Prepare the Way for the Child of Joy!
As we enter into Your presence, O Lord, this Advent Season, send Your Holy Spirit to fill us with hope, peace, joy and love! May we worship our Savior with hearts forgiven and then fortified by Your grace, with minds open and then instructed by Your truth, and spirits ready and then willing to serve with complete devotion. In Jesus’ saving name we pray. Amen.
Text: Isaiah 12:1-3
And in that day you will say: “O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’”Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
In Christ Jesus, our greatest Source of joy, dear fellow redeemed:
This past Friday it was my privilege to attend the funeral service for Arlene Wotchke at Grace Lutheran Church in Sleepy Eye. Arlene was the sister of our member, Bernice Geiger and the aunt of my childhood best friend, Dale Enns. She and her brother Armin, together with so many other members of Grace, filled my childhood with wonderful memories. This past Sunday morning my sister, Ruth, died after dealing with the effects of cancer for over two years. This coming Sunday afternoon my family and I will be privileged to attend her funeral at Grace Lutheran Church in Valentine, Nebraska.
Why do I say that it is a “privilege” to attend funerals? After all, that is not how many people feel. One gentleman came up to me after a funeral I conducted this last October and began his conversation with me by saying, “I generally hate coming to funerals. They are so depressing!” I believe it is a privilege to attend funerals, however, because it is through the prism of death that God permits us to see the full spectrum—the true beauty of the gospel! It is through the prism of death that we are able to understand the true meaning of Christmas! Jesus did not come simply to give families a reason to get together for a ham dinner or merely to open presents placed under a tree in our living rooms. No, Jesus came to do battle with Satan, to overcome sin with all of its dreadful faces, and finally to destroy death—both temporal and eternal, and so to give us life! It is a privilege to attend funerals, because there more than anywhere else we see the stark contrast between the inevitable consequence of sin and the ultimate promise of the gospel, that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved!” (Mk. 16:16) Yes, it is a privilege to attend funerals, because there the messages God wants proclaimed bring us joy!
My dear friends, as we conclude this series of Midweek Advent Services and look forward to the celebration of Christmas, just a little over a week away, let us PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE CHILD OF JOY! Isaiah informs you that He is your Comforter!
Isaiah begins our text by saying: “And in that day you will say: “O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.” The time period of which Isaiah here speaks is our New Testament period. He was looking forward to the day in which all of the prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures would be fulfilled in Christ and all of the blessings flowing from the salvation He would accomplish would be proclaimed.
Isaiah personalizes his message and applies it to each of us. He speaks directly to us in the second person—“you will say: O LORD, I will praise You!” Why? Because even though our sins anger God—yes, God is angered by our sins for they are an affront to Him, and even though we deserve nothing other than His wrath, He has turned that anger away. He turned that anger away from us, Isaiah says, so that He might bring us instead true comfort. This is a reference to nothing other than the essence of the gospel.
How is it that a just God, Who is angered by sin, can and has become a loving and comforting heavenly Father? The apostle Paul explained it in this way to the Corinthian Christians: “He (God the Father) made Him (His Son, Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). He explained it this way to the Galatian Christians: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:13-14). Our just and angry God is now our comforting heavenly Father because Christ came to serve as our Substitute—to bear the guilt and the penalty that our sins deserved. The sentimentality with which we at times view the manger, should never remove the stark reality that Jesus came in love to bear the cross!
The promise of the Spirit then is that assurance that we too will be saved—that death is not an end to our existence, that hell will not be our future existence, but that rather by faith as we embrace Jesus Christ as our Savior and follow Jesus Christ as our Lord, we can do so with absolute confidence, for His great desire is to bring us close to Him to enjoy His comfort! That Spirit was called “the Comforter” by Jesus numerous times as He shared with His disciples His innermost thoughts and desires in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday evening. The New King James translation of these passages has lost something, in my estimation, with its use of the word “Helper” instead of Comforter. Listen to these words of Jesus once again: “And I pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (Jn. 14:16-18 KJV).
Isaiah would later in his book of prophecy write these words, immortalized in the opening tenor recitative of Handel’s Messiah: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned” (Is. 40:1-2 KJV). Is that not truly a message of joy! As you look forward not just to Christmas, but to the rest of your life, to your death, and to what lies beyond, may you PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE CHILD OF JOY, for Hetruly is your Comforter!
Isaiah goes on to say that He is also your salvation, your strength, and your song! The words that follow in our text are so truly intriguing: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song.’” God has saved us! Jesus did not say on the cross: “My part is done, now it is up to you.” Rather, He cried out in agonizing triumph: “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30) Everything that God the Father had planned and required for our salvation was completed by Jesus Christ on our behalf. With what result? Paul explains: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). We can, therefore, trust in our dear heavenly Father and have confidence in our renewed relationship with Him, because as Paul further explains—we are “complete in Him (Christ Jesus), who is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10). Our salvation does not rest upon our good works or any attempts of our own to appease the wrath of God. That salvation rests upon the solid Rock of Jesus Christ. His righteousness becomes our own as we are led by the Spirit of God to place our faith in Him. That Child of Joy is your salvation!
In addition, He who is “Yah,” which is simply a shortened version of the name “Jehovah” or “LORD,” is your strength. Think of those powerful words of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear!” (Ps. 46:1-2a) We need a refuge when we have no strength. Our God, in view of the work of Jesus Christ, declares Himself to be our refuge, and He promises to provide us the strength to go on no matter what the trouble confronting us. That is reason once again for joy!
Trust in Him, my dear friends! He is worthy of your trust! The Father’s love in sending His Son to be your Savior demonstrates that! The Son’s willingness to die in your place proves that! Jesus’ resurrection shows us that He is “the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom. 1:4). Do not make the same mistake our first parents did. They wanted to be free and independent of God. They wanted to be in charge of their own future—assuming that they could in their pride use their own strength to do a better job of directing their lives than could God, but with what end? They fell from grace and their perfect estate, subjecting all of us to the effects of sin—sorrow, sadness, and ultimately death! But God is our true strength. We can trust Him. We need not be afraid of anything in life and certainly not of the inevitable approach of death.
I am currently reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned by the Nazis in Germany and executed just days before the end of World War II. In the final pages of the book there is a quotation from one of Bonhoeffer’s sermons dealing with our Christian approach to death in view of Christ. It speaks in many ways to the thoughts presented by Isaiah. Bonhoeffer preached: “No one has believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence. Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up—that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? ...Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people to believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle, it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace. How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.” [Bonfhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 531]
Yes, the Child of Joy is your salvation, your strength, and finally your song! What a joy it is to sing or to hear the carols of the Christmas Season—Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Silent Night; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; Joy to the World! Each of them expresses the joyous appreciation of God’s grace and blessing through the Child of Joy born in Bethlehem so long ago. Many of them anticipate the work He had come to do and the blessed results of that work—the gift of eternal life bestowed upon us poor sinners for Jesus’ sake!
In closing today permit me to return to the conversation I referenced having with a gentleman after a funeral in October. He began that conversation, as I mentioned, by saying: “I generally hate coming to funerals. They are so depressing!” He went on to say, however, that “there is only one word to describe the message I received today and that word is ‘joy’!” My dear friends, as you look forward to Christmas PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE CHILD OF JOY! He is your Comforter! He is your salvation, your strength, and your song! Rest and rejoice in Him now, and you will rest and rejoice with Him forever! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!