Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Gaudete (Advent 3) - 2010

15 December 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Isa 35:1-10

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Deserts are places of barrenness, of extremes of heat and cold, of scarcity of water and food. Deserts are places of death. There is very little for living creatures to rejoice about in a desert.

In the Scriptures, deserts are places where God’s people struggle, where they wander aimlessly, where they battle against their foes, and where there seems to be no life or hope.

But hear the Word of the Lord from Holy Isaiah: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.”

This is truly a picture of how things work under God’s merciful care. A single defiant flower surrounded by acres of sand dunes is a fitting mental picture of the Christian faith and life.

We began life on this planet in a garden. The garden is the perfect place for humanity to live and thrive. Gardens are lush, teeming with life, with brightly-colored vitamin-laden fruits bursting from healthy trees, with vegetables springing forth from the rich soil in abundance, with the perfect conditions of water, heat, and light to live in comfort.

And owing to our foolish lack of contentment with a perfect world, and because of our rebellious desire not merely to be created in God’s image but rather sinfully wishing to be like God Himself, we surrendered the fertility of the garden for the barrenness of a cold, dark, foreboding, and mortal existence.

For the desert is the opposite of the garden. Deserts are drab and dour, dry and dusty, too hot, too cold, hostile to life, with scattered bones of the dead on the ground and circling birds of prey in the air, eager to consume the remains of the few living things that can withstand the harsh conditions.

And yet, in His mercy, God does not simply leave us to struggle, suffer, and die in the desert of our sinful condition. No indeed! For hear the Word of Isaiah: “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”

Our Redeemer takes the garden-turned-desert that results from our sins and remakes it into a desert-turned-garden owing to His grace. For listen to humanity’s reversal in fortune:

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’”

The prophet looks into the coming kingdom of God and sees the blind released from a desert of darkness, being restored to a garden of light. The deaf will be restored their hearing, the crippled will leap like deer, and those condemned to silence will not merely speak, but will sing.

All of these are not only poetic pictures of the kingdom of God, but literal prophecies that have come to fulfillment by the King who is God, the One whose coming we yet await with expectation and joy: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the prophet continues: “For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”

In the kingdom of God, life emerges from death, the eternal springs forth from the temporal, and that which is holy erupts from that which is common. This is how it is that we see a sinful baby splashed with water, and become righteous and immortal. This is how we see sinners revived and restored to fellowship with the living God through simple words uttered by a servant. This is how we see ordinary bread become the living bread from heaven, the true body of Christ, and we see ordinary, common table wine become the extraordinary, holy blood of God that was shed on the altar of the cross and is given for us to eat and drink before this altar. And all of this is brought to life by the One who struggled with the devil in the desert, who defeated him at the cross, and who rose again from the tomb.

And we also ponder the tomb – a place intended for dead men’s bones and every manner of uncleanness. But this tomb is empty. This tomb is in a garden. And from this tomb springs life, and the very source of life Himself.

In God’s kingdom, death never gets the last word. Life always springs forth from the most unlikely of places. In the fallen world, the weak do not overpower the strong, the mighty don’t humble themselves to save the lowly, virgins and the elderly do not give birth, dead men do not walk out of tombs, and sinners are not saints. But this is precisely what happens in God’s kingdom, dear brothers and sisters in Christ!

And in this kingdom, we look forward to the day when every barren desert becomes a fertile garden to which “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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