5th Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #803
Text – Isaiah 40:26
Lift up your eyes on high & see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, & because He is strong in power not one is missing.
CALLING THEM BY NAME
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky. When the blazing sun is gone, when he nothing shines upon, then you show your little light, twinkle, twinkle, all the night.”
In Michigan, winter is good for looking at the stars. The cold temperatures often allow the night time skies to be clear & sharp. Against the dark blackness of outer space, the stars shine with a brilliance that pleads for you to give them your attention. So, haven’t you ever wondered what our heavenly Father might be trying to tell us through their stark beauty?
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.” Jane Taylor published that nursery rhyme back in the year 1806. Isaiah wrote the verse, which is our sermon text, about the year 690 B.C. “Lift up your eyes & see: Who created these?”
It was a given, in the mind of Isaiah, that the stars were created by someone. There’s no way such majestic beauty ‘came to pass’ by accident. About the year 57 A.D. St. Paul gave an answer, in the book of Romans, regarding the message our Creator is writing to us as He brings out their host by number, calling them all by name:
“They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth & sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power & divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT)
The Apostle Paul led into those 1st chapter verses with this one, “But God shows His
anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (1:18 NLT) In the days of Isaiah, the Assyrians who were the most wicked & godless people of the time. They’d already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel & would later attack & destroy much of the southern kingdom.
All 12 tribes of God’s people had already fallen far & headlong into the worship of false gods. Because of what Yahweh created, heaven & earth, all these evil nations had no excuse for not knowing the true God. His wrath had already been revealed against some of them, & more was to come. Yet, in all the destruction, not even one of the stars was missing.
We can’t count them all. Yahweh is able, & does call every single one of them by name: “…by the greatness of His might, & because He is strong in power not one is missing.” (Isaiah 40:26b) It’s like the story of the five sparrows that are sold for only two pennies, yet not one of them falls to the ground without their Creator knowing about it.
Do you remember the punch line? Have you synthesized into your mind the main point Jesus was making? “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7 ESV)
The exact same point is being made by Isaiah. You are of more value than many stars. If Yahweh knows each one of them by name, why are you afraid that He will not remember you? Why are you searching for answers other than the one your heavenly Father has provided? Why do you not put your trust in Jesus to care for you & to provide for you?
As Isaiah wrote, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” (V. 21) “…they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.” (V. 31) The reasons are obvious why we don’t put our trust in Jesus to care for us. God does not allow us to control everything about our circumstances, & we want to. We don’t like having to be patient. We don’t like waiting, not even for God. Yet, waiting upon the Lord is our chief task as our heavenly Father’s children.
That is absolutely antithetical to everything about our culture & to everything about our sinful nature. Trials & struggles, with no easy solution, are allowed into our lives by our Lord. Jesus places you & me into those circumstances so we will learn to “wait for the Lord.” To wait upon God is actually a synonym for faith. Waiting on the Lord is to trust in Him.
Waiting on Yahweh, trusting in Jesus, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, these involve three related ideas: 1) the humble admission that in spite of our plans, there are no workable options beside waiting on the Lord, 2) the refusal to engage in frantic worry, & 3) confidence that God will come through in His time, as He has promised.
Those three approaches to living as a child of God are impossible, however, unless faith in Jesus as your Savior lives within you. As you cannot pour water into a glass already full, so God cannot fill with His power people who are full of themselves. First, you & I must be emptied of self-reliance. If need be, our Lord empties us through our struggles & suffering.
In that emptying, Satan then switches his temptation from pride to despair. It was in pride that Judas betrayed his master. It was in despair that Judas ended his own life. When depression sweeps across our emotional nature, the stars don’t seem so bright anymore, not even in a sharp & clear sky.
A natural question that leads to is this, “How do we survive our struggles & suffering without surrendering to despair?” It’s easy to answer that when we’re simply preaching it, or thinking of it in the abstract. However, when something like the measles is threatening the life of your child, that suffering & struggle takes on a whole new dimension. When the relationship you have with your spouse is totally confusing right now, it’s easy to wonder how God is going to bring good out of that. It’s been a long time since jobs were plentiful & the economy was booming in Michigan. Can we trust that God will take care of us anyway?
In the larger scheme of things, & with all the uncertainties in the world today, it’s easy to doubt that we’re important to the Almighty Creator who rules over the entire universe. King David well knew the guilt that came along with the adultery he committed & the murder he followed it up with in the attempt to cover his own sins.
Especially in that context of his sin, David marveled at the heavens & what they taught him about his heavenly Father: “When I look at the night sky & see the work of Your fingers – the moon & the stars You set in place – what are people that You should think about them, mere mortals that You should care for them?” (Psalm 8:3 NLT)
The Lord of the universe knows, like the stars & the sparrows, each one of the people He created. He knows His daughter Rachel who is today confirming her faith in Jesus’ promises. In so doing she’ll be proclaiming before everyone here that she is willing to wait upon the Lord.
He who parted the waters for His hemmed-in people at the Red Sea, who made for them a path of safety from their enemies though the sea, & who brought them back to the promised land from exile in Babylon, can do the same for His people who are today surrounded by failure, disappointment, loss & suffering.
Just because Yahweh is transcendent & holy does not mean He is aloof & uncaring. To the contrary, His majesty is employed in compassion, & since He can name each of the stars, & calls every one of them out into the night, each night, how can His wisdom ever overlook you? Yes, His discipline is painful, but the struggles & suffering that are designed to empty us of ourselves will not last forever. They will, however, along with God’s love, draw us closer to the only source of life & living, of peace & joy. Satan’s temptation to pride is just as dangerous as his temptation to despair. We need Jesus to be the center of our existence so He invites us to follow Him, just as the stars of night follow when He calls them out each evening.
So how does our Lord’s might & power apply to you? Since God is able to call by name every star in the sky, why are there times we give up on Him? Why do we allow our struggles to weigh us down so heavily? Isaiah is addressing people whose faith in Christ is weak & faltering. They desire salvation, but have dropped off in following where Jesus leads.
Isaiah has already given a picture of beauty with his description of the stars being called out each night by name. Then, in verse 31, he gives us the beloved picture of an eagle’s majestic flight: “…they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.”
When the eagle flies, the real power is in the wind. The eagle only needs to accept & use & work with the wind. Yahweh’s calling us by name is what gives us power & life & joy. We only need to accept & use & work with God’s calling of us. In other words, we need to discipline ourselves & learn how to wait for the Lord.
We participate in our Savior’s strength through trusting Him, resting our faith in Him. We can have faith in a rope, though it may fail. We can have faith in ourselves & we know we shall fail. As the cross, & Jesus’ resurrection, demonstrated the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world does not fail.
“Outwardly we are wasting away, but inwardly we’re being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) So, do not lose heart, though on the outside everything may appear to be falling apart, inwardly, out of sight, spiritually, since Yahweh has called us by name, God’s Spirit is renewing us, strengthening us, re-creating us, all through His Word & Sacraments. The stars on a clear dark night can be a reminder, a letter even, written to you by your heavenly Father, for your encouragement. Our sins have been washed away. The Son of God has called us by name. Let us rejoice, & be glad, & live. Amen.
Joyful, joyful we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love! Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, praising Thee, their sun above. Melt the clouds of sin & sadness, drive the gloom of doubt away. Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day. All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth & heaven reflect Thy rays, stars & angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise. Field & forest, vale & mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird & flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet