Monday, December 19, 2011

“Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates” (Isaiah 40:9)

S-1286 4SIA/3B 12/18/11 Hymns: (O) 64; (S) #341 LSB; (C) #74

Text: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Theme: “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates” (Isaiah 40:9)

Question: “What are some of the idols you are building?” Armour, SD.

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The text for the 4th Sunday in Advent is from Isaiah 40: “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!’”

In Nomini Iesu,

Saints in Christ how many of you are tired of hearing bad/sad news? How many of you are sick of picking up the newspaper, only to read of murder, rape, Government corruption, going out of business and churches closing. How often do you watch TV and hear of the pain, hurt and harm done to all kinds of people? Wouldn’t be nice if every once in a while we could hear good news? Wouldn’t our world be a better place if the good news was constant? The answer to all of these questions is yes! Yes, I am tired of hearing bad and sad news. Yes, I am sick of reading the newspaper that is filled with gloom and doom. Yes, I am tired of watching TV because there is nothing good on it. Yes, I would gladly hear good news if available.

Well, you don’t have long to wait. Today, the prophet Isaiah in this text tells us of the one who has been dispatched with news worthy of repeating and hearing. The news that Isaiah is sharing is this: A King is coming (40:10–11)! His highway is prepared (40:3), and the message has been proclaimed (40:6–8). So that ALL may hear this gospel, the proclaimer is summoned to get up on a high mountain and with his mighty voice tell the world the good news.

Why did the people of Isaiah’s day need to hear the good news? Because they have been living like bad news people—people who have forsaken the God who brought them out of slavery with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. They have chased after gods of their own making and own choosing. PAUSE.

Walk into any library, Lowes, Menards, Home Depot, True Value, Ace Hardware or Hardware Hank, and you will see all types of do it yourself books and magazines. We can with the help of these books create, remodel, fashion and produce something. Actually we are encouraged to do it ourselves. Almost all of the commercials tell you that you CAN.

With this kind of attitude, no wonder it spills over into our theology and understanding of who our god should be. We can easily be deceived by our hearts that mislead us to trust in our own creation, rather than in the God who has created us.

It is to these people that Isaiah spoke and speaks today. Yes, you and I are just like Israel of old, always attempting to fashion a god to our liking and our thinking. Review your life and answer truthfully: Are we not the same, looking inside of us for the god that pleases us? How many of us build our own idols?

Just as Israel was slow to trust their God, we find ourselves in a similar plight. There is a part in all of us that delights in, shall we say, “Creative craftsmanship.” We conceive it in our mind.  We build it with our hands.  We choose what it looks like. We personalize it with our preferences.  It’s just what we want in a god. It’s a god who likes what I like, hates what I hate, and who shares my opinion. It is a god who increases my standard of living and happiness.  This is a god who gives me what I want and stays out of my way the rest of the time.

John Calvin states that the human heart is a perpetual idol factory. Commenting on the First Commandment, Luther states in his Large Catechism, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” And the Creator Himself spoke these words in Genesis: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5); Again, the Lord laments the heart of man through the Prophet Jeremiah: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jesus tells us about our hearts when He teaches in Matthew 15: For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

We are, I am sad to say, just like the rest of humanity building our gods, our own idols. What are some of the idols you and I are building? How often do we place the ultimate trust in the things we possess—a job, marriage, investments, homes, cars, positions, and places we want to see or on our Bucket list. We chase after them. We forsake God in our efforts to obtain them. We neglect our time of studying the Word of God to own them and possess them—all for naught.

Why, these are nothing but idols. Idols are nothing but gods we fashion and form to our liking only to drag us down and cause us pain. The word “idol” in the Hebrew can be translated as pain. Idols bring the same misery, heartache, and pain experienced by our first parents. PAUSE.

And who among us here today in spite of all the joy and jingles; of all the glitter and glow of the season doesn’t have hurt or pain? Who of us, doesn’t want to hear good news and better yet hear the Great News.

Hear again, the words of Isaiah: “Fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold Your God!’” Yes, tell the world from the highest mountain about Your God, the God who comes among you to bless you. No need to fear. No need to worry He is the God who is not made by human hands, but made the world by His mighty power and strength. This is Your God. Behold Him at work in your life and mine.

Look intently at Him and see what manner of God is this who is involved in the life of His creatures. We see this in the life of Jesus the Babe of Bethlehem who comes to lift us high. We see Jesus’ ministry God’s end time gospel reign is now active--active to bring about a change that is extraordinary.

Yes fear not. But stand high and lifted up and proclaim to the whole world about your merciful and gracious God and what He has done and is doing for you. We and the world should stop creating a god to our liking, and rely only on the ONE True God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As we do, we realize and know that Yahweh’s transforming grace and commission to Zion foreshadows His plan for the church, Zion for this present age (Heb 12:22–24). We, God’s Church of today, should shout the message from the highest gates and mountains so all can hear the good news—in a clear, firm, and positive voice that her message is true. She must be vigorously and militantly evangelistic. We don’t have to be afraid and trembling, but rather with boldness and vigor announce “Behold your God.” Luther writes, “This is the gist of your preaching: Behold your God! Promote God alone, His mercy and grace. Preach Me alone.”

So what is the answer? In the context of such massive idolatry we have a word from God. Isaiah says, “Behold Your God!” Yes, behold Him with eyes of faith. See Him as He comes to us again today as we stand lifted up high upon the gates.

In the fullness of time He came, and in one instant, He made Himself breakable. He who was larger than the universe became a Babe. And He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of His teenage mother. Our God came, not as a flash of light, or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as One whose first cries were heard in a cattle stall along with cows and sheep. No silk, no ivory, no hype, no hoopla—just humanity.

His feet will feel the cold sea water and writhe at the invasion of the nail. His heart will be torn by people’s accusations and be crushed under the weight of our sin. His eyes will see our shame, for we cannot hide. They will see our selfishness, for we cannot give. And they will see our pain, for we are so full of hurt. His hands will touch lepers, hold little children, break bread, claw the ground at Gethsemane, and be stretched out on a Roman instrument of death.

Because He bled and died in our place, Jesus demonstrates that He alone is able to heal our hurts, forgive our filth, and defeat our death. No wonder the Bible says that idols are nothing but chaos and only compound our pain because a cross-less god is no god at all.  A god who doesn’t suffer, a god who knows no agony, a god who doesn’t die; this is a god without grace, a god who cannot deliver, and a god who offers no hope and no future.

But this is not our Jesus! He is crucified, but risen indeed! So it is time to turn in our tools, stop building substitutes, throw away the idols, and to never, ever again do business at a build-a-god workshop. Instead, we hear our God who could and did say to a people that were under His judgment, “You, you bring the message of good news to the world. Do it from the mountain tops. Shout it with a “voice of strength.” Declare it to the world and do it without fear. YES, stand high and lifted up to praise and worship Him Jesus the Savior of the world and declare to all—BEHOLD YOUR GOD. AMEN.

Now the peace…


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