First Sunday in Advent November 28, 2021
55, 61, 59:1-2,5-6, 51
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young. (NKJV)
In the name of the long-awaited promised Christ, dear fellow redeemed;
The preparations for Christmas are most likely well on their way by now. Decorations are being put up. Christmas gifts are being purchased at stores or over the internet. Still other gifts receive a more personal touch, being handmade.
In addition to this, as Christians we use the season of Advent as a way of preparing our hearts for the celebration of Christmas. To aid us in such preparations we turn to God’s Word where we can get at the very heart of Christmas.
This brings to mind the need for a proper focus in order to find reason for the true spirit of Christmas which includes peace, joy, and hope. Along this line of thought if we were to take a survey, asking people to identify the focal point of Christmas, we would undoubtedly receive a mixed response. Those who have a secular viewpoint would likely single out Santa Claus. Some believe that he is the personification of the Christmas spirit with his jolly disposition and his generous way of giving gifts. Whereas those with a Christian viewpoint are quick to declare that Christmas is the celebration of our Savior’s birth. This is attested to by the many different traditional things that are done, said, and sung at this season of the year. For the most part they point us to the Christ-child and what He represents to us.
At the time of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, the divine word went out for believers (referred to here as Zion and Jerusalem) to prepare for that first coming of the Lord to this earth in human form. They were to do this by proclaiming throughout the land, “Behold your God!” and then make known the good news concerning this special One.
In order that their glad tidings of Him could be heard both far and wide, the instruction was given, “Get up into the high mountain… Lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid.” This instruction should serve as a reminder to us to make clear to our fellow countrymen that Jesus is the reason for the season and to share with them the good news of what the baby Jesus is all about. And, as our text indicates, we shouldn’t feel any hesitancy or timidity to proclaim this Christmas news to others. Rather, we should do so with the spirit of ready resolve, confidence, and joy.
What is the good news about this promised One that we are to proclaim to others? In verses 10 and 11 of our text, the Word of God tells us that the good news is that Jesus is the Lord who is God. He comes with great might to conquer our most dreaded enemies, carry on an everlasting reign, and lovingly shepherd those who are gathered into His flock.
If any in Isaiah’s day or in our day were to question how this could be said of a little baby born into this world, the prophet gives answer in the ninth chapter of his prophetic book, saying, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
In line with this powerful declaration concerning that special Child, who was to conquer and rule, Isaiah declares of Him in verse 10 of our text, “Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.” The prophet said for people in his day, as well as in our day, to sit up and take notice of the divine identity of this coming One by saying, “Behold, the Lord God.” This designation had much to say about the ability the promised Christ possessed in being able to bring about a great victory for us. It reveals that He is the almighty Lord and sovereign Ruler over all. He would be faithful in carrying out His promise to show mercy. He would deliver all those who are held fast under the dominion of sin and Satan.
There were many Jews in Jesus’ day, as well as a host of people in our day, who have raised questions about this Son of Mary also being true God who was powerful to save us eternally. Jesus put those questions to rest by the many miracles He performed during His ministry. And to top it off Jesus proved Himself to be God by raising Himself back to life from the dead.
As true God, Jesus alone was able to assume the sins of the world, endure the pangs of hell in payment for our many transgressions, and thus satisfy God’s justice. In this way, Jesus used His strong hand to gain the victory over the enemies of our souls and establish His gracious rule in our hearts as our Lord and Savior.
When we declare to others that Jesus was born into this world to die in order to deliver sinful mankind from the dominion of sin and the devil, it is our hope and prayer that hearers will not look upon this lightly. For it is the dominion of sin and Satan that causes so much trouble and woes both for those held under the sway of these two enemies.
Listen to the apostle Paul’s long list of evil ways which cause so many problems and can be eternally destructive. He writes in Galatians, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
In the face of this kind of dominion which vex mankind, our almighty Lord came with a “strong hand” to conquer sin, its power, and its eternal curse. Pointing to Jesus’ victorious death on the cross that paid for our sins and crushed the power of the devil, the book of Hebrews declares of Him, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
The apostle Paul writes in Colossians of Jesus’ great victory that made it possible for our spiritual and eternal liberation, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (2:13-15)
The reward which our text speaks of going to the victor Jesus Christ, is none other than human souls who have been rescued and set free from their dreadful captivity. Having been set free, we are brought under the powerful and gracious rule of the Lord. Instead of walking in the ways of sinful rebellion, our Savior enables us to walk, live, act, and speak according to God’s holy will.
This wonderful exchange of controlling influence takes places in us through the powerful Word of God which we read, hear, and meditate on throughout the course of our lives. The Son of God, who before He became incarnate as the Son of Man, tells us in Isaiah of that powerful Word of good news that He came on earth to proclaim and bless us with, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Our Lord and God is not only portrayed in our text as a powerful conqueror and gracious ruler, but also as a loving Shepherd who mercifully cares for all our needs as the sheep of His flock. We read once again from Isaiah that, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” This brief statement speaks of the wonderful relationship of Jesus with His followers reminds us of certain aspects of Jesus’ shepherding ways.
The first phrase which states, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd” could also be rendered in this way, “Like a shepherd, He takes care of His flock.” This points us to the shepherding ways of our Lord. He nourishes our souls with His life-giving Word. He protects and keeps us safe from spiritual harm and danger through His Word of grace and truth. He provides us with the healing balm of His merciful and pardoning Word.
The next phrase in our text directs us to the specific kinds of care the Lord Jesus gives us. The reference to lambs and ewe sheep with young is not necessarily only speaking of little children and their mothers, but could well be picturing all Christians in our spiritually weak and frail condition.
Due to our sinful nature, we are like the newborn lamb who with weak and wobbly legs has difficulty standing upright, and if left on its own would be easy prey for the prowling predators. But through His soul-strengthening Word the Lord Jesus gathers us up into His loving bosom, carries us along down the difficult and hazardous road of life, and keeps us from straying off from His sheepfold.
The ewe sheep with young also presents a picture of our spiritually delicate and weak condition. Ewes cannot be driven hard lest they stumble and fall by the wayside, but must be gently led and cared for. So also our Good Shepherd does not deal with as a hard, unfeeling taskmaster who drives us with a heavy hand of the law. Rather, He very mercifully and lovingly bears with our weaknesses and He graciously leads us with His Word of life and salvation.
What a consoling picture this is! Pray God that we are prompted to ever look to the Word of our Good Shepherd so that through it He might care for all our spiritual needs.
So, what is to be focal point of Christmas? The Word of our Lord calls upon us to point others to the Christ-child and proclaim to them, ‘Behold the God of your salvation.’ May God help us to do this so that they can experience with us the true joys of Christmas, a blessed life in Christ Jesus, and the everlasting bliss of heaven. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.