His Holy Arm

Text: Isaiah 52:7-10
Date: Christmas Day + 12/25/11

On Christmas Day we celebrate and proclaim the doctrine, the teaching, indeed the mystery that, in Jesus of Nazareth, God became man, took on our human flesh and blood, in order to redeem, to save us from sin, death and hell.

Isaiah had foretold it, even as he foretold so much about the coming Messiah. Among the prophet’s prophecies, in the fifty-second chapter he speaks of human feet and arms.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.” The feet belong to the messengers. He calls them beautiful not because of any expert treatment of a podiatrist or pedicurist but they are beautiful because of the good news the messenger brings. The feet belong to a preacher sent by God. They belong to the prophet Isaiah. They belong to apostles like Paul. Above all they belong to Jesus Himself as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews calls “Jesus, the apostle,” that is the sent one (Heb 3:1). These feet belong to all who are sent by God throughout the ages to preach the Gospel. You know the messenger is a preacher sent by God if He preaches not just about the latest tips for family peace or advice for congregational development, but preaches about Jesus according to the pure doctrine revealed in Holy Scripture. The Good News or Gospel he preaches is peace with God and salvation.

He proclaims, “Your God reigns.” This is certainly good news to anyone who has begun to think, as have God’s people time and again throughout history, that God has abandoned us or that He is sleeping, angry or simply ignoring us. For by His Word of promise we have come to know that God reigns and rules for our good and not for evil. As Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

In addition to the feet of the messenger, Isaiah speaks of the arm of the Lord. “The Lord has bared his holy arm.” His arm is an expression of God’s strength and action, taking on the enemy and freeing His people from captivity and enslavement.

Applying to God human characteristics is called “anthropomorphism.” It is a way of expressing a quality about God by human analogy. God, of course, does not have feet or arms. “God is spirit” (John 4:24). But at Christmas we discover with some surprise that God so loved the world that He came in human form. Not an apparition, mind you, but real, observable, touchable, “holdable” and huggable human form.

St. John reminds us that God is the Word in the beginning, before all created things and creating all things. God is life itself. And God is light as opposed to darkness. Yet, in the fullness of time, God, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us. When He took on our human nature, our human flesh and blood of His mother Mary, yes! God now has feet and arms! In Jesus “His holy arm” was about to do what no human being could do.

In Jesus His holy arms first clung to His mother Mary, feeding at her breast as any normal human child. And that clinging would turn into honor and continued care even all the way at His final moment when He handed her keeping over to the care of His beloved disciple, John.

Those holy arms gathered and hugged the little children to bless them. They cast out demons and told the devil where to go. Sometimes they flailed a whip to cleanse His temple. His arms bent often or reached heavenward in prayer to His Father. They reached out to call sinners to repentance, to preach the good news of release from sin, and to teach His disciples of the good and gracious will of God. His arms gather us in fellowship every time He extends the bread of His body and the cup of His blood to us, proclaiming His death, the price of our redemption.

Those holy arms, of course, would finally be extended to embrace and bless the whole world as they were nailed to a cross. Those holy arms, on the cross, were not held fast by the nails as much as by the Savior’s holy love for the world, His love for you! For there was the sacrifice that purchased heaven for you and for every sinner. There was the holy blood shed that cancels God’s wrath and our sin. There were imprinted the only wounds that will persist and be visible in eternity, no longer as marks only of death but as the marks of God’s victory over death; our victory over death.

Risen from the dead He invites His eyewitnesses to touch Him and see that He still has the feet and arms of His human nature. Then he propels their feet to carry the good news to the ends of the earth, to carry on His work of preaching, teaching and healing, to baptize and to gather for holy communion with Him, proclaiming His death until He comes again.

Isaiah spoke of the beautiful feet that bring this good news. He spoke of God’s holy arm that brought salvation. And he spoke of all of this in the context of great joy and rejoicing. “The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy.” And he invites us this day, “Break forth together into singing…for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.” And so we do.

Let us all with gladsome voice
Praise the God of heaven,
Who to bid our hearts rejoice,
His own Son hath given. (LSB 381)

Let our gladness
Banish sadness
All throughout creation!
God, whose favor
Sent our Savior,
Praise with adoration!
He is born in a stall,
Now He lies, infant small,
In a manger, Heav’nly stranger, Lord of all,
In a manger, Heav’nly stranger, Lord of all. (LSB 371:1)

Let the earth now praise the Lord,
Who has truly kept His word
And at last to us did send
Christ, the sinner’s help and friend. (LSB 352:1)