“Seeing the Glory of the Lord”
Isaiah 40: 1-5 – Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Dear Christian Friends,
Years ago, when we lived near Lewiston, MN, a neighbor woman was dying of cancer. Her name was Ida, and she and she was a cheerful and well respected Christian lady in our farm community and one day her husband Marlo the dairy farmer called me and said, “If you want to want to say goodbye to Ida, you’d better get over here. She doesn’t have much time.” I visited her, and we did a little bit of small talk and then when it came time to talk to her about dying, I started to cry. She asked me why I was crying and I had such a lump in my throat I couldn’t really say anything and then she scolded me for crying and she knew where she was going and heaven was going to be way better than this and why don’t you stop your crying and say a prayer. It was as if she could almost taste the glory of God. And so I prayed with her that God would receive her into paradise in His time.
A couple of years ago, I had a similar experience with my dear mom. She was in hospice care, and one day it was just me and her, and she was sleeping and I was thinking and then I started to cry. She opened her eyes and saw that I was crying and she said, “Larry, are you crying?” I said, “yes.” She asked why. I tried to tell her that it was because I loved her so much, but I couldn’t get any words out. She assured me that she was going to be ok and maybe I could pray for her. It was as if she could almost see the glory of paradise and she wanted to be there sooner rather than later.
Just a few days before Mary breathed her last, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed as I greeted her and noticed that in spite of all that she had endured, she had a bit of a smile on her face. It was if it was frozen in place. As if she couldn’t not smile. Instead of asking her a yes or no question, I asked her an either or one. I asked her if she was getting discouraged or if she was keeping her spirits up. It took every bit of energy she had to mouth the words “keeping spirits up.” It was as if she could already see the glory of God in the midst of her frail and declining condition.
Our sermon text for today is in Isaiah 40, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Our theme is “Seeing the Glory of God.” I invite you to think with me today what it means to live by faith instead of by sight. What it means to see the glory of God, even when life is ever so inglorious. What it means to celebrate the beauty of the resurrection even as you stare in the face the ugliness of death.
The assignment of the prophet Isaiah was to comfort the people of God. He was to speak with a tender voice to them that their time of exile in Babylon would soon be over, that their sins had been forgiven, and that their blessings would be abundant. They were to get themselves ready to see the glory of their God by making straight in the wilderness the way of their Lord, by lifting up the valleys, making low the mountains and hills, and smoothing out the rough edges in their lives. In other words, they were to spend their days repenting, that is to say – being sorry for their sins, throwing themselves on the mercy of God, receiving that mercy, holding onto that mercy, and walking by faith instead of by sight. Living according to what God had promised instead of according to what they could see.
It seems as if Mary Cords had figured out how to live by faith instead of by sight. She knew the reality of polio and she knew the unbelievable pain of losing a son at a young age and she knew the loneliness of losing a husband and she knew the long days and nights of cancer and treatment and surgeries, and yet she kept on seeing with the eyes of faith that Jesus was her Savior, that God was with her, and that His promises were to be trusted. Or to say it another way, she had found a way to see the glory of God even when life was short and full of trouble.
Bob and Wayne and Al and Molly and all you who loved Mary and were loved by her, today, I invite you to spend your days here and now seeing the glory of God, no matter how dark or discouraging are your days. You might wonder where it is that you can find the glory of God, and in answer to that, the Bible offers at least three answers – First Article, Second Article, and Third Article glory.
First Article. The Psalmist writes that “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Take a look outside in any one of your days, and notice and take in the breathtaking beauty of nature. You can’t miss it. In the Book of Exodus, when Moses was dealing with a wandering and starving and complaining people of God, he indicated that in the mornings God would provide manna and in the evenings quail meat, and as often as they saw the bread and meat and so much more, they would be seeing the glory of their Lord.
Second Article – You may see the glory of the Lord as often as you fix your eyes on the cross, where Jesus Christ was crucified until He was dead and buried. As often as you make the sign of the cross, as often as you see the sign of the cross, as often as you lay your burdens down at the foot of the cross, that often you will see the glory of your Lord. The hymnwriter says it this way, “In the cross of Christ I glory, Towring o’er over the wrecks of time, All the light of sacred story Gathers round its head sublime. When the woes of life o’ertake me, Hopes deceive and fears annoy, Never shall the cross forsake me,Lo, it glows with peace and joy. Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure By the cross are sanctified; Peace is there that knows no measure, Joys that through all time abide.
Third Article – Holy Spirit, Holy Christian Church, Communion of Saints, Forgiveness of Sins, Resurrection of the Body, Life Everlasting.
As you lay your dear wife, sister, mother, mother in law, grandma, and friend into the ground today, I invite you to do so absolute confidence that her soul and spirit are already now in the presence of Jesus Christ and that the day is coming when Jesus Christ will come not as a baby in a manger, but as a Lamb upon a throne. Believe that on that day the archangel will shout and the trumpet will blow and the saints in every generation will rise and be accepted into glory.
Go ahead and cry today, but not as the unbelievers cry. Cry out as the people of God who know that you have been claimed in the waters of Baptism, that your mansions in heaven have been put on reserve, and that your Good Shepherd is following you around with goodness and mercy. Go ahead and be sad, but not for Mary. Mary’s never been better. Take your sad and your empty hearts to one another and hold onto family and travel through this valley of the shadow of death together, and never alone. Even more importantly, resolve this day to stay close to Jesus Christ all the days of life. Stay close to Him by listening to His Word, and not just once in awhile, but in regular fashion. Stay close by stepping forward to His Supper, and not just when life is overwhelming you, but in the good times and not so good. May God every last one of Mary’s friends and family closer and closer to Him, may God help you to see and even taste His glory no matter how strong are the winds and no matter how high the waves, and may Mary Cords rest in peace.
Second Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 40 - A voice cries:[b] “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are in the second of a four week Advent series, Comfort and Joy. Peace of Christ / Pardon of Christ / Presence of Christ / Power of Christ. Last weekend, we learned what the peace of Jesus Christ is not- an absence of violence, an absence of noise – and what it is in fact – the presence of God’s comfort. On Wednesday, we learned what that peace of Christ does – namely that it actively infuses our relationships and conversations and daily activities with the very strength of God and the gladness that comes in knowing and being known by Christ. Today, we focus on what it means to have the pardon of Christ and how to get hold of and treasure that pardon. (Draw attention to bulletin Family Conversation page). Wednesday, in Part II, we’ll focus on what that divine pardon does as it goes out into our homes and work places.
A woman actively engaged in the wrong mission. No doubt you have heard the old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While there may be a bit of truth in that old saying, anyone who has felt the stinging barb of criticism knows that words can deeply wound. James Dobson quotes Lewis Yablonsky, the author of Fathers and Sons, as a son who had observed the effect his mother’s negative comments had on his own father. At the dinner table, Lewis’ mother would say things like, “Look at your father! His shoulders are bent down; he’s a failure. He doesn’t have the courage to get a better job or make more money. He’s a beaten man.” The author writes that his father never defended himself. He just kept staring at his plate. That lady was on a mission, to be sure, but it was the wrong mission. This morning, I have a question for all of you wives out there, and husbands, and single folks, and no matter what station of life you are in and no matter what chapter of life you are in, what is your mission in life? Is it the mission of God, which is to make disciples for Jesus Christ, or is it something other than or less than that?
In our text for today, we hear the prophet Isaiah announcing the good news that their God was on a mission to rescue them from Babylonian captivity. They were to remember the good news of the past and always to be getting ready for the good news to be coming in their future. They were to remember getting rescued from 450 years of Egyptian slavery and to anticipate getting rescued from Babylonian oppression in the near future. They were to never forget that the sins of their parents and grandparents had been pardoned and to rejoice that God had devised a plan to pardon their iniquities, as well.
The second “P” in our four part series is pardon. The pardon of Christ has come and is coming to us, and we are to be (preparing for it) at the same time. Today we ask the good Lutheran question what does this mean? And on Wednesday we ask another good Lutheran question, how is this done? What does this mean, in other words what does it mean to have the pardon of Christ and how do we get it and what does it mean to hold onto and treasure and enjoy the forgiveness of sins in this season of Advent?
Advent means to come. Christ came, He continues to come, and He is coming again. As you well know, He came the first time as a seemingly helpless baby in a manger, He comes to us this very day in the words of absolution and in the preaching of His Word and in the bread and the wine of the Supper, and He will come one day soon as a thief in the night. What does it mean that your sins and mine have been pardoned in the courtroom of the Most High God? It means that God has found a way to declare guilty people not guilty. You husbands who have fallen way short of cherishing your wives in the way that Christ has cherished and nourished His bride the Church, I say to you with a tender voice – your sins are pardoned. You wives who have spent all kinds of effort berating and insulting and cutting down your men, I say to you with a gentle word that your sins are pardoned. You who are single or retired or widowed who have stumbled into habits of stubbornness or selfishness or self-righteousness or laziness or apathy or busyness or you fill in the blank, I say to you with great joy, your warfare is ended and your iniquity is pardoned. Advent Lesson #1 today, in every one of our days, we are to be getting ready to receive the pardon of Christ. We do that by making straight in the desert a highway for our God, by lifting up the valleys and making low the mountains and by smoothing out the rough edges. Or to say it another way, by repenting. Which brings us to our second and final lesson this morning.
To make the Biblical case for What (repentance) isn’t and what it is. Our Catechism says it this way. Repentant believers are those who are sorry for their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…..And that good works, which are the fruits of repentance, are bound to follow. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses is “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, Repent ye! He makes clear that the whole life of His believers is to be a constant or unending repentance.”
Three truths I would like to lay before you today on the subject of repentance. First, it doesn’t listen to the voices of (false peace), but to the voice of one crying in the wilderness. The voice of false peace would say that if you ignore problem situations in life, they will usually go away. The voice of John the Baptism cries out for you to stop making excuses for your messed up circumstances and get down on your knees and ask for help. The voice of false peace will tell you that you a better sinner than average, the voice of the prophets will tell you that you are chief of sinners. The voice of false peace will tell you that you’re pretty much ok in life, the voice of Isaiah would cry out to you today that you have done much that is wrong and left undone much that right.
Secondly, the repentant heart doesn’t ask what’s wrong with other people, but rather what’s wrong with (me). Have you ever noticed how much our conversations dwell on what’s wrong with other people? It doesn’t ask what’s wrong with the rioters and looters in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. It asks what’s wrong with me and why am I so quick to judge and slow to pray. It doesn’t ask what’s wrong with the Minnesota High School League and their ruling on transgender athletes, but rather what’s wrong with me and why am I so full of myself and what are my bad habits these days? Repentance doesn’t ask what’s wrong with everybody else for getting Christmas wrong, but rather what are ways in which me and my household are getting off track in this season of comfort and joy?
Third, the repentant heart doesn’t say that “I’m sorry if I offended you,” but rather “I’m sorry that I have offended (God and others).” If you have been following the Ferguson Missouri situation, then you may know that several St. Louis Rams players showed solidarity with the family of Michael Brown by raising their hands during pre-game festivities. The next day, a county police chief indicated that an Rams official had apologized for the actions of those five players. Shortly after that, that official denied in an email that he had apologized. He clarified that he had “expressed regret for any perceived disrespect of law enforcement.”
The repentant heart doesn’t say “I’m sorry if I offended you, but rather I’m sorry that I have offended God and others.” It doesn’t say that you should not have taken offense, but rather I am so sorry for giving offense. It doesn’t say that I could probably do better, but rather this day I will aim for perfection. It doesn’t say that this world would be a lot better place if other people would shape up, but rather, I need to shape up. It doesn’t say, “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing in life or what direction I should be traveling, but rather that my Savior loves me so very much and I intend to spend my days thanking and praising, serving and obeying Him – whatever that takes, and wherever that leads. People who know who they are and why they are.
People engaged in the right mission: The kingdom of God is like a wife with a new heart and a burning desire to encourage her husband into being all that he can be. It’s like a husband who is rejoicing in his wife’s forgiveness and is on a mission to pass along the same Christmas comfort and joy his grandparents passed along to his parents. More and more they are finding their church to be like a city of lights set on a hill where darkness is having a hard time hiding and where angry hearts are letting go of their grudges. Less and less are people asking what is the matter with everybody else and more and more the glory of the Lord is being revealed to them. Together they are seeing Jesus and realizing that life doesn’t get any better than that. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther