Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 40:1-11
Dear hearers of the eternal Word: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” God’s Word is eternal. It will endure forever. It is unchangeable. It will not wither or fade.
Fads, on the other hand, come and go. Trends are born and then they die. New ideas, new beliefs, new churches, new religions – they come and they go. Man’s word falters, waivers, and deceives, and then withers and fades.
We are used to everything being transitory and temporary. Our clothes wear out. Our kitchen appliances stop working. Our cars break down on us. Our own bodies, too, wear out, and in the end, will lose the battle with illness, disease, or some other cause of death. Everything see and touch withers and decays. Everyone dies.
Even the kingdoms of this world will all totter and fall. Any study of history will quickly show the rise and fall of countless kingdoms, empires, and civilizations. The cycle continually repeats itself: Hard times create strong men; strong men create good times; good times create weak men; weak men create hard times. Then the cycle repeats. We are certainly at a time of weak men, so we know hard times are coming, and the end of western civilization does not appear to be far off.
Everything does wither and decay, and most directly, this passage is speaking of us, people: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” It’s not really talking about grass and flowers. It says, “Surely the people are grass.” Our faithfulness is like the flower of the field. In other words, we people will wither, fade, and die. Our faithfulness to God stands out like a flower in the field one day, only to fade into oblivion the next. We are faithful one moment and unfaithful the next. We are fickle and feeble. We always have been. We always will be, so long as we are alive.
Thus, when we hear God’s proclamation of comfort and that all flesh will see His glory, we are inclined to think that it too won’t last very long.
Our experience with comfort is in fleeting glimpses here and there. We are busier than ever with the things of this world, thinking that they will bring comfort. In this preparatory season of Advent, we certainly are preparing for Christmas, but not in the way the voice in the wilderness calls us to prepare. We are busy shopping and decorating, buying and crying. We’re busy planning our meals, finding our deals, and preparing for visits and visitors. We want to have a nice comfortable Christmas, and will work for weeks in the hope of having a few brief moments of comfort. In the end, in the hustle and bustle, the unfair present exchanges, the missing batteries, the fighting children, the overcooked turkey, and the smashed lamp, the only comfort we may have is in a glass of spiced rum eggnog once all is said and done.
This is the reason God’s proclamation of comfort is tied with His Word enduring forever. Since God’s Word endures forever, the promise of comfort that He gives in His Word endures forever. The comfort that God promises isn’t a fleeting, momentary comfort, but an eternal comfort of peace and joy. The comfort is ours because our warfare with God is ended, and our iniquity pardoned.
The warfare was not started by God, but by us falling into sin. It was mankind who rebelled against our Creator and made Him our enemy. Instead of living in peace and quietness in His Kingdom, we decided to break His Laws. We rebelled by following our own sinful desires rather than following God’s good and perfect will for us.
Instead of destroying us as we deserved, the Lord God Almighty punished His Son in our place. Christ Jesus was punished as a rebel and a sinner even though He never did anything but serve His Father and us, His creation. Jesus received punishment for all our sins, and then God sends a word of comfort to us. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. The price of your sins has been paid. You have the promise of comfort, instead of the affliction of hell your sins deserve.
This comfort is only possible through the forgiveness of sins. There is no comfort to be had in sin, even if the devil would have you believe otherwise. The only true comfort we can have is when the threat of hell does not hang over our heads; when the threats of the Law and the threats of punishment have been removed.
These threats have been removed because Jesus not only faced the threat of God’s Law for us, He fulfilled God’s Law for us. He didn’t only face the threat of punishment for us, but He took the actual punishment for us as well. Thus, God speaks tenderly to us of comfort.
This comfort is eternal. It will not wither or fade. Saint Peter writes that it is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (I Peter 1:4).
This brings us back to the Word of God standing forever. Since God’s Word stands forever, God’s promises to you stand forever. They don’t wither or fade.
When God said to you through Baptism that you belong to Him, it stands forever. When God says to you that your sins are forgiven through Absolution, it stands forever. When God says that you receive the forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Christ, it stands forever.
We can neglect and reject what God gives to us, but that is not God breaking His promises or invalidating His Word. It would simply be us refusing to believe it. God’s Word stands forever, whether we believe it or not.
God’s Word will stand forever, but this does not mean that every congregation will last forever. When God’s Word is taken for granted, neglected, is not preached or heard, or read or studied, it is not the end of God’s Word. It is merely the end of those congregations and the end of Christians in those places where God’s Word is taken for granted, neglected, is not preached or heard, or read or studied. Christians do not and cannot exist apart from the Word of God.
The people of Israel had God’s Word, but they rejected it and lost it, so now they have nothing. The apostles and many after them brought the Gospel to many nations and peoples throughout Europe, but they neglected it and now they have Islam. Rome also had God’s Word but rejected it, and now they have the pope. So you dare not think you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt for God’s Word will not let it remain. Therefore, take hold and hang on tightly, while you are able to grab and to hold. Neglecting to hear and read God’s Word has never turned out well for anyone (partially rephrased from Luther’s Letter to the Town-Councilmen, AE:45, 351-352).
Hearing and reading God’s Word, however, always brings blessing. Faith is created through the Word of God. Trust in God’s promises comes from the Word of God. Comfort comes the Word of God.
Only in God’s Word do you hear of the comfort that comes from having your sins forgiven. Only in God’s Word do you hear that your warfare with God is over, that your iniquity is pardoned. Only in God’s Word do you hear that because of God’s promises to you that stand forever, you will have comfort forever.
We will wither and fade, but God’s promises to us will stand forever. Because God’s promises to us will stand forever, after we have withered and faded, we will have eternal comfort in the joys of Paradise, and our comfort will endure forever. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.