Third Sunday in Advent
December 13, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
It only takes one questionable comment, one off-color joke picked up by the Twitter Mob to make you world-famous. Or infamous. If you’re unfamiliar with what a tweet is, it’s a short message limited to 140 characters where people share their thoughts will followers, who can then share those thoughts with their followers. The Twitter Mob is, as commenter Jonah Goldberg puts it, “society’s new mechanism for enforcing morality.” Say something racist? The Twitter Mob will let the world know. Share something that can be perceived as sexist? The Twitter Mob will light up your name. Make an exclusive religious claim? Watch out brother, your micro-aggression will come back to you macro. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
The great tool of the Twitter Mob is shame. It’s like a secular excommunication. Anyone caught doing anything at odds with what is currently politically and socially acceptable—and that changes about as often as the seasons—is isolated by shame and told they are not part of respectable society.
The Divine Message, however, is the exact opposite: “Comfort My people, comfort them,” says your God. “Talk to the heart of Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of hard service is over, her wrong is paid for, and she has received from the LORD double for all her sins” (vv 1-2 AAT). Comfort is the message, not shame. Your wrong is paid for, not publicized. The sins that you commit are returned to you with a double portion of the Lord’s grace. This comfort is found in no place on earth, except for in the preaching of the Word of God. When everything else fails, this preaching and Word endures. And this comfort prepares you for a personal visitation from the Lord Himself.
Find Comfort in the Preaching of the Word of God, Which Endures Forever
The Christian message is a message of comfort. But comfort doesn’t mean platitudes. It’s not a trite, though well-intentioned thought that simply masks real pain. The Christian message isn’t sweet-sounding words that minimize and excuse real sin. The Christian message speaks to the heart of the matter. It’s a transformative Word that has real power. There is where its comfort is found. There is comfort in the Word that razes mountains and raises valleys.
A voice cries in the wilderness: “Prepare a way for the LORD: make a straight highway in the desert for our God. Every valley must be raised; every mountain and hill be lowered. The steep places must be made level; the impassable ridges be made a plain. Then the LORD will show His glory, and all people together will see it for the mouth of the LORD has said it” (vv 3-5 AAT).
The mouth of the Lord speaks a Word that razes mountains. That’s R-A-Z-E, meaning to utterly destroy. But it’s not mountains of stone and earth, it’s mountains of pride. That’s the work of God’s Word of Law. But human nature wants none of that. Like Babel, we think we can build our way and work our way to the heavens, to make a name for ourselves. But that’s the first form of idolatry, because to make a name for ourselves is to make a god of ourselves. There is no comfort in the Law of God, though. It reveals that no matter how high we build, how hard we work, our monuments to ourselves will always crumble with time. There is no access to God’s grace through the Law. It razes mountains and destroys every human pride.
But the Word that comes from the Lord’s mouth doesn’t just tear down hills; it also raises valleys. For those in the valley of the shadow of death, those in the darkness of despair, there is another Word that raises you out of that valley, that lifts up your head. That’s the work of God’s Word of Gospel. It speaks to you of Christ. It says that your hard work is over. Christ paid for your wrong. He bore your guilt and shame. And whatever wrong you have committed, the grace of God covers it and then some.
So there is no room for a Twitter Mob in the Church. There is no shaming the sinner to enforce morality. There is no insistence that people in the valley dig deeper until they have sufficiently atoned for their own sins. Christ has done that work. This is the Christians comfort that Christ Himself speaks to you. He speaks to your heart and so reveals His glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son of God, who suffered for the sins of His people, who is full of grace and truth.
Another interesting feature of the Twitter Mob is that it really only lasts a short time. The New York Times did a story on a young woman by the name of Justine Sacco, who for one horrifying day was the world’s #1 enemy because she posted a poorly conceived joke. No one knows who Justine Sacco is now; the mob always moves on after time. But for her the shame goes on. In the first days after her ill-advised comment ripped out of context, she lost her job, was excoriated by family, and hounded by media trying to squeeze one last drop of scandal out of her before moving on to the next victim.
The reason why such a thing happens is that shaming a person for his or her wrongs isn’t for the benefit of the person who did the wrong. It’s about justifying ourselves. At least I am not a racist. At least I treat women equally. But such self-justification will never last. You will always need a new victim to shame just to prop up your own sense of self-righteousness. These things never endure. But there is a comfort that endures beyond the momentary sufferings of this present age. When all other things fail, God’s Word endures.
A voice called, “Preach!” “What should I preach?” I asked. “All people are grass, and all their beauty like a flower in the field. Grass dries up, and a flower withers when the LORD’s breath blows on it. Yes, the people are grass. Grass dries up, and a flower withers, but the Word of our God will stand forever” (vv 6-8 AAT).
Grass fades, flowers wither. People, too. The breath of God is His Spirit. When He speaks His Law, it’s not to motivate you towards making a few incremental changes for the better in your life. He speaks to kill.
But He also speaks to make alive. As surely as He makes mountains low and raises valleys by the words that come from His mouth, so also His Spirit kills and makes alive. Because there is one thing that endures forever. The Word of the Lord. In fact, this is one of the watchwords of the Lutheran Reformation. If you’ve ever seen a symbol with the letters VD+MA, it stands for the Latin phrase Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum; the Word of the Lord endures forever. The eternal Word of the Lord gives eternal things that endure beyond the momentary sufferings of this life.
This prophecy is fulfilled in John’s preaching of repentance. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness, preaching repentance. He levels the field and makes the way straight for the Lord Jesus Himself. John is the herald who goes before the King to announce His arrival, so that all hearts would be prepared. For His Word precedes His own personal visitation.
Get up on a high mountain, Zion, to tell the good news! Call with a loud voice, Jerusalem, to tell the good news! Raise your voice without fear, tell the cities of Judah: “Here is your God!” See the Lord GOD coming as a Mighty One to rule with His strong arm. See the reward He has with Him, and what He has won goes ahead of Him. Like a shepherd He takes care of His flock; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them at His bosom. He gently helps the mother sheep (vv 9-11 AAT).
The preaching that lowers mountains and raises valleys is the preaching that announces the arrival of the Lord Himself. John preached repentance in the wilderness, and Jesus came to the river to be baptized. He came as a Shepherd to care for His flock, to gather His lambs to Himself. He is not just any shepherd, but the Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
It’s because He shepherds you with His cross that your hard service is ended. He did the work you needed. There on the cross, He paid for each of your wrongs with His shed blood. The grace and forgiveness that flow from His pierced skin more than covers your sins, your guilt, your shame. Be comforted, for the Lord God has come in person to comfort your and to be your Savior.
And He makes a personal visitation to you today as well. Repent, for the Lord Jesus Himself comes to you today. He delivers to you the body that hung on the cross, the blood that poured from His wounds. He feeds you this heavenly food for your comfort. There is no shame for you because you are invited to dine at His altar.
Comfort, comfort My people, says the Lord. Your comfort begins with the recognition that your works and ambitions cannot raise you to heaven. The words that come from the Lord’s mouth raze your mountains of pride. But they also raise you from the valley of despair, from the valley of death. Law and Gospel make the way straight for Jesus Himself to come. Through repentance and the forgiveness of sins, the Lord Jesus Christ finds a straight way to your heart to be your comfort.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard