Gaudete Sermon 2013 (Advent 3)

Isaiah 40 is a wonderful chapter, a unique view into the mind of God. These are beautiful words. I spent weeks at the Seminary studying them once, diagramming them. I even drew a chart showing the connections between the words in each verse, and then a paper which explained the relationship. I swam in these words, and it is one of the best memories of my life at the seminary.

This passage is God speaking to Isaiah, but also to John the Baptist, but also to me, and to every preacher sent to proclaim the Word of God. Comfort, speak tenderly, the warfare is over. All flesh is grass, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. “Behold your God,” he tells us to say, and He is coming and his recompense—that means His Work, His Salvation—comes with Him.

Think of this as the ultimate “come to Jesus” moment. God calls Isaiah, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Preachers and Pastors into the back office, pulls up a chair and says, “OK guys. You have all kinds of things to do and say. I’ll tell you to speak against this or that nation, to proclaim other judgments, to teach many facts about me. You pastors—you will be like these priests who serve me, managing the gifts. All of you are busy with all kinds of things.

“But here’s the deal,” the Godhead says. “Comfort my people. Life is hard. Things go wrong. The forces of evil war against them. Cruelty and crime and beatings and even tortures are out there. You know this. Comfort my people.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Speak tenderly to the Church. Be gentle with them because the world is harsh and death is the enemy. Tell them: Your war with God is over. Jesus is your peace. Your sins? All those failures and wickedness and disobedience and harsh things YOU’VE done to others? Forgiven! Forgiven! And you have double grace and love and forgiveness for every sin! Forgiveness in abundance!”

“John will make the way of the Messiah straight. So will you, O preachers of the Gospel. Work slowly and carefully. Don’t be a stumbling block, but help them hear about Jesus the Messiah, clear the way of false assumptions and show them Jesus.”

God continues to shoot straight with preachers:

“All people will see God—God in the flesh you will see with your flesh! God becomes a man! He stands before you and does all these things—and you will see His Glory! Glorified on the Cross for your sins, and Glorified in His Resurrection and Return.”

“Cry out,” says God to His prophets and apostles and preachers. “Remind them that all flesh is grass. Remind them of the Law. That their sins are killing them, even those sins which seem small and maybe even enjoyable. No, sin brings death. Remind them of this, so that they may know me—but so that they may know that all my promises and comforts and peace and tenderness lasts forever. My Word is stronger than death,” says God the Almighty.

“Now go!” He says. “Go and be bold to share this. Don’t be shy, but go up on a mountain where everyone will see you and hear you, so that everyone will know that God has come in the flesh for them!” Who is this God? It is Jesus, who came to serve you!

Finally, God concludes, “My way of salvation in becoming flesh looks weak. It’s not what you will expect, the Son dying on the Cross. But it is strength! It is might, for this is how I defeat the curse of sin and death and hell and satan forever. This is the end of all things, the beginning of all things, this is how I make all things new. This is my might and power: in giving myself over to the enemy for you.”

“And I will be your shepherd and tend you and be gentle with you.”

This is what God would have me and every pastor, every preacher speak to you. This is what God is all about. This is the heart of God. It’s not all of Him, to be sure. His ways are beyond our understanding. He does so much more. But this is the heart of His revelation to us humans.

So dear friends, this is what I preach. When you ask yourself, “When will this misery end? When will the pain be dulled?” When You wonder when it will be that every moment, every object, every story will not bring it to mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s a divorce, a bad break-up, a tragic death, it’s the same. Catastrophic illness or war. These are the worst times of our lives and what we need then is relief.

When all these things are roiling in your life. Remember that God addresses this. There is an end. It will not last forever. This life, these days are coming quickly to an end. Christ has come and brought double blessing and forgiveness for all your sins and suffer. And the day will dawn fresh and new and the pain will subside and it will seem like a nightmare, and then a shadow, and then just the memory that once there had been trauma. And for you, even more comfort because God is bringing Christ to you. Today. This is His healing I speak of, His gift, comfort, recompense and joy. The joy of His Word to us through all the Scriptures and prophets and preachers. Comfort to you, God’s people. Comfort to you.

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