Sermon - Dec 29, 2013 - Tell Everyone What He has Done - Isaiah 63:7
Our sermon text for this first Sunday after Christmas is found in the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, chapter 63. I’m reading verse 7:
I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
the deeds for which he is to be praised,
according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
he has done for Israel,
according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Welcome to the first Sunday after Christmas! For me, and for many others, the weeks after Christmas feel quite different from the weeks that come before. The mad rush leading up to Christmas is now over. Many Christmas trees are still standing, but everything feels different now. And after New Years is past, it’s time to get back to everyday life – to our everyday routine. It’s important to remember that, for many people, the weeks after Christmas are a low time of year for them. Depression is quite common at this time of year. But what about you and me – what about us, God’s people, who are in this place – God’s House – today? I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word on this last Sunday of 2013.
One of the prayers commonly used in worship on this day recounts the prophet Isaiah’s joyful proclamation that a child has been born – born for us – a child who will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. This child has been born – for us – but, when you think about it, it wasn’t our decision that made it happen. This child was born – for us – but it doesn’t matter what our cultural group is, or what nation we belong to, or what our geographical location is. This special child was born for us, for you and for me – personally and specifically. And, as He usually does, God took the first step in the process. As He usually does, He took the initiative. In the birth of the Christ, God did what we needed – did what we so badly needed – did that which we never could have done for ourselves. During these days after Christmas, we Christians have the high privilege of proclaiming that this Christ-child – and the salvation He brings – is truly God’s gift for the whole world, offered to each and every one.
The Psalm chosen for this first Sunday after Christmas is the 111th Psalm. Let me read some of it for you. The Psalm-writer says:
Praise the Lord. I will extol the Lord with all my heart.
Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.
He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
He provided redemption for his people; holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; To him belongs eternal praise. (N.I.V.)
Psalm 111 encourages us to sing praises to our Lord – not just at the high festivals of the year, but everyday. And why should we do that? Because God has done marvelous things – for us, and for the whole world. He has brought salvation to the world – the forgiveness of the sins that separate us from Him and one another. As His people, we know – and we certainly appreciate – what He has done for us. Of course, not everyone in this world shares our joy. They are many people who carry on, after Christmas, as if nothing important has happened. Many people in our world are utterly to blind to what God has done – and continues to do – in our world. Christian people are different, unique, or, as the King James Version of the Bible puts it – ‘peculiar.’ In this dark and troubled world, we boldly sing praises to God. We don’t let bitterness – or fear – invade and poison our souls.
In these days after Christmas, God’s salvation has been seen by all the ends of the earth. In days weeks after Christmas, all people of faith are encouraged to shout God’s praise. Why is that? It’s because our Gospel is a universal Gospel. It’s not just for Germans, or Scandinavians, or for northern Europeans. It’s not just for Canadians or Americans, or for people in the province of Saskatchewan. God’s salvation has been made available for all people everywhere. Skin color doesn’t matter. Neither does culture or language or anything else. Christian people know – they know it from personal experience – that God forgives. We know – from personal experience – that God brings us a new start in life. We know that a broken and a contrite heart God does not despise. In these days after Christmas, we are reminded that our Gospel doesn’t just belong to Lutherans. It doesn’t belong just to those of us here at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Regina, Saskatchewan. Our Gospel is for the Muslim and the Jew. It’s for the Afghani and the native of India. It’s for you. And it’s for me.
In these weeks after Christmas, we are reminded that God’s salvation has come to us through the birth, and the life, and the death, and also the resurrection of our Savior. God is calling us to proclaim his saving work to all who have ears to hear. As His people, we know that God is at work in our world. He continues to work in our hearts and minds. Our primary task in the church is what’s called the Great Commission – preaching, teaching, and baptizing – making disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Of all the people in the world, we know that, to us a child is born. We know that, to us, a Son is given. Of all the people in the world we know that Jesus came – for us – and for all people.
You know, the Bible does several important things. It Bible reveals God’s works. It tells us about His will. And it describes his ways. Let’s talk about those things for a moment. God’s works long ago included the parting of the Red Sea in Old Testament times. God did that so his people could escape slavery in Egypt and move on to the promised land. His works included overcoming the enemies of his people. Over the centuries, God’s works have included miracles, and signs, and wonders. Special super-bright stars in the sky. Ancient Wise Men who appear out of nowhere in search of a new King.
