Isaiah 35:1-10(NIV)The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Do you like to go to the dentist? I don't. Even though God has blessed me very well as far as the condition of my teeth are concerned, I don't like to go to the dentist. I'm always afraid that he's going to find something that I don't know about, and you know what happens when a dentist finds something in your mouth he doesn't like, donít you? He gets out all these barbaric tools like drills and chisels and starts hacking away at your teeth. Well, that's what it seems like, anyway. Of course, when you consider that even at the age of 44, I have only 3 or maybe 4 fillings and that is all, never a root canal, never a crown, you will probably think I am over-reacting.
So, I want you to imagine for a minute that you've gone to the dentist for a routine checkup. You're sitting there after he's examined you, and you have not had any pain - no toothaches, no problems of any kind. All at once, he comes in and says, "Iíve got good news! If you come for an appointment once each week for the next four weeks, youíll be as good as new." Now, isn't it good news to know that things can be fixed up, that everything will be just fine? Its good news once you know that there is a problem. But if you don't know there is a problem, or if you don't want to admit there is a problem, then hearing that after four weeks of appointments you'll be all fixed up, good news isn't always good news.
This points out something important. Good News isn't always good news. In a number of situations, if you haven't heard the bad news, then good news isn't always good news. The mechanic coming to tell you that he has good news, that your car can be fixed as cheap as $600 is not good news if you did not know that anything serious was wrong with the car. But if you had just had the car towed and the mechanic told you earlier that you might have to do major engine work for $1,600 or more, the $600 repair is good news. The doctor telling you that you that he can put you medication and you will live for five more years is not good news if you are in your 40's and didn't even know that you were sick. But if you were recently diagnosed with a condition that is usually fatal within six months, the doctor's word telling you that medication gives you five more years instead is good news. So the news has to be placed within context in order to be good news.
That's the way it is with our text. Good news isn't always good news. Our text is loaded with good news. In fact, that's all our text, the whole 35th chapter of Isaiah, really is: Good News. Yet if you were one of the original recipients of this news, it might not be such good news.
The text is the Old Testament lesson on the back of your bulletin. Lets quickly summarize what the text tells us. Verses 1-2 tell about the desert, a place of desolation, of barrenness, of death, being a place where life is going to spring up. The wilderness will rejoice and blossom, says Isaiah. That's good news, unless you didn't really care what happened in the desert. Verses 3-4 tell us that those who are panic-stricken, those who are weak from fear and terror will be strengthened, and they won't be afraid anymore. That's good news if you are panicked, if you have been so frightened that you can hardly function. But if you are already calm, as were many of Isaiah's original listeners, this good news isn't really good news. Verses 5-7 tell about relief from physical diseases. Now, that's generally good news, because even if you don't suffer from a physical ailment, you probably know someone who does. The eyes of the blind will be opened... if you can't see, that's good news. You also probably know someone who suffers from hearing trouble, from being lame, or arthritis.
Finally, verses 8-10 talk about a straight highway to lead home the captives. Having a good, straight, safe path home from captivity is good news, unless you are not a captive. When you look at this whole chapter, seemingly loaded with good news, you can see that Good News isn't always good news when you consider that Isaiah was talking about a time when the people of Israel would be returning from captivity. Trouble is, when Isaiah was giving this message to the people yet, their captivity was still over 100 years away.
If we look at Isaiah chapter 35 in context, we can begin to see that it really is good news. Chapter 35 is filled with good news especially when contrasted with chapter 34, which is filled with bad news. Just listen to some of the bad news in Isaiah 34:
Isaiah 34:2-7 (NIV) The LORD is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter. Their slain will be thrown out, their dead bodies will send up a stench; the mountains will be soaked with their blood. All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed. The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood, it is covered with fat-- the blood of lambs and goats, fat from the kidneys of rams.
Now, that sounds pretty serious, doesn't it? Trouble is, nobody was listening. Nobody paid much attention to Isaiah's bad news, so the good news didn't mean anything to them. The people in Israel were not slaves, they were not oppressed, the economy was booming, and they were living easy lives. When you ignore the bad news, good news isn't always good news.
Pastors of today face some of the same difficulty as Isaiah in presenting God's message to people. In this season of Advent, we have some especially good news. Jesus Christ is coming! He came once as a baby born in a manger. He comes in His Word and Sacraments to bring us His forgiveness and strength for our lives. And, Jesus Christ is coming again at the end of time. That's good news, isn't it? Its good news that Jesus is coming again! Yet even in this situation, good news isn't always good news.
The bad news, the reason that Jesus came in the first place, is that we are sinners, that we because of who we are, conceived and born in sin, need the blood of Jesus to save us from death in hell. Because we are sinners, we do terrible, sinful things every day and need God's power coming through His Word and sacraments to save us. Because we are sinners, we need the assurance that when Jesus does come again in His glory to judge the living and the dead that He will judge us fit for heaven and not condemn us to hell. Yet if we aren't really paying attention to the bad news, we find out that its true - Good news isn't always good news.
Advent is a time in the church year when we look to the coming of Christmas, when we celebrate Christ's first coming, to remind ourselves of the much more important reality that Christ is coming again, and He comes to us continually. When an important person or event is coming up, we like to be prepared. If someone very important is coming to your house, you like to be prepared. Being prepared for the coming of Christ, as He comes to you in His sacrament in holy communion, is taking a look into your life and actually "examining yourself." The Small Catechism requires that before someone comes to partake of the actual, true, very body and blood of Jesus - that you examine yourself. In the Sacrament, Jesus comes with His special power of forgiveness. But ask yourself- why do I need that forgiveness? Because I am a sinner! Its easy to paint it in broad strokes, "I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to You all my sins and iniquities..." But take just a moment. What specific things would you say to a pastor if you went to private confession and absolution? Have you been in a position to help and failed? Do you really honor God above all things, or is He just up there in your life in the "most important" category, and your money, your looks, your home, your car, or other cherished possessions are a close second? Do you come to church to honor God above all things, or are you here for your one hour so God will be nice to you the rest of the week? Is your church going something you work to do regardless the situation, or do you come only when its convenient? Are you ready to look in the mirror and say, "I always do everything out of love for everyone else?" If not, are you prepared to confront those times when you don't? And could you actually verbalize them to someone else in confession, which would make them more real?
Once you confront those things in your life you are not proud of you are really comforted by God's Word of comfort and forgiveness. The message of Isaiah didn't mean much to Israelites living in Jerusalem while the economy was strong and things were all going well for them. But for the exiles in Babylon, those who had been carried off into captivity, those who watched their temple and city burning while they were lead away as prisoners, those who were sitting in far-off Babylon, these words of Isaiah really were good news.
Good News isn't always good news. If someone ran up to the front of the church and yelled, "Don't worry, we'll be able to get all of you out of this building alive", you'd sit there wondering what the danger was. But if you saw a fire roaring out of control around you, and if you were choking from the smoke, you'd feel very good that you were going to get out alive. Good news is good news when you fully realize the seriousness of your situation. Isaiah was preaching to people who were comfortable, who didn't want to hear what he said to them. So a chapter that says all sorts of good things, like chapter 35, isn't really good news. Yet this text is loaded with good news. God has delivered us from our sins, and is saving us by His power from everlasting damnation. The day that hearing about God's deliverance isn't good news, then you desperately need to hear the truth - the bad news about your condition as a sinner that Jesus came to save. Amen.
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