Isaiah 40: 9-11 – Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength ,O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him, He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently led those that are with young.
Dear Friends in Christ,
(Fourth in a series of sermons on Comfort and Joy. Peace of Christ)
Not the absence of noise or violence but the presence of God’s comfort / Pardon of Christ received into the hearts and minds that are sincerely repenting / Presence of Christ in the world, in the preaching of the Word, in Baptism, and in Holy Communion.
Today, we focus on the Power of Christ.
Say it loud and say it (proud)! As best I can tell, that saying was made famous by the singer James Brown who wrote a song that included the lyrics, “Say it loud. I’m black and I’m proud.” It became a key slogan in the Black Power movement, and in 1968 that song was the number one song on the R and B for six weeks. The song included these words, “I don’t want nobody to give me nothing- open the door I’ll get it myself.”
Say it loud and say it proud! Those words brought to mind a wedding reception for Beth and Jim back in the Immanuel Lutheran Lewiston gymnasium in the late 1980’s. It was time for prayer, and after my futile attempt to get the attention of a couple hundred guests, the beautiful bride put her fingers in her mouth and let out a whistle that brought the crowd to attention in a hurry!
Say it loud and say it proud! Those words come to mind as the prophet Isaiah reminds the city of Jerusalem that they are still the covenant people of God and that they need to get themselves up to a high mountain and lift up their voices and get the word out to their neighboring cities to behold your God! To say it loud and to say it proud 1)on the one hand that your God is omnipotent, and 2)on the other hand that our God is perfectly gentle. All powerful on the one hand and perfectly gentle on the other.
Say that our God is (omnipotent)! In Isaiah’s day, the Church was to make known what their faith had grasped and was holding onto- that God was graciously returning to His people, that their time of exile would soon be over, that their years of hard labor were completed, that their guilt had been pardoned. Their assignment was to publish these glad tidings throughout the whole land. Every member of the nation of Judah was to reassure one another of the good news that was breaking. They were not to be afraid and they were not to be timid about it. They were to say in that day what we are to say in our day, that God is the conquering hero who carries a big (stick). That the God who had created the earth and all that is in it with the power of His Word should not be taken lightly. That the God who had delivered them out of Egyptian slavery in the first place and led them across the Red Sea in miraculous fashion in the second place and had led them for 40 years through the wilderness and given them the Promised Land in the third place should not be treated with the slightest bit of disrespect-ever. That if you mess with our God in any way, shape, or form, you are asking for all kinds of trouble to rain down on your parade through life. That’s the bad news.
The Good News is that we don’t have to be afraid of life any more. Isaiah writes that we are to lift up our voices and fear not. God’s people in every generation are invited by Him not to worry about tomorrow for one simple reason. Tomorrow is in the hands of God. Dale Meyer had this to say about worry getting replaced by comfort and even confidence in God. “Worry is fear, fear that you’ve been abandoned, fear that everything is unraveling, fear that God’s throne is empty and his angels are gone.” The spiritual opposite of worry is faith. Faith in Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God and rules all of heaven and earth on behalf of His people. Faith that sins are forgiven and that exile is ended and that God is working everything out in the lives of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
Even more amazing than the fact that He is the conquering hero who carries a big stick is that He is the Victor who considers His people His (reward). Isaiah writes that behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
Even as we look forward to the rewards of heaven, we realize that we are the reward that God is bringing with Him. Even as we yearn for the joys of paradise where we will live face to face with Jesus, we realize again today that it was for the joy of spending eternity with us that Jesus endured all that He endured and gave all that He gave. Even as we call out for Christ to come near, we are reassured again and again that He has already come near and that He has been calling and gathering and enlightening and sanctifying His prize possession.
This isn’t just the season to be jolly, it’s a season for the power of Christ to rule the hearts and minds of people who know that He is absolutely almighty. A song based on Isaiah 40 says it this way, “Hold me close. Let your love surround me. Bring me near. Draw me to Your side. And as I wait I’ll rise up like the eagle And I will soar with You Your Spirit leads me on In the Power of Your love.
