ADVENT 2, B – December 7, 2014

 SCRIPTURES – Psalm 80; Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

 

      Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. Isaiah 40

 

This day, it seems to me, is not the 2nd Sunday of Advent; it is Paradox Sunday. God says to us, “your warfare is ended,” and this is to be on our minds. And yet, many of you think of this day, December 7, as the day warfare began, for Pearl Harbor was attacked on this day. Also, on this first Sunday in December we should be thinking about the coming of Christmas with its news of joy and peace on earth, but instead news of angry crowds marching in our cities bring worry and unrest. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” How we need His comfort in this angry, violent, sinful world!

 

Take God’s words through Isaiah to heart today, paradoxical though they are. He speaks of things accomplished and completed: of warfare ended, of iniquity pardoned, of double blessing received. This is what we have in Jesus!

 

WE ARE DOUBLY BLESSED IN CHRIST!

 

First, we have forgiveness; and here it is so important that you take note of how God speaks of this forgiveness: “My people’s iniquity is pardoned.” What is a pardon?

  • On September 8, 1974 Pres. Ford issued a "full, free and absolute" pardon for any crimes former Pres. Nixon had committed while in office. This meant that, while it seemed clear that Pres. Nixon had been involved in criminal attempts to cover up illegal activities related to his 1972 re-election campaign, he could not be prosecuted. Nixon became a living paradox. Although his guilt was obvious to most, he was a free man who could never be prosecuted or punished. The President, the highest and final authority in the country, had pardoned him!

     

    We are living paradoxes. On the one hand, our sinfulness is obvious. We get wrapped up in the very temporary things of this life and let them get in the way of and overshadow our hearing and following of the Word of God, which alone stands forever. How foolish! How wrong to listen so little and so poorly to God! Also, we come to church and confess our sins to God, but then we go home and go right back to committing the same sins. We are not forgiven to make room for more sins but to overcome them! Still, God says to us, “Comfort, comfort my people. Your warfare is ended, your iniquity is pardoned.” God has pardoned you! He has set aside your sins by setting them on His Son and having Him pay their penalty. So, even though you know and perhaps even feel your guilt, God has pardoned you. He will not punish you. Believe this, for He is the Almighty God, and His pardon is more certain and final than that of the President. You are free!

     

    You have received from the Lord's hand double for all your sins. The pardon, the forgiveness of your sins and setting aside of your punishment, is the first, and greatest, blessing. But, what is the second?

     

    Here, again, comes the paradox: God has declared that you are new people, even holy people. The good things that you do, then, as His people are now of eternal value!

     

    You can only believe this, for the paradox is that we do not see this. No, we see and experience what Isaiah says: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it.”

  • We see this in the gifts we buy for Christmas. Toys that are opened with glee are broken and discarded in a few days. The clothes we give wear out or no longer fit next year.

  • We see this especially when we attend a wake. There are pictures of the deceased from throughout life: childhood pictures; wedding pictures; of the deceased with various family members and involved in fun activities. But, they will soon be put away and the person’s remains be put in the ground.

    How many graves are there that then end up unattended? How many headstones end up covered with lichens and moss, with words no longer able to be read? The fading beauty of our lives and our deeds is obvious.

     

    In Christ, however, you have “received from the Lord's hand double for all [your] sins.” As pardoned people you can live “lives of holiness and godliness,” lives that God Himself will remember and honor in the Judgment. By our good works we even “hasten the coming of the day of God.” (2 Pet. 3) Did you know this?

     

    Now, you might rightly wonder: how can the life you live as a Christian in obedience to God’s commandments and out of thankfulness for His mercy be so great that you can hasten the day when Christ returns? After all, the Bible tells us that “God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) How can we hasten the arrival of a day that has been fixed?

     

    Five or six years ago I drove to Florida after Christmas. With me on the drive were my daughters Catie and Tina and two friends of theirs. Now, I knew how many miles we had to go and about how long it would take. There was nothing I could do to change this. But, when I was driving in the middle of the night and the girls were asleep, it sure seemed like we weren’t getting anywhere. Even though I tried not to I couldn’t help watching the mile markers go by; and they went by awfully slowly. Time dragged. But, when the girls were awake and we were talking and telling stories and laughing, boy, the miles and the time flew by! We still went the same distance and it took the same time, but their lively presence sure hastened our arrival!

     

    So it is with your lively presence as children of God and those doubly blessed in Christ. Your Christian presence and your joyful following of God’s ways is a blessing to many! God does great things through you as you strive to live lives of godliness and holiness, things that He will recall on the day of Christ’s return.

     

    “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.” As God comforts you with the news of His pardon in Christ He renews and remakes your life, making you the comforting presence of His mercy and pardon. Thanks be to God for this glorious paradox!