Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent 2 mid-week

Isaiah 40:1-11
Comfort in Uncomfortable Times

Almighty and everlasting God whose will it is to restore all things to Your beloved Son, whom You anointed priest forever and king of all creation. Grant that all people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united under the glorious and gentle rule of Your Son whose birth we anticipate in this Advent season.

The people who lived at the time of Isaiah lived in temporal conditions quite different from those at the end of the Babylonian exile or those at the time of the birth of Christ or those in our world today – far more different was their time than ours was. Despite the great importance we sometimes attach to physical surroundings, however, they do not constitute the most meaningful part of life. Far more significant than our social, political, or economic state is the matter of our spiritual condition.

Does the Triune God favor and bless us? Does His face shine upon us? Is He gracious unto us? What will happen to us when we die or when the heavens disappear with a roar and the elements are destroyed by fire on judgment day? As we consider these things, our Old Testament lesson gives us a sense of encouragement and hope; comfort in truly uncomfortable times.

1. The glory of the Lord provides true comfort in troublesome circumstances of hard service, trauma, warfare, and calamity.

A. Accurate observation of affairs in the world cannot ignore the reality of hard service, whether it is the Babylonian exile, the adversities and afflictions of life, or those periods of misery and suffering, which we endure. Consider Job. In the midst of his despair, he described his condition.

He says: Is not man forced to labor on earth, and (are not) his days like the days of a hired man? As a slave who pants for the shade, and as a hired man who eagerly waits for his wages, so am I allotted months of vanity, and nights of trouble are appointed me. When I lie down I say, “when shall I arise?” but the night continues, and I am continually tossing until dawn. [Job 7:1-4]

Because we can do nothing to escape or prevent such hard service, we face the distressing prospect of its unabated continuation and its culmination of the day of the Lord. Peter describes the events of that great day when he writes: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)

B. Only God’s accomplishment of the revelation of His glory grants us security and relief. The heavens declare the glory of God, says David in Psalm 19 but people ruled by sin exchange this glory for idols. God affects the rescue of Noah, the safety of the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, the return of the exiles. Always preserving a line of ancestry from Adam to Jesus, the promised Messiah. God sent “a voice” identified in the New Testament as John the Baptist and relates the message of “the voice” in terms of the construction of a highway for Himself. Through “the voice”, God makes everything ready for the coming of the incarnate Word. John put it this way; And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:14]

Transition: Jesus Christ, true God and true man, the Savior by His perfect work of salvation glorifies the Father. In Jesus Christ, a glorious exchange is accomplished. In place of hard service, we have the revelation of the glory of the Lord.

2. The word of the Lord provides true comfort in the troublesome circumstances of sin.

A. Because of sin, people who are mortal fail. We can be compared to the grass and the glowers. They wither and fall because the breath of the Lord blows on them. The same weakness fits us, for we face the same threat of being melted when God blows on us with His fiery wrath. The prophet Ezekiel puts it this way; “And I shall gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you will be melted in the midst of it. (Ezekiel 22:21) In short, we are subject not only to bodily but also to spiritual death. Of ourselves, we cannot endure.

B. Only the permanent character of God’s Word and the enduring certainty of his promise of atonement – to place us back in the Father’s good graces – can give us confidence and support. Iniquity is paid for when satisfactory punishment has been inflicted. Thus, were we to suffer the penalty of our iniquity, the gates of hell would lock us inside forever. But we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ and born again through the living and enduring Word of God, which was preached to us. His Word revives the soul. His precepts give joy to the heart.

For Christ’s sake in contrast to the perishable nature of all flesh, we rejoice in the permanence of God’s Word.

3. The fact that God Himself shepherds us provides true comfort in the troublesome circumstances of sin.

A. The presence of God, particularly when we take note of His strength and power can strike terror into the hearts of those that are guilty of transgression and deserve punishment. If He raises His mighty arm to exact a price for disobedience, none can resist or escape Him. He bears the authority to put to death the one who practices sin. As He says in Ezekiel 18:4, “Behold all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”

B. Only the strong one’s promise to care for His people like a shepherd produces consolation and contentment within us. He uses His power on our behalf, caring tenderly for His sheep. Holding us close to Himself, gently leading us, even laying down his life for us. For Christ’s sake, we have received not the retribution we have earned, but the abundant pardon of His grace and the manifold blessings that accompany it.

Conclusion: So many things in life – disappointments, sickness, tragic accidents, economic hardships, injustices, anticipation of death – seem to cause for negative, gloom, doubt, and uncertainty. But the God of heaven and earth, the only true God, does not abandon us. Rather, He carries out His plan of salvation for us, leading Joseph like a flock, bringing a vine out of Egypt. Returning the exiles from Babylon, sending His Son in the fullness of time converting us through His means of grace, giving us true comfort in the midst of troublesome circumstances. Now, that is the story of his amazing grace!

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