Bible Passage: Isaiah 52:7-10
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: December 25, 2016
What’s it like being a watchman, you’re wondering? Well, it’s not a glorious life, being a watchman, I can tell you that much. In fact, most days, I don’t think there’s a more boring job. Without God’s gift of caffeine, I don’t know how I’d make it through. Day after day, you climb the steps of your tower. Hour after hour, you sit in your chair or you pace back and forth and you watch. And what do you watch? Nothing! At least 99% of the time. And speaking of time, it just drags on. You are counting the hours, waiting for your shift to end. That King David really knew what he was talking about when he compared his soul waiting for God to “watchmen waiting for the morning.” Because there’s nothing you wait for more when you’ve got the night shift. I’m sure you’ve all had those days when you can hardly keep your eyes open. When it feels like lifting hundreds of pounds with your eyelids just to keep them open. When you’re so tired, that you’ll fall asleep standing up if you stop moving. I’m sure none of you ever feels like that in church! But, you feel that way a lot when you’re a watchman. Watching, watching, watching, just waiting for something to move for something to come into sight—but most of the time, nothing does. I can’t think of anything more boring that just sitting, bow in hand waiting for something to move, and knowing in your heart that nothing is going to happen. Perhaps you can relate? But such is the life of most watchmen.
Not that I’m complaining. All is well as a watchman when all is well. But it hasn’t always been that way. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, even watchmen! I come from a long line of watchmen. My ancestors were watchmen in Israel when Assyria kept coming and coming and coming. They had no choice by to shout the warning cry—but it did no good. The same was true of my relatives in Judah when Babylon came and made the city like you see it today. I wish you could have seen her when she was in her glory. My dad says there was nothing more beautiful. But as you can see, she’s just a big pile of rubble now, a waste place. Not many folks here either—most were carried off to Babylon. My grandpa got left behind because he was too old to go. My dad managed to stay because he wasn’t deemed fit to work. That’s how I managed to be here and how I became a watchman. I’m one of the few with good enough eyesight to see. Not that there’s ever anything to see. But we keep looking, every day, because of what God promised in his Word. Then those ransomed by the Lord will return, they will come singing to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain happiness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
We can’t wait for that day to come, because it’s been sorrow and sighing that have been dominating our hearts here. We know well why our relatives were carried off. It’s because we as a people rejected God. We trusted ourselves. We trusted other nations instead of God. What we did was no different than joining our enemies and declaring war against God. God had every right to wipe us off the face of the earth, like he did up north in Israel. But God promised that he would spare a remnant; that he people would return. And not only that, he promised he would save us. Because our biggest problem isn’t our broken buildings. It’s not our destroyed nation. Our biggest problem is our sin. We need to be saved from our sin. We realize that now. And that’s why we keep watching and waiting. Well, it was nice meeting you and talking with you. My shift is coming up and I need to be ready…just in case. What’s that? You want to come with me? Are you sure? It’s about as exciting as watching grass grow? Well…if you insist, I won’t mind the company.
You sit there and I’m going to look over the mountains over here. You can’t beat the view, that’s for sure. The mountains are beautiful, aren’t they? Wait a minute…I think I actually see something moving over there. Do you see it? It looks like something or someone is running. Oh, great! Another messenger from Babylon, telling us our taxes are going up again. But this messenger doesn’t look like the normal ones from Babylon. He’s running with a bounce in his step. Can you make out what he’s saying? Peas? Why would he be yelling about peas? No that can’t be it. Peace! Peace! Look at his face! He’s grinning from ear to ear! Peace! Peace! He’s proclaiming peace! What good new! What’s that now? Salvation! It’s just like Isaiah promised! We’re saved! What good news! I can’t even fathom it! Peace and Salvation! How can this be? What’s that he’s saying? It can’t be? It is! Your God is King! God has keep his promise! God has kept his promise! Peace! Salvation! God is in control. Look at those beautiful feet run! I’ve got to let the rest of Jerusalem know! Peace! Salvation! God is in control! Peace! Salvation! God is in control! God has kept his promise!
