Isaiah 61:10-62:5; Galatians 4:4–7
Today, Sunday, December 27, is the first Sunday after Christmas. We've now returned to the real world - a world filled with danger, risk, hurt and evil. A world where children die senselessly; a world where parents live in fear and oppression; a world thirsting for peace and that can easily erupt in genocide at any moment; a world filled with massive storms and earthquakes and tsunamis.
Before we go further, let us look back and see what the Lord taught us in those darkest times of 2020. Let me remind you of a few themes of our sermons, and I do not expect you to remember all of these.
In our lectionary gospel reading, Luke reported that after Mary and Joseph completed the ceremony "required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him." Luke 2:39-40
This simple child is endowed with God's favor, God's power, might and wisdom. He came to the ones of his own. He came as a new beginning of God's purpose. He was the promise. He was the light that Isaiah called Israel to seek after Israel dwelled in the shadow of slavery. In Isaiah 60:1, an astonishing voice of mercy was heard inviting Israel to rise above circumstance, because the light of God has come toward them—to Arise and shine! Israel was in its weakiest moment. Israel was called a rejected, desolate land, forsaken by their own God, and there was no hope for the remnants either. Yet, God broke the dawning light and broke the good news of God's reclaiming Israel. God brings a fresh restart of partnership. Therefore, Israel must recognize the light and make its own little light shine forth to meet the divine offer. God has remembered his commitment and showed his love to Israel once again.
We can see this love manifested through the example of Hosea's marriage to the unfaithful partner. For the sake of the covenant, God has promised to keep loving Israel despite Israel's untrustworthiness character. In the fullness of time, after Israel experienced a period of slavery, God comforted and promised a double reward for the cause (Isaiah 40:1-2). This happened not because of Israel's goodness or any merit, but only that God's love compelled God to have compassion on Israel. The author of Lamentations recalls the experience and said: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends; His mercies never cease.” (Lamentations 3:22)
Scholars agreed on one thing, that Isaiah 60-62 is believed to be a proclamation of the good news to Israel. When we read these chapters, we can see voices of a speaker and of the receiver while God remained silent in the background. Israel expressed gratitude for God's mercy and deliverance and said, — "I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10-11).
God, on the other hand, broke his silence and promised to remain Israel's defender and that he won't rest until his full purpose is accomplished— "until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch (Isaiah 62:1). As Charles Cousar says, 'the exuberant joyfulness in the face of so much present and future hardship is quite remarkable." What has been the old experience is now and will be the future hope that rests and source from within.
This hope is to be "born of a woman" says Paul, making many friends, and making their deliverance possible. This promise has been fulfilled with Jesus's Birth as the light to the world and in his ministry as he claimed on a Sabbath when he was given the scroll and read from Isaiah. That the promises of God have been fulfilled and that he had come (Luke 4:14-19).
In his daily study commentary, William Barclay, describes security with God both inward and outward: Inwardly, he says, "The inward characteristic is the awareness of the love of God, the deep awareness that we cannot drift beyond his care, the sense that the everlasting arms are underneath us. One of the basic needs of life is security, and we find that need met in the consciousness of the unchanging love of God." God never changes and his love is an endless ocean to us. In the moment of despair, God promises to shoot up a new beginning, a new way that helps us look into the matters of the world around us. God puts himself in position for your cause. God will not take rest until a messenger is appointed and you're informed of God's great news. This can be hearing a scripture on Sunday, reading the Bible, chatting with a friend, or even hearing the whisper of God's voice into our hearts.
God promised Israel a new beginning. He also tells us he will robe us with RIGHTEOUSNESS and it will be a perfect robe— (not like mine). God's robe is God's presence, renewal, and close relationship with us. God will bring springs of joy in time of sorrow. In those moments, where God seems distant, the whisper of the Holy Spirit wakens our covenant relationship and our commitment to God. You and I are given a new name and will be called: Chosen, Forgiven, Delight, and God's own crown. No more will you be called rejected, desolate, old, and powerless. But in God's newness, you will be young in heart, renewed in hope like Abraham; and let this be true to us in the year 2021.
As the bridegroom finds joy in his union with his bride, so will your God take joy in his union with you! (Isaiah 61:11). A new day is about to dawn in the relationship between God and the people. As the end of captivity brought Joy to Israel, may the new year end the pain and suffering of our people and the whole world through this virus.
This message is personal to me as well, you have accepted and shown me love through my ministry. And thank you for accepting me in my filthy robe today and in our struggles to make the service possible throughout this year. Thank you to many of you who, behind the scenes, have been helping and making the service, our newsletters, and websites possible and better. Thank you for your love and acceptance of me, even in my crazy moments of losing the entire PowerPoint or adding hymns to the PowerPoint sometimes. Your patience has made my weakness turn to strength and fear to greater confidence. In my wants, needs and despair, you reach out with great support and your generosity has brightened our Christmas this year.
It's true that God's intention and greater purpose for our lives is transformation and rebuilding. It's about restoration and reunion with him and it takes on personal responsibility. “In the Jewish world, on the first Sabbath after a boy had passed his twelfth birthday, his father took him to the Synagogue, where he became A Son of the Law. The father thereupon uttered a benediction, ‘Blessed be thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility for this boy.’ The boy prayed a prayer in which he said, ‘O my God and God of my fathers! On this solemn and sacred day, which marks my passage from boyhood to manhood, I humbly raise my eyes unto thee, and declare with sincerity and truth, that henceforth I will keep thy commandments, and undertake and bear the responsibility of mine actions towards thee.’ There was a clear dividing line in the boy's life; almost overnight he became a man.” William Barclay
Alluded to this experience, Paul told Galatians that they are in union with God as faithful adults when they accept Christ Jesus. They do not belong to the laws or the legal codes that had served as guardian until the coming of the gospel. The gospel, then, has brought us deliverance from the law. This deliverance is the gift of God and God's only love that bring us unity. This unity is compared to the best Robe, only made prefect by God through Christ and its God's salvation which we receive by faith. As Paul states, "…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God." Galatians 4:4–7
Therefore, we are heirs of God with full rights to access God, and God's goodness and possession. As children, we have full confidence to approach God and ask of him everything we need. And God has and will cause your deliverance. He has and will transform you from within. He will remain as your "glory within” to guide, as you continue your journey with him to the new year—2021! The secret to keeping the joy of Christmas and to maintaining our union with God, is to keep finding and seeking the face of God! So, may it be true for you now and through 2021!