Text: Isaiah 51:4-6
Date: The Last Sunday of the Church Year (Proper 29) + 11/25/12
Instant replay: We have spent this liturgical year hearing the whole story of the gospel once again of the gift of God’s salvation, this year “Through the Eyes of the Prophets.” Isaiah, mighty seer in days of old, spoke to us words of Advent hope, supplemented by a short comment by the prophet Nathan to King David (2 Sam 7), concerning God’s coming salvation and its arrival in the nativity of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, son of David, the Son of God (Is 64; 40; 61). The initial broadcast of the Christmas gospel came through the Epiphany light shining through the prophets Moses (Gen 1:1-5; Dt 18), Eli and Samuel (1 Sam 3), Jonah of all people (Jonah 3), Isaiah (Is 40), and the author of first and second Kings (2 Kings 5; 2). Then we were led to and through the Lenten temptation and teaching, and the Great and Holy Week suffering, passion and death of our Lord through the eyes again of Moses (Gen 22; 17; Ex 20; Num 21) and Jeremiah (31). Isaiah blew the fanfare of Easter for us (Is 25) whereupon St. Luke picked up the story of the first days of the resurrection community, the Holy Christian Church (Acts 4; 3; 8; 10; 1). After 50 days arose the prophet Ezekiel who likened the Pentecost sending of the Holy Spirit to a valley of dry bones being rejuvenated and given life (Ezek 37). Finally, Isaiah’s call by the Thrice-Holy Lord of Hosts led us into the long green season, which we today conclude. In this season, since last June, we’ve heard, in order of appearance (without repeating), Moses, Ezekiel, Job, Jeremiah, Amos, 1 Kings, Solomon, and Daniel.
Today, as we began, the prophet Isaiah wraps it all up for us summarizing the entire gospel story from Eden to the uttermost parts of the earth, from Abraham to St. John, from Genesis to Revelation, “in the beginning” to the new, eternal beginning. How often have you heard this whole story of God’s salvation?
That story is for all. The preaching of it is in public, for all to hear. But this last word is a word not for all, not for doubters or unbelievers. It is a word for the Church only. While not a secret and others may well listen in, nevertheless only those who have become children of God, born again from above, sinners who pursue righteousness and seek the Lord will “get it,” understand and hear aright and receive its benefits and blessing. For the chapter begins, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord” (Is 51:1). Not everyone pursues righteousness; in fact no one seeks the Lord because of the total depravity of every sinner. To pursue righteousness, to seek the Lord happens therefore only when a person first realizes they are unrighteous and separated from God by their sin. Then that pursuit happens through repentance and the forgiveness of your sin. It happens only as God Himself works repentance and faith in your heart, soul and mind through the means of His grace, His holy Word and sacraments in the fellowship of His Church.
So to those who pursue righteousness, who belong to God by faith in Christ, we end the yearlong telling of the story of the gospel with a note of comfort. This, after all, is the section of Isaiah’s tome that began with the words, “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” (Is 40:1-2).
“Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation.” For what follows are gospel promises of Eden-like restoration. If Jesus’ words describing those last days of tribulation, darkened sun and moon, stars falling from heaven and everything around you shaking unsettles you and makes you fear (Mark 13:24-25), here is proclaimed Words of Hope. Many in the days of the dust bowl in our nation of the Dirty Thirties thought the world was surely coming to an end as black clouds of dirt blotted out the sun and covered everything from crops to houses. Today everyone’s attention is on the end of the Mayan calendar in one month and three days from now, on December 21st when cataclysmic or transformative events are supposed to occur. December 21st is the end-date of the 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. (I remember a comic strip printed recently of the ancient Mayan finishing his large calendar on a stone disk ending on 12/21/12 simply because he ran out of room. His friend then commented, “Won’t they be surprised!”)
The good news we are to hear is this: “a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” This “law” is the Word of God’s judgment and grace, warning and vindication, which we have heard in the past twelve months. His justice He calls “a light,” as when Zechariah sang at the birth of his son, John, saying that through him God would “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79), and as when Simeon took up the Christ Child in his arms and blessed God calling Him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). St. John wrote of the Savior saying, “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” (Jn 1:4-5). The vindication of God is as a light shining in a dark place, the lumination of the soul with saving faith, the breaking of the darkness of the grave and the brilliant glory of new bodies for old in the resurrection and the new heavens and earth. Yes, God’s salvation is for all people, as He says, “the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.”
The prophecy continues, “My righteousness draws near” meaning the Righteous One, the righteous servant, the Redeemer who not only has righteousness but also has the power to make people righteous, restored, reunited with God the way God originally intended. That power was in His innocent, holy blood shed for the life of the world. “My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out.” The salvation from the devastation and death of sin and God’s wrath is the sound of victory; victory for God, victory for His Son, victory for you, coming through the battle and tribulation with your robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb.
Now as God’s redeemed people the Lord says, look! Look for a moment to the heavens above and at the earth beneath your feet. As Jesus said, “the powers in the heavens will be shaken,” “Heaven and earth will pass away.” Like smoke the heavens will vanish, and like an old, worn out coat the earth will fall apart. It already is! Therefore, in other words, see things in this life for what they are so that you can see God’s salvation and righteousness for what they are, namely strong, trustworthy, eternal.
In place of everything that has become temporary, worn out, broken and incomplete, the Lord says, “my salvation will be forever.” “My righteousness will never be dismayed.” Babylon of old presumed to say “I shall be mistress forever” (Is 47:7). The emperors of the Roman Empire were each called “forever August.” How many tyrants have come along claiming global domination “forever”? Well, only one thing is and will be forever. As George Frederick Handel wrote the chorus about Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords that “He shall reign forever and ever.”
We have heard of God’s plan of salvation this year through the eyes of the prophets. Now, if the Lord wills, we plan to welcome that salvation saying, “Blessed is the King who Comes in the Name of the Lord.”It is to this story, this gospel and this Lord that we pledge all our faith and worship and hope and love, this Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.