Advent 3, December 15, 2019
Rejoice: God Changes Everything
Text: Isaiah 35:1–10
Sometimes, something happens, and it changes everything. More than twenty years ago, I stood at an altar along with my soon-to-be-wife, Erica. We faced each other. I said my vows and she said hers. We exchanged rings. The pastor pronounced us husband and wife. Ever since, things have been different. On that day, something happened, and everything changed.
A little over six years after that wedding, Erica was at the hospital and our first child, Christopher, was born. And ever since, our lives have been changed. Everything changes when you have children. Sometimes, something happens, and everything changes.
This reading from Isaiah 35 reminds us of this fact. In a way, Isaiah says, When God Comes to Save, Everything Changes.
Creation changes. Isaiah talks about the land. It’s barren, a wilderness, a desert. It’s a place where things just don’t grow. It’s brown and ugly. (Like West Texas) But when God comes to save, creation will change. It will be green. Grass will grow, and the ground will be covered with a carpet of flowers. Isaiah compares it to Carmel, Sharon, and Lebanon, which are noted for their vegetation, trees, and such. I imagine it will be like the change from winter to spring. At the end of February, everything is brown and there are no leaves on the trees. Then April comes, and trees turn green, things are growing, birds are singing. You just feel better, right? Isaiah pictures creation changing when God comes to save.
Then He talks about people who have weak hands, feeble knees, and anxious hearts. They are dismayed and discouraged, disheartened, depressed, and despaired. Others are blind and deaf. Some can’t speak and are lame. But when God comes to save, the weak, the discouraged, and the disheartened are suddenly strong and courageous once again.
And people see and hear and shout for joy and dance once again. It reminds me of those medical stories in which a young child hears for the first time. He has been deaf all his life. Then doctors do surgery. Perhaps they put an implant in the ear. Suddenly, the child hears his mom’s voice. And you see his face just light up in joy. I’ve told you my story with LASIC. When God comes to save, everything changes.
Then Isaiah talks about a highway. Back then, most highways were more like trails. They were dangerous. Wild animals could attack you, as well as thieves and robbers. Then everything changes when God comes to save. The road becomes a highway of holiness for the saved, the forgiven to travel on in safety. Those who have been ransomed don’t have to fear anymore. They are going to arrive at a destination, and they’re going to travel together. Instead of fear and danger, they are going to be rejoicing.
Isaiah simply says that when God comes to save, everything changes. Joy will fill the land and people’s lives. But when will this happen? When does God come to save?
Well, He already has. I want you to picture a manger in a stable in Bethlehem. No doubt, back at the time of Caesar Augustus, you’ll find a few of those in that small town. Nothing out of the ordinary for a small village like Bethlehem. But one evening, a child is born, and His name is Jesus. When you translate the name Jesus, it means “he saves.” So in that manger, which was once just an ordinary stable, everything changes because Jesus is born in it. Immanuel . . . God with us. It’s a night of joy and praise in the world. God has come to save.
When Jesus grows up, during His ministry, He meets people. When He comes into their lives, everything changes. A man who is born blind, who has never been able to see, meets Jesus, and he can see.
Or a tax collector. Tax collectors were not particularly well-liked back then. They could rip people off, get extra money by taxing them more than they should. This tax collector was named Zacchaeus. He climbed a tree because he wasn’t very tall and wanted to see Jesus. Then Jesus saw him and told him He was coming to Zacchaeus’s house to eat. That evening, everything changed. Salvation came to that house, and the tax collector gave away money. He made things right with those he cheated. He followed Jesus with joy in his heart and praise on his lips.
A woman is caught in adultery, and another one is a prostitute. Jesus comes into their lives, and everything changes. The prostitute weeps at His feet, drying the tears with her hair. The one caught in adultery goes away without condemnation. She is told to sin no more.
A man is paralyzed and cannot walk. He is let down through a roof into a house. Jesus gives him his legs back, and he can run and jump once again. Even better, his sins have been forgiven.
Do you see what happens when God comes to save as Jesus? Everything changes.
Then, as His earthly ministry comes to an end, He comes to save in the most gruesome of places. A cross back then was an instrument of death. It was ugly. It stunk of shed blood, agony, and rotting flesh. The cross was a horrible place to die. But now take a look. We have crosses in just about every church, for jewelry, and along the side of the road. We call it “Good Friday” all because when Jesus hangs on the cross, everything changes. Instead of judgment and death, we have forgiveness and life.
Now head to a graveyard. A tomb back then was closed, and the body stayed put. But not with Jesus. With Jesus’ tomb, everything changes. The stone rolls away and life bursts forth again, including the life of creation God has given in this world. Creation that is groaning under pollution, misuse, hurricanes, typhoons, fires, earthquakes, drought, and all that devastates our land is simply waiting for that day when Jesus comes back to save it fully and completely. Jesus will make it new once again. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the proof that when Jesus comes to save on that Last Day, all of creation will be renewed. Rejoicing will be all that is heard. Everything will change.
When Jesus comes into our lives, everything changes for us, too. Think about the baptismal font. Just a little bit of water, but when you add to it, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Jesus is there. The child born sinful is forgiven. A child who needs Jesus is welcomed into his arms. A child is brought into a family called the Church. (I screamed through my Baptism.) Everything changes.
Or think about the Lord’s Supper. We come up here. We kneel. We get a little bit of bread. We get a sip of wine. But it’s more than that. Jesus is present, and He comes right into our lives. The words we often use with the Lord’s Supper are life, forgiveness, and salvation. Every time we come forward everything changes.
Or open His Word. It’s not just words on a page. Jesus comes through these words. He gives us His Holy Spirit to build us up, to encourage us, to strengthen us. “Cast your cares upon me,” He promises, “for I care for you” when we are struggling, hurting, or grieving.
When God comes to save in Jesus, everything changes. He came long ago in a manger, on a cross, and out of an empty tomb. Everything changed when God came in Jesus. God still comes to save in Jesus at the baptismal font, at the Lord’s Table, and in His Word. Jesus comes to us with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Everything changes, and we rejoice. And as we travel together on His highway with brothers and sisters in His Church, we look forward to that day when Jesus will return to save fully and for all time. On that day, all of creation will be renewed. We will have no more weak hands, feeble knees, or anxious hearts. There will be no more blindness or Alzheimer’s or cancer or infections. There will be no more worries about danger. The sorrow and the sighing will be gone and replaced with joy and praise. Yes, God in Jesus has come to save us, and we celebrate because everything has changed.
In Jesus’ Name.
Adapted from Material Found in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 30, Part 1.