That’s how I imagine an interview with a Jerusalem watchman might have gone. Maybe it’s hard for us to imagine what his joy must have been like when he saw that messenger coming. We’ve never lived in those conditions. We’ve never faced those odds. Or so we think. But the truth is, we have. The physical condition of Jerusalem—the ruins—is really an accurate picture of our hearts. The city devastated, the destruction, the ruins are all a picture of your heart. The people wandering aimlessly, distraught, depressed, and near despair; that’s you steeped in sin. But it’s not only you; it’s your next door neighbor who’s never heard about Jesus. It’s your co-worker who thinks Christmas is all about commercialism. It’s your relative who can’t understand why church comes before family on Christmas. That heart-wrenching picture is a picture of all of us by nature.
And if that’s true, then the joy the watchmen felt as they saw that messenger is the joy we feel when we hear these words of Isaiah! Peace, Salvation, Your God is King! God has kept his promise! The messenger declares these words to us today also! “Good news” is how Isaiah describes the messenger’s refrain. This isn’t just something that is kind of goo…this is good news in the absolute sense. This is the same as what God declared when he was finished creating the world! It was very good! The messenger declares that all is once again very good! Once again, the relationship between God and man couldn’t be any better! Everything that was turned upside down by sin has been made right again! All of this is true because the Lᴏʀᴅ has returned. All of this is true because Jesus was born in that stable in Bethlehem.
Sometimes, people get caught up in the sentimentality of Christmas. They look at the conditions Jesus was born into, the lowliness of his parents, the stable, and they forget what this all means. Salvation is lying in that manger! But doesn’t that seem like a strange way for God to work salvation? SOme of the more popular epic films of recent years revolve around mighty battles between opposing armies representing good and evil. Whether it’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Chronicles of Narnia,,” “Star Wars,” or some other movie involving a struggle for victory or survival, we usually see mighty warriors bravely fighting to save themselves or their loved ones or their people. But that’s not God’s way, not God’s salvation. His salvation is in the manger, an animal’s feeding trough. His salvation was found in the “wrapped…in swaddling cloths, and laid…in a manger,” who is not just a baby, but the very God in human flesh. His salvation is at the cross where the Son of God was nailed and died for the sins of the world. That seems like such an unlikely salvation. Listen to Paul explain: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
The very fact that God even bothered with us is amazing. Whenever you tear open a Christmas gift, you are filled with excitement and joy to see what’s inside. Rarely are you disappointed, and even if you are, you try not to be rude and show it. We look like such nice little presents today, all wrapped up in our Christmas clothes. But when God tears away the bow and the wrapping paper, he sees the rot inside me and inside you. Yet—and here’s the Christmas miracle—God still loves us. He proved the depth of his live with the price he was willing to pay. He sent his own Son. That Babe of Bethlehem was no ordinary child. This Baby was and is God in human flesh, the Mediator between God and sinners. We rejoice at the Christmas miracle of God-in-flesh, but he did not come just to be a cute, cuddly baby, cooing away in a feedbox in and old barn. He came to bleed and die for me and for you. God has kept his promise!
Do you see it? Do you see God’s salvation in the manger? It’s your salvation. God didn’t do all of this in a vacuum. He didn’t “lay bare his holy arm” for its own sake. He did it for you and me. God doesn’t even leave it up to us to try and discover this good news of salvation on our own. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of a herald, who announces peace and preaches good news. He announces salvation and says to Zion, “Your God is king!” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voices. Together they shout for joy, because with both eyes they will see it when the Lord returns to Zion.” Down through the centuries, God has provided his Church messengers—pastors and teachers—who have brought this good news and proclaimed peace and salvation. He also gives you the beautiful feet of gospel messengers so you can bring good tidings to your family and friends.
God even comes himself to give us peace and comfort and redemption in the Supper. Salvation is in the manger where our Savior was laid; a flesh and blood human being. Salvation is here, in the Sacrament, where our Savior gives us his body and blood under the bread and wine. He gives us the peace of forgiveness. He comforts us with tangible proof that he redeemed you with his blood. This is meant for you. That’s something you never have to wonder or worry about. “The Lord lays bare his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation from our God.” All the nations, all the ends of the earth, which includes you and mean, will see God’s salvation. That salvation is in the manger. God’s salvation, which he has worked for all nations and given you in Word and Sacrament. God has kept his promise.
God has kept his promise! No wonder we’re joyful every Christmas! Circumstances in our lives may bring some sadness and make your Christmases feel less than “merry.” Maybe this is your first Christmas without your loved one, maybe you can’t be with family, maybe you’re struggling with health problems. But for Christians, Christmas is always merry, we can always “Break out, shout for joy together” because God’s salvation, our salvation, is in the manger. Amen