The Third Sunday in Advent
December 15, 2019
Isaiah’s Advent Gift of—
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Are you getting excited yet? There are just nine days left until we get to open up our Christmas presents! The joy that we feel as we open the presents that others have purchased specifically for us, the joy that we feel as we watch the people we love open the presents that we purchased specifically for them— well, my friends, that joy truly is priceless!
But let me ask you, have you ever had someone tell you that you had to open a particular present last because it was the most special present of all? With each present you open you get closer and closer to opening that one special present. With each present you open the joy and the excitement builds until finally you open that final present— the one that leaves you all but speechless!
The scenario of opening Christmas presents— with the most special present being saved for last— kept going through my mind as I was studying our sermon text for today. Therefore, I would like us to utilize that scenario as we study our sermon text under the theme: Isaiah’s Advent Gift of— Joy! As we study this portion of God’s holy Word this morning we are going to open four “presents”— saving the best for last.
The first “present” that Isaiah gives to us today centers on the joy of seeing the “glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.” Look at verses 1-2 of our text. Once again the prophet Isaiah uses a powerful picture to help us understand a profound truth. The Lord had already revealed that His people would indeed be carried off into exile. Because of their unfaithfulness to God’s covenant, because of their own sin they would be forced to travel through the barren desert as prisoners of war. And yet, the Lord promises to do something that only He has the power to do— transform a barren wasteland into a beautiful oasis, that is, to bring His people home from exile so that they would once again have the joy of seeing “the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God”!
How does this picture apply to us? How does this portion of Scripture give to us the gift of joy? At one time, my friends, we too lived in a desolate desert. Because of our sin and because of our unfaithfulness we were lost in a spiritual wasteland and there was nothing we could do about it! Left to ourselves we would have surely died— eternally. Then the Lord our God did something that only He has the power to do. Through His holy Word and through His holy Sacrament God poured out His life-giving grace on us! He transformed the desert of our heart into a beautiful oasis, an oasis that is blossoming with the beauty of His love for us! As a result of what God has done for us we now have the joy of seeing the “glory of the LORD” and the “splendor of our God” each and every time we gather around His holy Word and Sacraments! That’s “present” number one.
The second “present” that Isaiah wants us to open this morning is the joy that comes with confidence and courage. Look at verses 3-4 of our text. It is certainly not difficult for us to understand the fear that God’s people must have felt when they thought about being helplessly carried off into exile by their enemies. That’s why the Lord steps in to take away their fear by promising to come and save them! God’s promise of salvation is what replaces fear with joy!
The transition here to our hearts and to our lives is not difficult to make, is it. Just as God’s people in the days of Isaiah were afraid of their enemies and just as God’s people in the days of Isaiah needed the Lord to save them from their enemies— so do we! Our spiritual enemies— sin, death and the devil— are way too powerful for us. If we had to face these enemies on our own we would most certainly tremble with fear from the top of our head to the tips of our toes! But we don’t have to face them alone, do we. We have the joy of knowing that our God has not only promised to save us from our enemies, but we have the joy of knowing that He has already fulfilled that promise right there— on the cross of Calvary’s hill! (Pointing to the cross) In the light of the cross God now says to us, “Be strong, do not fear.” In the light of the cross God Himself has replaced our fear with the gift of joy— the joy of being able to face all of our enemies with the courage that comes with the salvation that God has secured for us on the cross! But there is more!
The third “present” that Isaiah gives to us today is the joy of “restoration.” Look at verses 5-7 of our text. As we heard Jesus Himself tell us in our Gospel lesson for this morning (Matthew 11:2-11) these words are a picture of what the Lord’s Messiah would accomplish when He came into this world. Personally, I think it is rather appropriate to describe the work of the Messiah as a work of “restoration.” Jesus came into this world to “restore” our relationship with the one true God by completely removing all of our sins.
When we look at these verses and the picture that is given to us here there are two ways in which we can legitimately understand them. The “blind,” the “lame,” the “deaf,” the “mute,” the hungry and the thirsty can all be understood in a physical sense. Did Jesus grant “restoration” to people who were suffering from these various difficulties? He most certainly did! Think of all the miracles that Jesus performed while He was here on this earth. At the same time, my friends, think about how Scripture so clearly reveals to us that in heaven there is no more thirst or hunger or pain or crying or death because in heaven all sin and all the effects of sin are gone— forever! What joy will be ours when we reach our heavenly Home!
Even more joyful, however, is when we understand these very same things on a spiritual level. By nature we were not only born spiritually blind, spiritually dead and spiritually the enemies of God, but by nature we suffered from a spiritual starvation and a spiritual thirst that goes beyond human words! Through faith in Jesus all these spiritual ailments are cured. Through faith in Jesus we are “restored” in our personal relationship with God— we are the dearly beloved adopted children of our heavenly Father. Through faith in Jesus our “restoration” will one day be brought to perfect completion— both physically as well as spiritually.
That truth brings us to the final “present” that Isaiah gives to us this morning. Look at verses 8-10 of our text. Isaiah saved the best for last, didn’t he. As Christians we now have the most wondrous joy of all, my friends. We have the joy of knowing that purely by His power and purely by His grace the good Lord has placed us on “the Way of Holiness.” We have the joy of knowing that as we walk with our Lord on “the Way of Holiness” He will protect us from the “lions” and the “ferocious beasts” who try to destroy and devour us with temptation and sin (See 1 Peter 5:8). We have the joy of knowing that with God’s guidance and with God’s help we are able to live our life in a God-pleasing way. We have the joy of knowing that when we stumble and fall along the way the good Lord will be there to pick us up, brush us off and dry our tears by pointing us to the cross to remind us of what He has already done to redeem us. And most importantly of all, we have the joy that comes from knowing where our journey will end! Look at the closing sentences of our text, “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” What a glorious picture of the redeemed children of God joyfully entering into heaven!
Are you getting excited yet? There are just nine days left until we get to open up our Christmas presents! As joyful as it is to open up presents that were purchased especially for us, unfortunately that joy can also fade, can’t it. For some of us our Christmas joy might start to fail as soon as the Christmas bills start to arrive in the mail. For others the joy of Christmas might fade as the presents start to break or when we simply get bored with them.
That will not happen with the Advent gift of joy that Isaiah emphasizes here in our text. The joy that we feel as we see the “glory of the LORD” as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament will only increase as we experience the joy which comes from the confidence of knowing that all of our enemies have been defeated by the cross of Jesus Christ. (Pointing to the cross) That joy is then increased even more as we experience the “restoration” that Jesus has worked in our relationship with God. Our joy then culminates, my friends, with the greatest joy of all— the joy of knowing that we are on the path which leads us directly to the perfect joy of living in our heavenly Father’s Home— forever!
May God grant that you will always treasure Isaiah’s Advent Gift of— Joy!
To God be the glory!