1st Sunday after Christmas (B) Text: Isaiah 61:9-62:3, Luke 1:48 December 31, 2017 Rev. Jon Nack
Dear friends in Christ, I recently read a story about a man who wanted to make a big impression at his high school class reunion. He showed up in a limo, made a grand entrance with a beautiful woman on his arm, wore an expensive suit and a Rolex. Everyone was very interested to hear that he had made it big in Hollywood, recently writing a script for a hit movie. He made a big impression. Everyone was talking about him that night. There was one problem, none of it was real.
He had a terrible job, lived in his parent’s basement, was single and his life was pretty much a disappointment. He had rented the limo, and clothes, borrowed the watch, and bribed a coworker to go as his “date.” He simply wanted to give the impression that he was something that he wasn’t. He wanted to be someone in the eyes of his classmates from high school.
It is understandable. We know what it is like to want to be someone in somebody else’s eyes. The high school student (or 10 year graduate) wants to be someone in her classmates eyes. The wife wants to be someone special and special in her husband’s eyes. He wants to be someone who is respected and loved in his wife’s eyes. The father wants to be someone who is looked up to in the children’s eyes. The child wants to be someone who is treasured in the parents’ eyes. The boss wants to be someone who is respected in the workers’ eyes. And the employee wants to be someone who is appreciated in the boss’s eyes.
But it doesn’t always happen that way, does it? Instead of being looked up to, the Father is seen as someone who is short-tempered, harsh and unforgiving. The wife is seen as someone who stings with her words. The children are seen as disobedient and disrespectful. The boss is seen as a task master. And the employee is seen as someone who lets the boss down.
Besides all this, the bottom line is that we want to be seen as someone special in God’s eyes. But it is hard not to see our sin, our rebellion, our failure, our lack of forgiveness, or stubbornness. In the Old Testament, we are told that God looked down during the time of Noah and saw how evil people had become. 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. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6. This was a disaster! It wasn’t that way in the beginning, for then God looked at everything He had created (including Adam and Eve) and it was very good!
Imagine being something utterly despised in God’s eyes – deplorable in God’s eyes – rejected in God’s eyes – empty, cursed and repulsive in God’s eyes – as good as dead in God’s eyes. This is what sin does. And it is what God sees – no matter how we may try to be something in His eyes.
And we can try to be something we aren’t in His eyes, just like we can try to be something we’re not in other peoples’ eyes. We can try to be good people by doing good things. (But then we are doing the evil of simply doing good just to look good.) We can try to be special in God’s eyes by making a special gift or offering or donation. (I remember talking to a woman who hadn’t been in church in years. She had contacted the pastor and offered to donate $25,000 to have a special marble altar carved and placed in church in her families’ memory. The pastor told her to keep her money, the Lord wanted her heart, not her money.) And some try to look good in God’s eyes by standing behind others who are much worse sinners then they are. But in the end, look at which line you are still standing in!
Israel couldn’t avoid it. They were poor, miserable sinners in God’s eyes. Nobody’s with no future. They were seen as ones abandoned by God in the eyes of the nations. That is what the nations saw when their lands where invaded by Assyrian and then Babylonian armies. That is what they saw when they were massacred, humiliated and humbled by being put into chains and marched away into captivity. They saw a people who were being punished by God. They were even given the names of “desolate” and “deserted.” That is what they were in God’s eyes, in the eyes of the nations, and in their own eyes. And sometimes, when we haven’t been the people we want to be in other’s eyes – or especially God’s eyes, the name fits, doesn’t it. For that is what everyone sees in us. “Hello, my name is deserted. Hi, my name is desolate.” And nothing that we do can make us something we are not.
But right there, in the midst of that reality, is the message that God gives to His people that He promises to make us something we are not. God looks and sees someone to love, to redeem, to give hope and a future – to make them something they aren’t.
He does that by dressing them in the robes of righteousness and the garments of salvation. The words recorded here by the prophet Isaiah are the words of a believer who has received the great blessings of God. Great joy fills the heart of such a believer.
Every believer may rejoice that God has covered his or her sinful life with the robe of righteousness. Jesus fashioned this robe from the threads of his perfect life. Then he wove it on the loom of the cross and colored it with his own red blood. God freely gives the cloak of his Son’s perfect life to the sinner, and it covers every sin, rebellion, and deviation from God’s standard. This robe of Christ’s righteousness is long and wide enough to cover every twisted human thought, word, and deed. But this robe comes only from God. No human can erase a single sin. But God can make us something we are not. He can make us the Apple of His Eye. That is what David prayed for in Psalm 17: I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. 7 Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. 8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings ..
The Lord God in Christ Jesus does what we cannot do. He is going to act. He cannot remain silent. And so He speaks. And it is the Word of God that He uses to turn us into something we are not. As He speaks forgiveness to us He dresses us up in the beautiful light of His mercy and righteousness that shines forth for all to see. And what all nations do see is not the goodness of our own works, but the goodness of God who chooses the lowly, the sinner, the humble in heart, and lifts them up to be the centerpiece of God’s goodness and glory, like the diadem or crown of God’s glory.
Verse nine of our texts says that all nations will see that they are a nation that the Lord has blessed. It sounds like what Mary sang after she was told by the angel that she would bear the Savior of the world: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Luke 1:46-49
God makes you into something you aren’t. That is even reflected by the new name that He gives. For you are no longer deserted by God and left desolate. Now you have been chosen forever by God. You are His holy people the Redeemed of the Lord. Forgiven and sealed in the blood of Christ forever. God has chosen you in His mercy. And because of that, all people will called you blessed – blessed by the Lord.