First we want to say in a thousand different ways this week that Christ is omnipotent, and secondly, we want to say what seems like a polar opposite. Say that our God is perfectly (gentle). As is so often the case in Holy Scripture, the metaphors change in a hurry. First Christ is pictured as a mighty and victorious warrior, and now He approaches as a lowly shepherd.
Four truths we learn from Isaiah about Yahweh who is our shepherd. He is the Shepherd Who 1) (tends) and protects. Philip Keller wrote in his book, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, how shepherd boys would take “special pride in the selection of a rod and staff exactly suited to his own size and strength. He goes into the bush and selects a young sapling which is dug from the ground. This is carved and whittled down with great care and patience. The enlarged base of the sapling where its trunk joins the roots is shaped into a smooth, rounded head of hard wood. The sapling itself is shaped to exactly fit the owner’s hand. After he completes it, the shepherd boy spends hours practicing with this club, learning how to throw it with amazing speed and accuracy.” With this rod he both protects and disciplines. He throws it at incoming enemies and once in awhile at his beloved sheep to get their attention.
Secondly, Isaiah writes that he will gather the lambs in his arms. He (gathers) until it’s time to separate. By that I mean to say that every Divine Service, every bit of preaching and teaching of God’s Word, every Baptism, and every word of absolution and every Lord’s Supper here and now is the means of grace. It is the means by which the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His people. That is the work of the Church right up until the day that Christ comes back in glory and to sit on His throne where we will separate the sheep to his right and goats to his left.
Third, Isaiah writes that this Shepherd will carry His sheep in his bosom. He (carries) and never drops. I’m reminded of life back on the farm where I grew up. And how my dad had a “no animals in the house” rule. He didn’t really care how cute the little puppies were or how cold the kittens and the cats were. No animals were allowed in the house, not even on the porch, not even in the basement. That was the rule and there were no exceptions, except for one. A few times each year during calving season, dad would break his own rule. We raised white faced Hereford beef cattle, and the bulk of the calves were born in March and April- and every so often, in nasty weather, dad would carry in a calf to be warmed and dried right there in the kitchen, at the heat register. So also in the FootPrints poem are we reminded that in our darkest and most difficult days, our God doesn’t just walk alongside of us and encourage us. He carries and never drops.
Fourth, Isaiah writes that this Shepherd gently leads those that are with young. He (leads) instead of drives. Cattle get driven, horses get rounded up, dogs get trained, and cats just do whatever they want to do, but sheep get led. Keller writes that in the Middle East, shepherds would use their staff to manage their sheep in three ways. The first is to draw sheep together into an intimate relationship. The shepherd will use his staff to gently lift a newborn lamb and bring it to its mother if they get parted. The second is that he uses the staff to reach out and catch individual sheep, young or old, and draw them close to himself for intimate examination. The third is to guide his sheep gently into a new path or through some gate or along dangerous, difficult routes. He does not use it to beat the beast, but rather the tipoff the long slender stick is laid gently against the animal’s side and the pressure applied guides the sheep in the way the owner wants it to go.
In our Gospel lesson appointed for this Fourth Sunday in Advent, the angel tells Mary not to be afraid, that she had been found favor with God, that she would be with child, and that her son would Savior and King. She asks but one question of how this could be true, since she was a virgin. In 65 words or so, the angel answers her, to which Mary answers “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Or to say it another way, “whatever you say Lord, that’s the way it will be.” In verses 2/3 of a song Mary Did You Know, the writer says it this way,
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am
To which we add our own question, Mary did you know there would be such (comfort and joy?) We don’t really know the answer to that question, but this we do know – that we will do well to say with Mary in a thousand different ways in the days ahead, “whatever you say Lord, that’s the way it will be.” Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters