially bad is when you get stuck working on one of these machines right before lunch. No matter how well you wash your hands, you just can’t quite forget what it was you were touching – and of course it’s especially bad when you can’t quite identify what the sticky substance was… We’ve all had that happen. You’re sitting somewhere and you touch the bottom of your chair or the bottom of a table and – ick – somebody’s old gum reveals itself. Or you walk across your lawn and step in something your neighbour’s dog left for you. It’s nasty. You accidentally touch the old gum and for an hour afterward, even if you wash your hands, you somehow pay special attention to that finger that came in contact with it, and how, even after you’ve rubbed a bare spot in the lawn cleaning your befouled shoe, you still take it off and leave it in the garage before you go inside and walk across the living room carpet. Even kids know better. For a while we had a cat in our neighbourhood that was always leaving dead mice and birds in a corner of our front lawn. I could always tell if it had left another present because the neighbourhood kids would be standing around it and poking it with sticks. They were curious, but they knew not to touch the dead animal. We all know not to touch these sorts of things. We work hard at staying clean. We shower daily. We wash our hands. We keep a bottle of Purell on hand, just in case we touch something nasty and there’s no soap and water around. Now remember how Jesus responded to the Pharisees when they accused the disciples of not washing their hands before eating: You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:7-11) Think of all those gross things you’ve touched – or worked so hard to avoid toughing. Think of how often we get worked up because we touched something that “defiles” us or we go way out of our way to avoid coming into direct contact with it. But how often do we think about the sin in our lives that defiles us and separates us from God. Our desire to be clean drives us to avoid the dirty. And yet consider that God’s innate and perfect holiness does not tolerate the unholy. When we sin we remove ourselves from his presence. In the Old Testament, God used the Law as a tool to teach the people about the severity of their sins. The Law used externals to teach spiritual truths and to point to the Messiah who would come and fulfil the Law by meeting it perfectly where all of us have failed. The Jews are notorious throughout the Old Testament for not understanding the inner spiritual truths of the Law. They focused on the externals. They went through the motions of serving God, but their hearts weren’t in the right place. Look at our Old Testament lesson: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. “When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17) These were people who went through all the outward motions of piety. They made their sacrifices, they were regular in their religious observances, they were sticklers in obeying the Law down to the last letter, but when it came to applying God’s principles in their lives, they didn’t have a clue. Their external observances should have been a natural outgrowth of an internal relationship with God. The Law was given to teach them how unholy they were. It was to teach them thankfulness for the grace God gave them in the sacrificial system and in the coming Messiah – grace that restored them to fellowship with God. Instead, they used the Law as a measuring stick to see how good they could be. They missed the point. They were trying to earn their salvation. Through Isaiah, God’s saying to them, “Look, I’m sick and tired of your empty sacrifices. You’re bringing me these sacrificial animals as if I need them. You’re coming to me and saying, ‘Look how good I am God! Enjoy the lamb or the bull.’ Hello!?! The sacrifice is for you, to remind you of your own sinfulness and the need you have to be restored to me.” But God also promised redemption. Look at verses 18-19: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” I think it’s very appropriate that our lessons take us back to the Old Testament sacrificial system on this Sunday that takes into Passiontide and prepares us for Holy Week and Easter. It contrasts the type – the shadow – in the Old Testament with the fulfillment of the type in the New Testament. We see how the fulfillment surpasses the type in every way. Look first at Hebrews 9:11, just the first half of the verse: But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come… Christ is our great High Priest and what he brings us as our High Priest is far better than anything that the old Levite High Priests could bring the Jews. The blessings that Christ brings us, the “good things to come” of verse 11 are the things that the Jews were looking forward to. Jewish promises are Christian realities, the hopes of the Jews are our certainties. What they looked forward to in the future is our present. The sacrificial system of the Tabernacle and the Temple were a type or a shadow that pointed to Christ, who is the real thing. It pointed to a future redeemer who would free his people from the bondage of sin. They had to look forward to that day with expectation. We live in that day. Look at the rest of verse 11: …then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) As our High Priest, Christ entered the Holy of Holies to atone for our sins. Remember that once every year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, the place in the Temple where the shekinah gory of God dwelled, and into the presence of God the High Priest would bring the blood of a bull to atone for the sins of the people. He would pass through the Tabernacle that the Israelites had built to get there. Christ however, entered the presence of God directly in heaven, not through an earthly building, but through his own body when it was offered on the cross. Only he was holy and only he could make that sacrifice. In him the Word of God became incarnate and took on human flesh so that he could be a second Adam for us. The Tabernacle was an earthly illustration of the way to God that we only fully know in Christ. And remember that the High Priest only entered the Holy of Holies once a year. God could have made this a daily sacrifice if he wanted to, but I think that in its limitation to once every year it points toward the once for all sacrifice of Christ. In verse 12 we read: …he entered once for all into the Holy Place… Jesus completed his atoning work. He entered once for all, where the Jewish High Priest had to make his sacrifice every year. Their Day of Atonement was annual, but ours is eternal, and is eternally perfect. There is no need for a repeat of Christ’s sacrifice. Look at the sacrifice he made: …taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. His is a perfect sacrifice. The Jewish High Priest offered a life lower than his own in the annual sacrifice. Jesus’ death was a true sacrifice, because it was the sacrifice of self. The animals offered in the Tabernacle and the Temple were not willing participants and they were not, in their lives, equal to those for whom they were sacrificed. In Hebrews 10:10 we read that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. If the sacrifice of an unwilling animal could take away the ceremonial uncleanness of the people, how much more is done for us by the sacrifice of the Son of God? In the Old Testament the High Priest would sprinkle the people with water mixed with the ashes of a heifer to ritually cleanse them. But this only cleansed them on an external level. The sacrifice of Christ purifies us spiritually. In Christ the blood of the incarnate Word is offered. He was without blemish. The unblemished sacrificial animals of the Old Testament pointed to him. He is the only man who has ever lived and not been defiled by sin. It was his blood, not the blood of an animal, that was offered, as verse 14 says, “through the eternal Spirit.” This is the final contrast with the old animal sacrifices. The author of Hebrews uses this phrase “eternal Spirit” to contrast with the old sacrifices of flesh. The animals offered in the Tabernacle were dumb brutes with little value. Christ on the other hand was God himself, he was eternal, and embodies spiritual perfection. There’s no comparison of value between the two. Christ’s sacrifice is infinitely better than any other. So if an animal sacrifice could provide ritual, external purification, how much more can Christ’s sacrifice purify us inwardly? I think this shows us just how defiled we really are by our sins. Too many of the Jews never looked beyond the animal sacrifices to see what they pointed to. It was like they could buy off God with one of their animals. “Okay God, I sinned, now here’s your sacrifice.” Maybe it hurt a little in the pocketbook, but it wasn’t any big deal. But when we see that only God himself could become the perfect sacrifice for our sins it should drive home the point that our sins really are a big deal. It also drives home just how much God wants us to be reconciled to him that he would die in our place so that we can be brought back to spiritual life and health and into fellowship with him. Look at verse 15: Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. The Jewish Day of Atonement was really the cornerstone of the Old Covenant, because it was on that day each year that their state of grace was renewed by God. Christ’s atonement brought a better covenant. His death is the pledge of our inheritance in the kingdom of grace and glory. Remember that you can’t receive an inheritance until the person who made the will dies. Christ died for us and we have already received our inheritance of eternal life. The only life we have is in the free gift of grace that we find through Christ’s sacrifice. There is no life in the Law of the Old Testament. Looking for life through the Law is futile, except that it will point us to Christ. The purpose of the Law was to convict the people of their sins. It teaches us what’s right and what’s wrong, and because of that it shows just how much we deserve God’s eternal punishment. It’s the measuring stick that condemns us to hell by showing us how far we are from God’s perfect holiness and by showing us how impossible it is for us to live up to his standards. Our “dead works” – to use the language of verse 14 – condemn us. But Christ’s sacrifice purifies us. Verse 14 ends with a call to us: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Christ became the sacrifice that we couldn’t make on our own. In return we give ourselves over to him. In Romans 12:1-2 St. Paul writes: I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. God didn’t redeem us so that we could continue living our old lives. His grace also sanctifies us, it works in our lives to make us more like him. God calls us to give ourselves back to him as living sacrifices. Being a dead sacrifice is easy. You just lay there on the altar. But God call us to put our lives on his altar – to dedicate ourselves to him and to his service. That’s not always easy for us to do, when our natural tendency is to want to crawl off that altar and do our own thing. Each morning when I get up, I find it helpful to visualize an altar, the sort of thing Abraham would have built when he went to sacrifice Isaac, made of piled stones on a hilltop. I visualize myself climbing up the stones and laying myself down on top of that altar, consecrating my life that day to God and asking him to give me the grace to stay there. As we sit atop God’s altar, contemplate the words of this wonderful hymn that I think really sums up what our prayer should be: Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee; take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of thy love; take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee. Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King; take my intellect, and use every power as thou shalt choose. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine; take my self, and I will be ever, only, all for thee. Prayer: Holy and Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your Son who has become our Great High Priest and offered himself once and for all to atone for our sins. We thank you for the grace that we find in him and we pray that you will keep us faithful to that grace, that we will continue daily to conform to his image. Give us the grace to consecrate our lives to you each day, Lord, and let us be tools that are useful to you. In the name of Jesus Christ, Our Great High Priest, we pray. Amen.
Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year
Bible Text: Isaiah 40:1-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon on the Old Testament Lesson for the Fourth Sunday inAdvent Isaiah 40:1-11 by William Klock I’d like to look this evening at our Old Testament lesson, taken from Isaiah 40. Isaiah’s prophecies break down fairly neatly into two parts. Chapters 1 to 39 are God’s pronouncements of judgement on the Jews and the nations around them. Chapters 40 to 66 are God’s pronouncements of comfort and hope to his people in exile. Our lesson today begins that second section—the section where God comforts his people in their tribulation. It starts with those familiar words, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” But I’d like to take a quick look at Chapter 39 first, because it transitions us from the first part of the book to the second. In chapters 38 and 39 Isaiah records some of the life of King Hezekiah and shows us how Judah got herself into trouble. What’s interesting is that Isaiah doesn’t give us an example from the life of one of the bad kings—one of the kings who encouraged Judah to engage in pagan idolatry or something like that. No, he shows us a scene from the life of one of the good kings. Sometime about 705 B.C. the king of Babylon sent his son as an ambassador to king Hezekiah. At the time Babylon was subject to the Assyrians. Sargon II, the Assyrian emperor, had died and the Babylonian king tried to break away from the Assyrian empire during the turmoil, so in an attempt to strengthen his hand, he sent emissaries like this to various neighbouring nations. He was trying to find friends and allies against the Assyrians. So he tries to sweet-talk Hezekiah. Isaiah gives us this disturbing picture of the king. Hezekiah had stood firm in the face of Assyrian intimidation because of his faith in God and his trust that God would take care of his people. And yet now the Babylonian ambassador comes and Hezekiah melts in the face of the flattery he offers. Hezekiah takes this ambassador all over the city, showing off everything he has: his wealth and all his military power. When he stood alone against Assyria he had faith in God. Now that he has a potential role to play in bringing down Assyria, he starts trusting not in God, but in horses and chariots and the power of his pagan neighbours—the very people God had told the Jews to keep apart from. What Hezekiah really does, without realising it, is to foolishly reveal the extent of his wealth—he invites the Babylonians to come and plunder Judah. When Isaiah hears about this, he confronts Hezekiah. He asks him what he thinks he’s doing. And Hezekiah, rather proudly, tells him that this ambassador has come from a far country and that he’s shown him everything. Hezekiah’s basking in his own power and prestige, but even worse, he’s totally bedazzled by this pagan foreign power. Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, tells Hezekiah that the day is coming when nothing will be left of Judah—everything will be carried away by these Babyonians and that his own sons, or descendants, will be carried away too, to serve as eunuchs in the Babylonian court. Those are disturbing words. Not only will the kingdom fall, but Isaiah doesn’t leave a lot of hope for the continuation of Hezekiah’s line—his sons will be emasculated and no longer able to carry on the line. You’d think that Hezekiah would be repenting in dust and ashes at this point, but instead he responds to Isaiah saying, “That’s great! That means that my days will be days of peace and prosperity.” He doesn’t really care what happens after he’s gone, just that everything will be fine in his time. Hezekiah lost his perspective and forgot his duty as the king—the leader—of God’s people. Over the next two hundred years the situation got worse and worse. It went from the irresponsibility and foolishness of this “good” king to the outright sin, idolatry, and paganism of the truly bad kings who followed after him. And the end result was that what God had spoken through Isaiah did come about: he punished his people by allowing the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem, to destroy the temple, to carry away everything of value, and even to take the people into exile. And now God speaks these words of hope through Isaiah to those faithful people of his living in exile 200 years later: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak 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. God begins by commissioning his preacher—the voice that cries out in verses 3 and 6 and that heralds the good news from the mountain tops in verse 9. There’s a reason why this has been called the Gospel of Isaiah. The prophet proclaims God’s good news to his faithful people as they live in the depths of the world’s darkness—to “Jerusalem”. The people weren’t in Jerusalem any longer, they were in exile, but wherever God’s people are in the world, they themselves are his Jerusalem—God’s kingdom. That would be especially true when Christ came to establish his kingdom. Since Christ, it’s no longer about a place, but about a people—not a physical land or a physical temple, but about a kingdom of people whose hearts are now the temple of the Holy Spirit. God proclaims that coming reality here to a people raw from warfare and tribulation. God comes and speaks lovingly and tenderly to them. They had sinned. He had punished. But he had never ceased to love them and they had never ceased to be his people. Think of how you deal with your children. Even when you’re angry with them and have to punish them when they do wrong, you don’t cease to love them, they don’t cease to be your children. I remember being disciplined when I was young. My mom or dad would send me to my room and they’d tell me to stop at the kitchen on the way there so that I could select a wooden spoon. I’d go to my room and sit on the bed. I’d put the spoon on the opposite end, as far from myself as possible. Eventually Mom or Dad would come. The worse I’d done, the longer it took. They wanted to make sure they had time for their anger to cool down. I’d be spanked. It wasn’t a fun thing. It was painful and it was humiliating to be bent over a knee with my pants around my ankles. Afterward Mom or Dad would sit me on their lap, give me a hug, and explain that they loved me and that their discipline was to teach me to obey. Israel’s situation is very much parallel my own experience. They had refused to obey and so God punished them—not sadistically, but to teach them to trust him and to obey him. The experience was painful, not to mention humiliating. But God now comes to his people, puts his arms around them and comforts them: they’ve been punished and that time of punishment is going to continue, but their pardon will come. He offers them hope. 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. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” God’s people were in the wilderness. Not literally. When they went into exile to Babylon they went to the cultural capital of the world, but it was a culture totally opposed to the ways of God and to his kingdom. There’s a reason why from that time forward, Babylon became a metaphor for the sinful ways and kingdoms of the world. Israel was in a spiritual wilderness—dry, barren, starving—and not simply because God had allowed them to be taken there, but because they had put themselves there first by abandoning him. Imagine how the faithful remnant felt. Many of them had been faithful through all the sins of Judah and yet they had been carried into exile too. Some had come to faith as a result of the exile. Regardless, though, they were now in a foreign nation. They might have wanted to please God and to worship him, but there was no temple anymore and as we see in books like Daniel, they faced persecution and even death for openly worshiping God. These were people who especially associated God with a place—with Jerusalem and with the temple. Those places were gone. And in the midst of the wilderness, he proclaims that he will build a highway in that desert—a highway that will lead the faithful back to him. He describes the mountains and valleys and rough ground that blocked the way to Jerusalem from the east—from Babylon—and says that this highway will cut through them. The valleys will be raised up and the mountains brought low so that world will see his glory. Is this is a prophecy of the Jews returning to Jerusalem from exile? Many people have seen it that way, but that’s a shallow interpretation. Returning from their Babylonian exile wasn’t going to save the people. It wasn’t going to meet their deepest spiritual needs—it wouldn’t truly lead them out of their desert. This is a prophecy of something a lot more important; it’s a prophecy that points to the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who would attract the attention of the world, not just the Jews; and who would himself be the highway in the desert leading all nations to see the glory of the Lord. And in verse 5 Isaiah reminds the people. This isn’t his proclamation; it’s God’s—and when God gives a promise, you can trust he will be true to it. That’s the second part of his proclamation of comfort. Look at verses 6 to 8: A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. God contrasts himself and his character with that of the weak and fickle people. Think of Hezekiah who was otherwise a wise and good king, and yet still fell into pride and lost sigh of his calling to lead the people by example in trusting God. As men and women our commitments and promises are like grass that dries up in the summer heat or a flower that blooms beautifully for a few weeks, then wilts and drops off the stalk. We should be able to see ourselves in those illustrations if we’re honest. Our love and commitment for God waxes and wanes over the years. We make lots of commitments and then forget about them. We say we trust in God, but when real tribulation comes, by our actions we often demonstrate that we really trust in the world or in ourselves. God tells the people here that his promises aren’t like theirs. They had forgotten their end of the covenant, but he has never forgotten his and he never will. He will bring them salvation. He gives them hope as he gives them his sure promise. In verse 9 he again commissions his herald: Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. (Isaiah 40:9-10) “Go tell it on the mountains! Our God is coming to us and he comes with might to bring justice.” And yet he’s not just coming to crush the enemy. In verse 11, we have this picture of Jesus—the coming Messiah. First and foremost, he comes to shepherd his people—to love them, to care for them, and to lead them to the redemption God offers: He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. This morning in the Epistle, St. Paul wrote about our “reasonableness”—the gentleness or graciousness that we’re called on to display to the world. We show that gentleness because God has first shown it to us. And we see that here. The great King, the almighty Judge is coming, but he comes first as the loving and gentle shepherd of his straying flock. He comes with might, but he shows gentleness. Brothers and sisters, think and meditate on that as Advent draws to a close. Advent calls us to prepare for the return of our Lord. He came as the humble and lowly babe who would ride into the royal city on a humble donkey and then die the horrible and humiliating death on the cross, all for the sake of his lambs. And yet he came humbly the first time because when he comes back the second time, he will come with authority, might, vengeance, and justice. He will come back to judge and punish sin. Revelation gives us a graphic and horrifying image of the lake of fire and the final destination of sinners. Advent asks us if we’re ready. Have we availed ourselves of the grace he offers at the cross and that he continues to offer, even up to that last moment? And if we have taken hold of that grace, trusting in Jesus’ atoning death and submitting to him as our Lord, is his grace transforming us? Are we living kingdom lives, or are we still living in the world? And finally, Advent asks us if our hearts are full of the same compassion for the lost that Jesus has. Our Lord desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they should turn from their wickedness and live. Is that our desire too? Are we witnessing the good news of the highway in the desert, the highway that leads to God through Jesus Christ himself? Isaiah was God’s herald almost twenty-eight centuries ago, but God, having redeemed you and me, calls us to be his heralds today—to proclaim the highway of our God, to proclaim his faithfulness to his promises, to proclaim the good news of the grace he offers through Jesus Christ and his blood shed at the cross. Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we give you thanks that you have not left your people to languish in the wilderness; that you have been and always will be faithful to your covenant promises. As we live in the grace of your promises, give us the grace and boldness to be heralds of your comfort to the world. Give us opportunities to declare your good news; give us the eyes to see those opportunities; and give us the courage to take advantage of them. We ask this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Isaiah 9:2-7 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon on the Old Testament Lesson for the First Sunday after Christmas Isaiah 9:2-7 by William Klock This evening I want to look at just one verse from today’s Old Testament lesson: verse 6. Isaiah writes there: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In our Gospel this morning we heard the beginning of the Christmas story as told by St. Matthew, but tonight I want us to listen as Isaiah sings. Think of Handel’s Messiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given!” In the Creed we affirm that Jesus Christ “came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” In those words we affirm the divinity of Jesus, but think of the line just before that—the line that makes all the difference and that tells us why he came: “For us and for our salvation.” Why was he conceived and born? For us. Why did he suffer and die? For us. In the Apostles’ Creed we affirm that we believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord—not just any Lord, but our Lord. And he is ours throughout the Creed. Again, he was conceived and born for us; suffered for us; raised for us; ascended for us; even sitting at the right hand of the Father for us. None of it makes any sense unless we remember that Jesus did these things for us. Think about it. He wasn’t born for his own benefit. He didn’t suffer and die for his own benefit. Jesus would have been just as much Lord if he’d never been Incarnate. He was born, suffered, died, ascended, and now reigns all for us. And so Isaiah says, “ To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Luther compared what Isaiah says here to parents showing off their new baby. Someone looks in the stroller and asks, “What do we have here?” And the parents excitedly show them their baby and say, “It’s our baby.” Jesus was born to Mary, but he’s not just Mary’s baby—he’s our baby too. It’s not just that he was born to us; he was given to us too. He’s the Father’s gift to us—a gift given with nothing to give or pay in return. In our lesson Isaiah goes on. What will he be called? Isaiah says the government will be on his shoulders and that he’ll be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We could be here all night looking at the significance of all those names and titles. He’s all those things and he is Lord too. Think back to the angels’ announcement to the shepherds: “He is Christ, the Lord.” And not just any lord. The one whom the angels announced as Lord is a true and genuine Lord—not just over men and women, but even over the angels. He is Lord, because he is God, because he is Creator. The angels show us the baby and point us up to heaven. Isaiah shows us the baby and then shows what he will do here on the earth. He tells us that he’s the kind of Lord who takes the government on his shoulders. That’s what a lord does. But Jesus is different from the lords of the world. Jesus said, “The kings of Gentiles lord it over them” (Matthew 22:25). They have to exercise their power and rule with an iron hand and control the people with a law. Especially in the ancient world many of those rulers were harsh and cruel in order to maintain control—in order to hold onto their positions as lords. We see that still today in some places, but even in the most benevolent nations, it’s the people who have to carry their lords—we carry our government on our shoulders. Just try refusing to obey the laws passed by Parliament or try refusing to cough up your taxes too Canada Revenue Agency and you’ll come to know the force of government! But the rule of the Son is different—the one who was born for us rules a different way: he carries us. We rest on his shoulders; he bears us up. Isaiah turns everything that the people knew upside-down and shows them something totally different from anything they would have known. Ask yourself where Christ rules. Where’s his country? Where’s his people? Where’s his government. Our queen rules an enormous realm spread out all over the world. They used to say that the sun never set on the British Empire. That empire is gone now, but much of that territory—all that land—remains under the headship of the queen. In contrast, Christ’s rule includes everyone who believes—all those who have made him their Lord. And so his kingdom isn’t about a place. We are his people. We arehis land. In fact, we’re his temple. The queen stands on her kingdom, but Jesus’ kingdom isn’t under his feet—it’s on his shoulders. Christ carries on his shoulders all those of us who firmly put our trust in him and allow him to carry us like lost sheep. And that’s the bottom line: no one is a Christian who does not rest on Jesus’ shoulders. That’s what Isaiah is telling us. That means that you and I believe that he has paid everything for us, that our sins and our death are on the cross. We can’t pay our own debt. He has to pay it for us; he has to make satisfaction; he has to suffer; he has to carry us; we can never carry him. He does not want to be served, but to serve and to carry us. He says, “I will give you everything; all your guilt will be on my shoulders.” All the saints who have gone before us from the least to the greatest are all on his shoulders. That’s his government. And that also means that if you’re not on his shoulders—if you haven’t trusted in him and aren’t leaning on him—you’re not under his rule. There are lots of people out there that see Jesus, but they don’t rest on him. They can’t believe that he would carry them and they insist on trying to carry him around—through their works and thinking they can earn his favour. It doesn’t work that way. Think of how Jesus so often likens himself to a shepherd. The shepherd cares for and carries his sheep. Imagine a sheep trying to carry his shepherd around and to care for him and guide him. It doesn’t work that way. The Son is the one who carries us—he has to. We can’t carry ourselves and we can’t carry him. The Good News is that at Christmas he knelt down to our level and now he calls us to hop on. “Rest on my shoulders. I’ll carry you. I’ll forgive your sins. He will carry. We simply have to trust. Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us the gift of your Son. Thank you that in your love and mercy and grace, you chose to restore us to yourself—we who were your enemies. Give us the grace to remember always, though, that it is we who rest on him. He is our salvation, not we ourselves. Remind us each day just how strong his shoulders are, and as we climb on—as we lean on our Saviour and Lord—keep us there with your gracious hands. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Bible Text: Isaiah 60:1-6 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon on for The Epiphany Isaiah 60:1-6 by William Klock I want to look this evening at our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 60:1-6. Consider that Isaiah wrote these words when Ahaz was king of Judah. There were a lot of evil kings, but Ahaz was one of the worst and he was dragging the nation down with him into sin and darkness. It wouldn’t be that many years before the people who had been called to be a light to the Gentiles, would be virtually wiped out. For years the people of Judah, this small little nation, had lived under threat. They were surrounded by super powers: Syria to the north, Egypt to the south, and the biggest and strongest, Assyrian, to the east. Little Judah was the crossroads of the world. It was a good place to stand as a light to the nations, but it was also territory that every great nation wanted for itself. Eventually the Babylonians overran Judah and when they were gone everything was destroyed. The cities were demolished, the farms and crops were destroyed, and even in Jerusalem, the great Temple was in ruins – and worst of all, everyone but the poorest of the poor had been marched off to exile in a foreign land across the desert. It doesn’t get much darker than that. The Jews in exile were a people almost totally without hope. To them it looked like the light had been extinguished. And yet into the darkness Isaiah spoke the word of the Lord, speaking of another time in the future that would be just as dark. And yet into that darkness would come the true light – the Christ. Isaiah’s vision was true. When Jesus came into the world there were a few people who had eyes open to the light – people like Zechariah and Elizabeth and Joseph and Mary. There were people who were looking for the light and knew it when they saw it like Simeon and Anna. There were some shepherd from the countryside near Bethlehem who saw the light and some magi from the East who came, drawn by the light, looking for the King of the Jews. But aside from those few people, no one was really very concerned about the Saviour who had come. In Bethlehem everyone else slept through the night. Judea and Galilee had no idea about the light that had come. Isaiah writes about the time of the coming Messiah and says in verse 2: For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples… But Isaiah could write that about our own time too. For two thousand years the light has been shining. It’s been taken to every part of the world. It’s been shined in all sorts of dark corners. But there are still people living in darkness everywhere. There are whole nations that are closed off to the light. Worse there are whole nations that once carried the light and that called themselves Christian, that have all but lost it. “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people.” But into that darkness Isaiah cries – and I have to see him doing it with great exuberance: Arise, shine, for your light has come… (Isaiah 60:1) What’s he saying? Well, first we need to ask what the “light” is. Isaiah wasn’t writing about his own time. There was a sense in which the Jews had a light to shine, but Isaiah’s talking about a future light. The whole prophecy is a vision of the future – of what the story the Gospels tell us. Think of the Christmas Gospel that St. John wrote: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9). Simeon, the old priest understood the prophecy when he held Jesus in his arms. He sang out, “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). When Isaiah cries out “Your light has come!” he’s talking about Jesus. When Jesus came he brought his light into the world, and yet when he ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven, the light didn’t leave us. Jesus indwells each of his people in the person of his Holy Spirit. If we are in him, we carry his light with us and before he left he commissioned us to carry that light to the world – to preach the Gospel to all peoples and nations. St Peter wrote, “We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 2:19). As you and I preach Jesus Christ we shine the light of Christ into the souls of the men and women around us and as his light shines, the Holy Spirit draws men and women into relationship with himself. Isaiah proclaims: “Your light has come!” We’re in the dark, but the day is coming. The Day Star is going to rise in our hearts. Through him the men and women living in darkness become children of light as God calls us into his marvellous light. Isaiah pointed a despairing people to a new covenant when the salvation that appeared in Jesus would drive away the darkness and God’s kingdom would be built and would grow to fill the whole earth. Think of the stone in Daniel’s vision, that was cut from the great mountain and sent by God crashing into that great statue of Gold, and Silver, and Bronze and Iron – that smashed the image of dark and evil earthly kingdoms to pieces and then expanded to fill the whole earth. The light of Christ was going to fill it all. And the light of Christ fills the whole earth because his kingdom people carry his light with them. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Isaiah’s light is the light of Christ shining in and through us. And that explains what he means when he says, “Arise, shine.” That’s the second important message in these verses. Isaiah spoke those words to Israel long before the Gentiles heard them. The call went first to Israel: The Light – the Saviour – is coming. Be on the watch. Be alert lest the time of God’s salvation pass you by while you’re asleep on duty. And having received God’s salvation, Isaiah calls them not to hide the light. Don’t put it under a basket, but hold it high. Hold it high enough that it chases away the darkness around you – high enough to draw the lost out of their darkness. Most of the Jews didn’t listen and God’s salvation passed them by. But for the few who were awake and on guard when Jesus came, they heard Isaiah and through those first apostles the light was held high and went from Jerusalem, to Judea, and eventually to the whole world. Thanks to them the light went from family to family and from neighbour to neighbour and eventually to our own countries and our own ancestors and then to each of us. But Isaiah’s call isn’t just a call to ancient Israel or to the Apostles. The fact that you and I are walking in the light should be a reminder that his call is to you and me too. Keep walking in the light. Even the most mature of us still has dark corners we’ve kept closed off to the work of the Spirit of Jesus. Open them up. Let him lighten every dark corner of your life. And as our lights grow brighter, remember that the world is still full of people walking around in the dark. Be a light in every place you walk. Be a light at work and in your family and in the church. Live for others. Spread the light. That was the power of the apostles and early Church. We’ve become complacent. We’ve got the light, but we aren’t sharing it. We aren’t holding it high. The early Church spread and grew because those first Christians were excited about the light. They remembered what the darkness was like. They’d been rescued and all they could think of doing was plunging back into it – but this time with their bright light so that they could find others and save them from the darkness. We only have so much time. The day is almost over. Night is coming, but there’s still a lot of work to do in the Lord’s harvest and the labourers are few. We need to get serious and get busy about the Lord’s work while we still have daylight. Maybe we aren’t busy because we think it’s a waste of time. Isaiah says, “No! Lift up your eyes all around, and see… And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:4-6) Brothers and sisters, that’s the Christmas message and it’s for every child of God. It doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t have personal application to each of us. Think about that: “Your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” That’s for you. The Saviour will fill your heart with the light of his grace and drive away the night of sin. The light shines for you and for me and he wants us to see his glory – the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. It’s a holy light and if we receive it, it’s going to shake us up. I’m always amazed at how casually we’re prone to coming to the Lord’s Table. Here he gives us himself to eat and drink. It’s a sacramental sign of the reality that when we receive his light we make him our own. When we come to his Table, we meet him face to face in the bread and wine and should be reminded here, of all places, that in his love for us he gave his own body and blood. When we come to the Table we should be coming in such a way that we’re reminded of all the dark corners we’ve still got in our lives. The fact is, no matter how often we invite the light to shine into those corners, each time we look, we’re going to find another dark one. At the same time that it’s so often a relief to purge the darkness, it can be discouraging to see the darkness that we don’t seem to be able to get rid of. We need Isaiah’s assurance: “Your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” The light gives hope. At the Table I like to think of the words of David from Psalm 112:4, “Unto the godly there ariseth up light in the darkness; he is merciful, loving, and righteous.” As Isaiah says to us in verse 5, “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult.” When? When you experience the Lord as your light and your salvation. From the Table we can go back to the daily grind with new confidence and hope that our battles and struggles with the darkness will never be in vain. And as we go back to the grind of the world from the Lord’s Table our eyes should be opened again to the darkness in the world – to the fact that so many continue to walk in darkness. The light has come, but they haven’t seen it. Again, Isaiah tells us, “Arise, shine!” Keep holding the light high. We all know people that make us wonder if they’ll ever see the light. You’ve been holding the light in their face, maybe for years, and yet they still don’t see it. Isaiah’s saying, “Don’t give up! Your job is to shine the light, but opening the eyes is the Spirit’s job. As long as you keep holding the light, it’s never in vain. Have hope and trust God. Keep casting the net. It’s true that we’ll never catch every soul we cast the net for, but it’s also just as true that we will catch every soul that God, in his good will, intends for us to catch. Again, don’t fall asleep on duty. Isaiah may have given the prophecy over 2500 years ago, but God is still fulfilling it today. As you come to the Lord’s Table this evening, leave with renewed light and proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The day is coming when Jesus will come back – when the Light himself will be here on earth and fills the whole world. We may get discouraged today as we feel like we’re sometimes stumbling around in the half-light, but he has promised that our labour is not in vain and when his light fills the earth on the Last Day he’ll open our eyes to the fact that he has kept his promise. We’ll see that we didn’t labour in vain. I think we’ll be surprised to find that we’ve brought more to the light than we ever knew about – all because of our faithfulness in holding it high. So, brothers and sisters, arise and shine, because your light has come, and the Glory of the Lord has risen upon you!
Bible Text: Isaiah 58:1-14 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon on the Old Testament Lesson for the First Sunday in Lent Isaiah 58:1-14 by William Klock I didn’t have a chance on Wednesday night to get into the Gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday. We looked at the lesson from Joel, where God calls the people to a fast, but reminds them that they need to rend their hearts, not so much their garments. In the Gospel, Jesus warns against making an outward show of our fasts—again give us the same message. We need this reminder as we enter Lent, because it’s very easy to put on outward shows of piety and miss the need for inner repentance. As I’ve been saying for the last week, Lent is about growing in our love as we reflect on the love of God in Christ. If all we do is put on an external show for others, that growth in love won’t take place. Our Old Testament lesson today brings us back to this idea. Through Isaiah, God called the Jews to repentance, but here in Chapter 58 he makes it clear that what he needed to see from them was a real change of heart, not just more externals and not just a show meant to appease his anger over their sins. In verses 1 and 2 God says: Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. While it may not be as clear in the English, in the Hebrew, God’s being sarcastic. “Oh yes! Of course, they seek me daily, wanting to know my ways as if they were committed to righteousness, as if they actually cared about my judgements, as if they wanted to be near me. Not!” This was precise the problem. The people went through the outward motions of religion and piety, but they had no real desire to know God, to know his ways, to follow him, or to seek after him. They didn’t care about right and wrong. But they didn’t seek after God because they didn’t really understand. They had a wrong conception of God. They were using religion to try to pressure God into doing what they wanted him to do. They had turned God into the divine vending machine I talked about last Sunday evening. They were convinced that if they did this, this, and that, then God was obligated to respond. But it wasn’t working for them, so they ask in verse 3: ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ And God tells them: You can’t control me with outward and hypocritical acts of piety: Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. And he asks in verse 5: Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? They thought that if they bowed down just right, put on just the right kind of sackcloth, and dumped just the right amount of ashes on their heads, that that was what God was looking for—that fasting was about how loud a person wailed or looked pathetic in an outward show of humility. They didn’t give any thought to actually repenting of their sins. It’s like they were choosing to give up chocolate or TV for Lent. God stops them and says: “Here’s a novel idea: how about giving up your sins for Lent?” He goes on in verses 6 and 7: Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? That’s what true fasting is all about. And God tells them that if they will truly fast and repent, he will truly bless them. They wanted his blessing, but they wanted it on their terms. These are his terms, but if they would accept his terms, he really would be with them. Look at the verses that follow: Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. God was ready to bless them, to care for them, and to answer their prayers; they simply needed to follow him. God refers to the ruins of Jerusalem, which were symbolic of the spiritual ruin of the nation, but he promises: if you will repent and turn back to me, I will rebuild those ruins—not just seeing that Jerusalem is rebuilt, but restoring their souls and their spiritual fellowship with him. They were living in a land that was scorched. If they would only repent and turn back to God, he would make them like a lush garden—again, their physical situation was an illustration of their spiritual condition. And we see it in God’s comments about the Sabbath. That was his day—a day that was supposed to be devoted to him, but instead of seeking him on that one day of the week, they were spending the Sabbath like they did the other six days: seeking their own pleasure. God says, “Put me first and I’ll restore to you the heritage that I promised to your father Jacob.” Again, God’s words through Isaiah to the Jews are words to us too. We’re embarking on a fast, but how serious are we about it? Is it enough to wear ashes on our foreheads for a day? To give up something small that brings us pleasure? Frankly, when it came to fasting, even those hypocritical Jews put on a far more impressive show than we ever do. And if God wasn’t going to listen to them, what makes us think he’ll listen to us. The most important part of our fast is that it bring us to repentance in order to bring us closer to God. The externals are great, but the externals should be a tangible reminder to us—something to help us focus our attention on purging sin and pursing holiness. God has given us his grace and in today’s Epistle Paul warns us not to receive it in vain. That’s what the Jews did so often—and something we do all too often as well. Let us truly live in God’s grace. He has redeemed us and freed us from the bondage of sin, use the next thirty-six days to take practical steps to take advantage of his grace. Let us pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sake fasted forty days and forty nights, give us grace so to discipline ourselves that we may always obey your will in righteousness and true holiness to the honour and glory of your name; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
Bible Text: Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Epiphany Isaiah 60:1-6 & St. Matthew 2:1-12 Epiphany is about light. It’s about the light of Christ come into the world. In the earliest days of the Church, before Christmas was on our calendar, Epiphany was the great feast of what we now think of as the Christmas season. It was the celebration of the light come into the world. In the Eastern Church, Epiphany is still their “Christmas”. In the West we’ve separated the two, but the theme is the same: at Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God in the God-Man, Jesus. We think of Mary and Joseph with their newborn baby in the stable and of those Jewish shepherds the angels sent to worship him. The light that had been promised for so long had come. And yet at Epiphany, which closes the Christmas season, we’re reminded again of the light, but this time the Church directs our thoughts back to the wise men from the east: those kings or astrologers who followed God’s guidance, given by a star, to worship the king. The Church points us to those kings from the east to remind us that Jesus came not only to be a light to the Jews, but a light to the whole world; he came to Jew and Gentile alike. Up to that point the Church was only for the descendants of Abraham, but in Jesus, God opened the Church to all who will believe and trust in the Saviour. Today is about light, and yet how often do we take that light for granted? We live in a world of light. Even physically speaking, we live in an age of electricity. It’s hard to imagine what it was like even a century or more ago when work stopped at sunset and people gathered around campfires and fireplaces or around candles and kerosene lamps with the darkness all around. But we also live in a world of spiritual light. As much as we see spiritual darkness around us, you and I live in a world that has been dramatically impacted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ for 2000 years. We live in a world this side of the cross of Calvary and this side of the empty tomb in Gethsemane. We live in a world where Satan has been conquered and bound by the victory of our Lord. We’re prone to forgetting what it was like on the other side of the cross. Close your eyes and imagine darkness. When I was about five years old a missionary from central Africa visited our church and showed a film about the place where he had been ministering for decades. The movie was scary. It talked about and showed the sorts of evil things that Christian missionaries encountered in that culture: evil gods and witch doctors, magic and voodoo, curses and blood sacrifices. And yet as scary as those things were, all of them were subject to the lordship of Jesus Christ through his victory over Satan at the cross. As evil as evil is in our world, it was worse before the light of Christ came. Think back to the things we’ve studied in Genesis: to Noah’s time, when the earth was full of violence—so full that God could declare that there was only one righteous man left. Consider the pagan mindset that built the tower of Babel; men and women had lost all knowledge of God. They practiced sacrifices and rituals—they worshiped—in an effort to control gods they couldn’t understand or predict. Think of Abraham, living amongst the Canaanites—some of the most spiritually depraved people the world has every known. Their worship involved ritual prostitution and the sacrifice of their own children. Think of the men of Sodom, every one of them down to the last man, ready to commit sexual violence against God’s messengers. There is darkness in the world today, but little compares to the darkness that was in the world before Jesus came. Brothers and sisters, God has given us his light. But with that gift comes responsibility: he calls his people to be light in the midst of the world’s darkness. God has always called his people to be light in the darkness. Think of his command to Abraham: walk before me and be blameless. God had promised that Abraham would be a blessing to the nations. It started with Abraham demonstrating to the pagans around him what it looked like to live in the light. And yet how often have God’s people retreated? How often have they—have we—taken the light and retreated into our churches, closed the shutters, and locked the doors? How often have we even abandoned the light? The people of Israel and Judah were repeatedly taken to task for living in the dark when they should have been living in the light. The prophets warned them again and again: The nations know we worship one whom we believe to be the one and true God; they know he has called us be different; but they mock our unbelief and our lack of faith, jeering at us and asking, “Where is their God?” God calls us to be different; he calls us to be light. But how often does the world look at us and see nothing different than what’s in the darkness? Even at the best of times, even when Israel was living before God the way he had called her to live, she was in bondage. Last Sunday we read from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians that before Jesus came his people were slaves to the law. God had given them light, he’d called them to live in that light, but compared to Jesus, it was a dim light. The law given through Moses taught the people what holiness looked like, but it gave them no way to live up to it. Before Jesus came, God’s law was written on tablets of stone: something to aspire to, but impossible to keep. And so the people offered sacrifices at the temple for the forgiveness of their sins—for all the times they broke the law. And those sacrifices were made day in and day out, animal after animal slaughtered by the priests, and a river of blood running into the valley below. There was no permanent escape from the darkness. The gentiles lives in bondage to their pagan darkness and false gods, but even the Jews lived in bondage to the law. They had the light, but no way to fully live it out. It was tempting for them to give up hope: either to retreat into the temple, that one place where they could be directly in God’s light, or to give up the light completely and walk in the same darkness as the pagans. In the midst of that darkness, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah. These are the words of our Old Testament lesson. In ancient times they were read for today’s Epistle. God calls his people to live in hope. Look at Isaiah 60:1-2: Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. Think of the Christmas Gospel written by St. John: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….The true light, which enlightens everyone, was come into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9). When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to present him in the temple forty days after his birth, the baby was greeted by Simeon who had spent his life waiting for the fulfilment of this prophecy. He took Jesus in his arms and blessed God singing: Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32) Isaiah had declared: “Arise, shine for your light has come!” Simeon held the light in his arms as he sang praises to God, knowing that he could die in peace having lived to see its coming. In Jesus the light came. He shone his light by preaching the kingdom of God, by calling men and women to repentance, and by demonstrating his power over Satan and over the curse that fell on Adam because of his sin. When Jesus died he paid the penalty for our sin and when he rose on the third day, he conquered sin and death and Satan. Then he ascended back to heaven where he sits at the Father’s right hand to rule his kingdom—his Church. It’s interesting that when we celebrate the feast of the Ascension, we extinguish the Paschal candle after reading the Ascension Gospel. Jesus, the light of the world returned to his father and so we douse the Easter candle that symbolises his presence. And yet when Jesus ascended, he didn’t leave us in the dark. In fact, he left precisely because he didn’t plan to leave us in the dark. He left so that he could send his Spirit and it’s his Spirit who changes everything. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit would occasionally fill someone to perform some special task, as he did with Bezalel and Oholiab to inspire them as craftsman when they oversaw the building of the tabernacle or as he did with Samson when he pulled down the temple of Dagon. And yet in each case the Spirit left when the task was done. In the New Covenant, Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to fill us perpetually. In our baptism he pours his Spirit into us and it’s that Holy Spirit who unites us to Jesus, making us part of his body, and who causes the new life given by Jesus to flow into us and to empower us. It’s the Holy Spirit who takes God’s law, which was written on stone tablets in the Old Covenant, and who engraves it on our hearts. The Jews lived with the light of God—his holiness—on the outside. We now live with the light of God in our hearts—on the inside. And, too, we have his Word, spoken by the prophets and apostles, still with us. St. Peter talks about it saying: We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to lamp shining in a dark place. (2 Peter 2:19) And, brothers and sisters, when the light shines through us—when we live the new life that Jesus gives—we draw others to the light. That’s how God has designed his kingdom to work. It grows, but it grows as God sovereignly draws new men and women to his light shining through us. Think again of the thick and desperate darkness that surrounded God’s people in the days of Isaiah. The Jews lived in fear of the nations around them. They were at the crossroad of the ancient world and nations like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon all wanted their territory. The nations came to Jerusalem, but they came wanting to conquer and to take. And yet Isaiah writes about day when the nations will come because of the light and they will come, not to conquer and to take, but to give and to bless. Look at verse 3: And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. The light—Jesus—will turn the hearts of the nations to God. They’ll be drawn to the kingdom by the light that they see in us. In the verses that follow, Isaiah declares that the wealth of the nations shall be brought by those seeking the light: the abundance of the sea, the wealth of nations, and multitude of camels, and—in verse 6—gold and frankincense. That gift of gold and frankincense point to today’s Gospel: to St. Matthew’s account of the wise men coming to worship Jesus. We’re all familiar with the story. These wealthy and powerful men, probably from Persia, saw a star in the sky. They may well have been familiar with some of the Old Testament prophets who had foretold the future birth of the Messiah King. And so, using the star as their guide, they travelled to Bethlehem where they worshiped the King and gave him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. These were the first Gentiles, kings who represented the pagan nations, to come in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to worship and bless the light and to seek God’s kingdom. They, themselves, brought prophetic gifts that bore witness to the roles that Jesus would play as he brought light to the world. They brought gold, a gift for a king; they brought frankincense, a costly incense used to worship one who was God; and they brought myrrh, a valuable ointment used in embalming and a gift that pointed to the sacrifice that Jesus would make at the cross. And yet, friends, the gifts that the wise men brought point to ways in which you and I can worship and bear witness to the light and, as we do so, shine our own lights brightly in the darkness. Jesus has given us the gift of eternal life by giving us his own self. That’s grace! We didn’t earn it. We didn’t deserve it. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And yet we ought to respond to grace by offering ourselves back to Jesus. I like the way Pius Parsch put it: “The man of grace likewise brings to God the gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. Gold is the most precious of all metals. We, too, must give the most precious treasure of our hearts. This is love of God and also the fidelity and purity of our aspirations. It must not be simply gilt that glitters, but purest gold that has been tried by fire. Incense is the symbol of our prayer life, our dedication to God and our piety. Myrrh is the symbol of our suffering. Christ the bridegroom travels the way of the cross, and His bride can take no other way. Love, devotion, and suffering are the fruits of the tree of grace.” Our light is often dim—it’s not as bright as it should be—because we’re unwilling to offer the real treasure of our hearts to God. Instead of pure gold, we bring him gilt and glitter. Like Cain, we offer God the things that are left over after we’ve met our own needs and wants, instead of giving back to him off the top and living in faith, trusting him to take care of us. Too often we’re happy to trust him with the things that are easy to give to him, but we hold back the things that are hard to give up, whether our finances, our time, or our relationships. In the tabernacle there was a perpetual cloud of incense rising up from the altar, symbolizing the prayers and worship of the people. Do we live our lives in the context of constant prayer and worship? Or do we pray only when we can fit it in? Do we join our brothers and sisters for worship only when it’s convenient? Jesus draws a connection between worship and obedience: If you love me, keep my commandments. And yet how often are we only obedient when it’s convenient for us? And, finally, think of the myrrh. Jesus suffered for us—even unto death. The eternal Son of God, the Word by whom God created all things, humbled himself and became a human being. And he didn’t cause himself to be born of a wealthy queen. No, he came to us as the son of a poor, teenage girl and wife of a carpenter. And the King of glory didn’t stop there. He endured the unjust abuse of unbelievers. When he was arrested and beaten, he didn’t call an end to his suffering in the high priests court. When Pilate’s soldiers beat him and put a crown of thorns on his head, he didn’t stop—that still wasn’t enough suffering. No, he allowed himself to be paraded through Jerusalem and across the valley to Calvary where they nailed him to a cross and let him hang there until he died. He didn’t deserve any of that, and yet he suffered humiliation, beating, and death for our sake. How willing are we to suffer for his? Why did the early Church grow so rapidly? In large part, because is was watered with the blood of martyrs who were willing to shine for Jesus even when it meant their own deaths. By comparison you and I have it easy. And yet, how often are unwilling to suffer even a little bit for Jesus and for his kingdom? Brothers and sisters, the light of God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ who gave his all to conquer sin and death for our sake. Let us be ready to give him the treasure of our hearts, to give him our prayers and our worship, and to be prepared to suffer that his light might shine brightly through us in the midst of the darkness. Let us pray: O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your beloved Son to the gentiles: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may give him our own gold, frankincense, and myrrh and manifest his light in the midst of the world’s darkness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Sermons on the Liturgy (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1953), p. 53.
Oaks of Righteousness from the Stump of Jesse Isaiah 61:1-3 & St. Matthew 2:19-23 Our Gospel lesson this morning tells us how Jesus came to live and to grow up…