Sunday, November 28, 2010
Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent (November 28, 2010)
“Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:1-5)
“How should I not have known Isaiah would be there?” The hymnwriter asks that question in stanza 3 of the hymn “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt.” It tells the story of one who looks upon the newborn Christ Child in the manger and reflects upon what he sees there. Isaiah isn’t literally standing there, but his words echo there down the centuries. “How should I not have known Isaiah would be there, his prophecies fulfilled? With pounding heart I stare: A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me.” (LSB 369.3)
Isaiah has been called the “Evangelist of the Old Testament” or the “Fifth Evangelist” because so many portions of his book are filled with Gospel promises about the coming of the Savior. Isaiah was sent as God’s prophet to the people of Judah and the capital city of Jerusalem around 700 years before the birth of Jesus. His message to Judah and Jerusalem – and to us today – is summarized in the last line of today’s text from Isaiah 2: “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
The people of Judah were not walking in the light of the Lord. They were not living according to God’s revealed truth to them. In chapter 1, Isaiah says that they had turned their backs on the Lord. They offered sacrifices to him without faith in their hearts. They followed after the false, impotent gods of their neighbors. Their leaders were corrupt.
Then, in chapter 2, Isaiah foretells a time when “the nations” and “many peoples” will walk in the light of the Lord. Even Gentiles will “flow” to God’s holy mountain and worship the true God.
The prophet says that this will happen “in the latter days.” Many people assume that this means the time just before Jesus returns. But the term “the latter days” or “the last days” actually refers to the entire New Testament era … the time from the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus until now and up to the time when he returns. We know this because of passages, for example, like Hebrews 1:1-2, which says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb. 1:1-2) Also, in 1 Peter 1:20, St. Peter tells us that Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.” (1 Pet. 1:19-20)
Mt. Zion, the hill on which Jerusalem sits, will be the most important mountain. Although there are many higher mountains in Judea, yet Isaiah says that “it shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills.” (Is. 2:2) Mt. Zion became the most important mountain when a cross was raised up on it, and when a Man was raised up on that cross and died for the sins of the world. That Man, whom you know was and is also True God, said, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)
In the book of Acts and in the centuries to follow, Gentiles became believers in Christ and flocked to the Church, the new “Mt. Zion.” You see, just as Isaiah foretold, the message of the cross has gone forth from Zion, from Jerusalem, as he said, “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” The word “law” there in Hebrew is “Torah,” which does not only refer to God’s Law. It includes the idea of God’s gracious dealings with his people.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Gospel message did go forth from Jerusalem. Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Today, the Church is the spiritual Mt. Zion, and the saving message of the Good News of Jesus goes forth from her. Here you are at “the ends of the earth” today, hearing that Jesus died and rose for your sins, taking that message with you and proclaiming it in the places where God has put you.
The message of the cross brings peace. That’s the picture Isaiah gives us. He describes a world where people will take their instruments of war and turn them into farm tools. Jesus’ death on the cross brought peace between God and man, because God himself paid the price for the sins that separates us from him. And the message of the cross also brings peace between man and man, as we forgive one another in the love of Christ and live at peace with one another.
If all this is the case … if God has promised such a wonderful thing … that Gentiles will come to faith in the true God … then Isaiah calls the people of Judah to repentance, saying, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Is. 2:5) If Gentiles will be “flowing” to Mt. Zion, then the ones who first received God’s Word and promises – the people of Israel – certainly ought to walk in the light of the Lord.
Isaiah’s message to Judah is the same message to us today as we begin another season of Advent … as we prepare ourselves for another celebration of the first coming of the Savior … and as we remember that Jesus will come back again. Isaiah’s message to us is “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Are we walking in the light of the Lord? Or do we find ourselves walking in darkness? Think about the times when you have slept in a hotel room or in a strange bed at a relative’s house when you are on vacation. You wake up in the middle of the night to get up to use the restroom or get a drink of water. Half-asleep, your mind thinks you are in your own bed and your own room. In the darkness, you assume that you have a clear path to your destination. But suddenly, you find yourself banging into furniture and walls that you didn’t expect to be there.
What kind of things are you tripping over as you walk in the darkness of sin? Have you cast off “the works of darkness” that St. Paul describes in today’s Epistle? (Romans 13:11-14) Drunken partying? That may be over the top for most of you, but I don’t know everything you do in your life away from here. Sexual immorality and sensuality? That hits a bit closer to home, because that also condemns the thoughts of the mind and attitudes of the heart. Lastly, Paul mentions quarreling and jealousy. Ah, now he’s hit the target. How many of us are at perfect peace with all people, even within our own family … our own congregation? How often are we jealous of those who have what we don’t have?
Through the words of Isaiah, God is calling us to repentance. He wants us to step out of the darkness and to walk in the light of the Lord.
Walk in the light of Christ as you prepare to celebrate his first coming at Christmas. The light of Christ was first revealed in that humble baby in the manger … that he was born to die and rise for you to take away your sins.
Walk in the light that you were given when you were baptized … when you were enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The light of faith in Jesus was ignited in you, your sins were washed away, and you were clothed with the Lord Jesus … his righteousness given to you as a free gift.
And being clothed with Christ, you will be ready and able to walk in the light of Christ at his second coming. Towards the end of his book, Isaiah foretells the day when Jesus will come again. On that day, for those who trust in Christ, “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” (Isa. 60:19) That sounds an awful lot like the way St. John saw the heavenly city Jerusalem in Revelation 21: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:23)
The message of Advent is watch, prepare, be ready for a proper Christmas celebration. But above all, watch, prepare, be ready, because Jesus is coming back again.
The latter days message of the cross prepares us for THE Last Day when Jesus will visibly return and judge the living and the dead. It directs us to God’s forgiving love. It enables us to flow to God’s holy mountain where the streams of living water flow from his font … where we were clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ … where his Word teaches us concerning his ways … and where he has prepared a table for us at which we can feast on his Son’s body and blood.
So come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.