As then, as Jesus began his ministry, God’s works came in new forms: demons were overcome. Diseases were cured. Blindness turned to sight. Sins were forgiven. Hope was restored. And then, a Garden, and a trial, mockery, questions, and a cross. Thunder and lightning. A curtain in the Holy Temple – a curtain torn – from top to bottom. And then an empty tomb, which opened heaven’s door – opened it wide for all believers.
Those who know the Lord know that God plans ahead. We can see evidence of God’s plan for the salvation of the world as far back as far as the Garden of Eden. When his people sinned, God provided animal skins in the place of the fig leaves that they had chosen for themselves. When his people fell into sin, he commanded that they set up an elaborate system of sacrifices, all of which pointed ahead to the cross. God appointed prophets to speak for Him. He made promises to the patriarchs. And, all along, His Word predicted the eventual coming of a Messiah. In these days after Christmas, we hear that God protected his new-born Son from a tyrannical King Herod. Why did God do that? Because His Son Jesus had a crucial job to do. God protected His Son, every step of the way. And he promises to do the same for us. Mary, and Joseph and Jesus returned from Egypt to Palestine, but only when God gave the “all clear.” God guides us on our journey through life. And we are eternally thankful for that.
He wants His will to be done – through his people. The words of our text this morning, are a prayer – a prayer asking God to deliver his people. There are many times in life when prayer is the right thing to do. Sometimes, in our prayers, we share with the Lord things we wanted to say all along, but never got around to saying. Someone we know is very ill. Their prospects are not good. What would you or I want to say to someone like that? We’d get back to the basics. We’d talk about faith. We’d talk about the God who is with us. We’d talk about God’s grace and love. We’d bring encouragement. We’d tell them that we’d like to meet them in heaven.
As Christian people, by our words and also by our actions, we proclaim our faith. Our words and our actions proclaim that Christ lives in our hearts. Christians can see things that others just can’t see. We can see God’s handiwork all around us. We can see God’s handiwork in the little things – a snowflake, a flower, a newborn babies’ smile. And we can see God’s handiwork in the big things too – the ocean, and the mountains, and the stars in the sky. As Christian people, we know that God is holy. And we also know that our holiness is not our own – it’s alien – it comes from His Son, and it’s given to us, by grace. As Christian people, encouraged by the Spirit, encouraged by God’s Word and the Sacraments. We know we’re on our way to heaven.
Now that Christmas has come and gone for another year, there’s no reason to fall into the doldrums. When you think about it, after Christmas, we have even more reason to thank God for His grace in Christ. I firmly believe that it takes a lifetime to truly understand the depths of God’s amazing grace. God’s grace is utterly alien to the way our world normally works. God’s grace is an alien – but an utterly wonderful thing. God’s grace has great power to transform and to heal. God’s grace is a rare and precious thing. As God’s Christian people, we know that we are not the captain of our soul. We need the Lord. We need his people – the church. We need his Word and the Sacraments. Without these things, we would be at the mercy of destructive forces much more powerful than ourselves.
God is loyal to us. He wants the best for us. He is faithful. God is committed to our life, to our health, and to our salvation. As life’s years go by, we soon learn that time is very precious – and very fleeting. We pray that God would help us make the best of each day. We pray that the Lord would help us not to be too busy, or too preoccupied, to notice what he is doing, and also to notice what he has already done for us – in and through His Son. We pray that the Lord would clear our minds and take away all the “stuff” that clutters it up.
God’s will is that His blessings would not end with us, but would be passed on, in Jesus’ name to others. Our God is not distant and uncaring. He’s close to us. We are his precious children. Our lives are not our own – to do with as we please. In Christ, God has graciously stooped down from heaven, and saved us. Our God is the God of history. He has not left us alone. In Christ, God is with us. We have a message to share. We receive it. And we pass it on.
You know, when you think about it, God has used an amazing variety of people – down through the ages – to tell his story. Sinners and saints. Angels and archangels. Educated and uneducated. High and low on the social scale. Uneducated shepherds. Unsuspecting merchants. The rich and the poor. Teenagers and teachers, relatives and strangers, all have proclaimed God’s life-creating, life-transforming Word. And, for that, we give Him heartfelt thanks and praise. Amen.
DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Help us tell the world about your kindness. Help us speak of the deeds for which we praise you. Help us, in this new year, to share the message of Jesus with all who have ears to hear, using the means and the technologies available to us. In Jesus’ most holy and precious name we pray.