Sermon for Sunday, December 6th, 2020, the Second Sunday in Advent
The Lessons: Psalm 85; Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-18
The Text: Isaiah 40:1-11
The Topic: The Good News of the Coming King
In London, wrote Philip Yancey, looking toward the auditorium’s royal box where the queen and her family sat, I caught glimpses of the way rulers stride through the world: with bodyguards, a trumpet fanfare, and a flourish of bright clothes and flashing jewelry.
Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the United States, and reporters delighted in spelling out the logistics involved: her four thousand pounds of luggage included two outfits for every occasion, a mourning outfit in case someone died, forty pints of plasma, and white kid-leather toilet seat covers. She brought along her own hairdresser, two valets, and a host of other attendants. A brief visit of royalty to a foreign country can easily cost $20 million or more.
By contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the newborn King but a feed trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses at first.
– Philip Yancey: The Jesus I Never Knew. Zondervan, 1995.1
A royal visitation contrasting to that of earthly rulers is proclaimed in our First Lesson today from the fortieth chapter of the Book of the prophet Isaiah. In preparing for a royal visit all the royal servants and messengers receive their orders to make the necessary preparations and deliver the necessary messages. In this passage the first messenger, or prophet, must speak words of comfort to God’s people, Israel, and to Jerusalem to the effect that the nation’s sin has been pardoned, and she has received double punishment for her sins. There is now a new and wonderful destiny for her.
The second voice is the voice of the one we Christians interpret to be St. John the Baptist, the voice that calls for the preparation of the Messiah’s coming and his way by preaching repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This voice announces that the glory of the Lord shall be made known and all people shall see it together (Isaiah 40:5), since the Lord has spoken it. This glory is the glory of the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose glory was revealed at his first advent (John 1:14) but will be revealed again at his second advent (Rev. 1:7), when every eye shall see him.
The third voice bears a message which at first does not sound like good news, since it is something that many people do not want to hear:
All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
(Isaiah 40:6b-7, KJV)
This message has at least two purposes. One is to convince man of his mortality and transience in this world, and the other is to suggest the proper interpretation of this message is not to set up an unreal expectation of the coming of some earthly king to set up an earthly messianic kingdom by military means. In fact, the next verse completes the picture by way of contrast:
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
(Isaiah 40:8, KJV)
Against the mortality of man is set the eternity of God’s word and its truth. The verse is really a message that we should look for the fulfilment of God’s word, and not rely on human beings to bring about God’s justice and righteousness on earth.
The last message is addressed to Zion, or Jerusalem, as if she were a person that brings the Gospel, or good news, to the world, telling her to proclaim this good news from the mountain top and tell the cities of Judah to look to their God. This, I believe, is a figurative way of showing that the Gospel of Christ proceeds from Jerusalem to Israel, and then to all nations, and it is a Gospel that directs people to look at their God, as He has been revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second part of this last message affirms that the Lord God will come in might and power, bringing his reward with him, that is, the reward of the righteous and the recompence of the unjust. This refers to the second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. The third part of the message uses pastoral imagery to refer to the rule of the Messiah over his people, a rule that is full of justice, kindness, and mercy.
In conclusion, then, there is great comfort in this passage, but not in terms of the trust we should place in transient rulers and human justice, but in terms of the trust we should place in the eternity of God’s word, the joyful and liberating good news of the Gospel of the Lord, and the certainty of the second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ to establish God’s eternal kingdom. Where will you put your trust? Can you tell others with the excitement of Zion in this passage, “Behold your God,” when you are sharing the Gospel with them?
1.Quoted on p. 385, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.