3rd Sunday in Advent – B LSB #’s 338, 333, 349
Text – Isaiah 61:2
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, & the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
A YEAR OF FAVOR – A DAY OF VENGEANCE
A passenger jet was flying from Seattle to San Francisco when, unexpectedly, the plane was diverted to Sacramento along the way. The flight attendant explained there would be a delay, but if the passengers wanted to get off the aircraft they would re-board the plane in 50 minutes. Everyone decided to leave except for one woman who was blind.
A man had noticed her as he walked by & could tell she was blind because her guide dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her throughout the flight. He also realized she had flown this flight before because the pilot approached her, & calling her by name, said, “Kathy, we’re in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off & stretch your legs?”
The blind lady replied, “No thanks, but maybe Buddy would like to stretch his legs.” The pilot agreed. So here’s the picture. All the people in the gate area come to a complete standstill when they look up & see the pilot, wearing sunglasses, walking off the plane with a guide dog for the blind! Passengers scattered on their way trying to change planes & even airlines.
Things aren’t always as they appear, & that certainly applies to the phrase ‘the day of vengeance of our God.’ The Bible uses that term interchangeably with ‘the year of the Lord’s favor,’ even though in our minds there is a very clear difference between favor & vengeance.
However, the word translated into English as vengeance has a lot more going for it in Hebrew. It’s not so narrowly defined, in purely negative terms as getting even, venting wrath or inflicting punishment. In Hebrew the word also has positive meanings such as the righting of wrongs & the establishment of justice. Vengeance is not only punishment for evil, but restoration, renewal & re-creation of good. How you react to the sermon text depends upon the angle from which you’re looking at it – from saint or from sinner. Most of us will not argue with taking an antibiotic to restore our health & eradicate an infection. That’s basically the same concept Isaiah is writing about as he uses the phrase ‘the day of vengeance of our God.’
God’s vengeance will eradicate disease & shame & sin. Our heavenly Father gives us faith to restore our spiritual health to that of perfection. Jesus did not come to earth announcing the Gospel to those who are comfortable & healthy. He came to proclaim the Good News to those who are mired in disease & shame & sin. The Gospel of Mark quotes Jesus:
“Those who are healthy do not need a doctor, but those who are sick. I did not come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (2:17 NET) Therein lies the struggle. Admitting that we are diseased, shameful & filled with sin is highly uncomfortable, & as we well know, it is also uncommon. Yet this is how Isaiah describes what Jesus will proclaim:
“…the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, & the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, & the day of vengeance of our God…” (Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV) God’s Son will be proclaiming a year of favor & a day of vengeance.
They are, of course, not two separate times. The prophet used poetic language meant to target the emotions, the thoughts of the heart. This is one time, one event, one moment – a time of grace for the poor & needy – a time of retribution for all the enemies of God’s people. Jesus is the antibiotic sent to destroy what makes us ill, & to prevent any further illness.
Like the pilot, who could see, walking the blind woman’s dog, God’s vengeance is not something to be afraid of, as long as you receive the gift of faith that He freely offers. After all, the children of God live by faith & not by sight. Faith in Jesus as Savior from sin informs us that God is good in spite of all the frightening things we see & experience. On the world stage, there’s a very evil & unstable man ruling North Korea who now controls nuclear weapons. On a national level the incompetence & corruption showing up across the institutions of our land is especially disheartening. Those issues are troubling enough, but are still at some distance.
Hitting much closer to home, you & I are keenly aware of dysfunctional family dynamics. We feel the brunt of the disappointment, frustration & anger that arises from our sinful weaknesses, or even intentional evil. Children & adults alike fail to mature in their spiritual lives. The ill & the elderly are left abandoned to their own thoughts & anguish.
By its very nature as a season of joy, Christmas frequently highlights feelings of being lost & alone. That experience is common to all mankind resulting from the original sin of Adam & Eve. As you know, repairing broken relationships is not a simple or painless process, even in the best of circumstances. If you get old enough, there are no relationships left to repair.
As the prophet records the last 11 chapters of the book of Isaiah, he spends a good deal of time describing the wretched state of God’s people. The Northern Kingdom had already been overthrown & its ten tribes obliterated. Now, the Southern Kingdom was rapidly approaching its own destruction. That nation too, like ours, was rotting at the core.
And still, Isaiah describes, not only the wretched state of God’s people, but all the more announces her beauty & brightness. Yahweh will fight for His people & defeat the darkness. In fact, as Isaiah prophecies, he often writes in the present tense as if the victory was even then being accomplished. It takes eyes of faith to understand such writing in spite of what we see.
In the old days of God’s people, after entering the Promised Land, every 7th year was a sabbatical year when farmers did not sow their crops. Poor people could then collect what naturally grew on the land. In addition, at the Sabbatical year, all Israelite slaves were released from slavery. The goal was for Israel to confess that the land & her inhabitants belong to Yahweh. After seven cycles of seven years, the beginning of the 50th year instituted the Jubilee. Isaiah wrote of the Anointed Servant as He instituted the ultimate rest that we call heaven:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, & the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
This Anointed Servant ushers in the end time’s sabbatical program, or Jubilee, & reverses the desolation of God’s people. She had walked in the dark, but now lives in the dawning light. She had been lost, but now is found. Once she was blind, but now she can see.
Yahweh sends the Anointed Servant, whom we celebrate as the Christ child, to proclaim the year of favor & gives the faithful remnant a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. The mourners of Zion will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of Yahweh:
“They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:4 ESV) They’re the faithful people of God, freed by Christ both to live & to serve. New life will spring from death & this restoration will be revealed in the new heavens & new earth of the book of Revelation.
What we look forward to celebrating at Christmas is that Jesus has ushered in the Jubilee of the Last Day. That Good News empowers people to become a force for the reconstruction of creation. The promises of God to His ancient people still inspire our faith & hope today. Our lives are not an endless series of bright shining days. Often our hopes turn to ashes.
But the heavenly Father offers us a great new day in Jesus Christ through His death & resurrection. His promises are music to our spirit & we’re able to close each day with His praise on our lips. The Anointed Servant, the Christ child, our Savior, has fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah. Jesus is the evidence that Yahweh keeps His promises. Our Lord has proclaimed “…the year of the Lord’s favor, & the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” On the Last Day of time, both of those will become God’s accomplished reality. His vengeance will see to it that sorrow & tears & sin will be no more.
By faith, your saintly nature sees & understands that as a good thing. A year of favor – a day of vengeance; they are one time, one event, one moment – a time of grace for the poor & needy – a time of retribution for all the enemies of God’s people. Yes, Christ will eradicate all disease & shame & sin. He will also restore, renew & re-create all that was good.
That is the true meaning of Christmas. It is why God’s people spend so much time preparing for the celebration. It is why we hear echoes of Isaiah 61 when Revelation 21 is read:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people, & God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true.’” (21:3-5 ESV)
As you look around the world about you, there are many things that are broken. There is much mourning, crying & pain; yet, things aren’t always as they appear. There is a true reality that awaits us. Jesus came & set us free, so we can join Him there. Amen.
Soon will come that hour when with mighty power Christ will come in splendor & will judgment render, with the faithful sharing joy beyond comparing. Come, then, O Lord Jesus, from our sins release us. Keep our hearts believing, that we, grace receiving, ever may confess You till in heaven we bless You. Amen. LSB 333:3-4.
 Isaiah 61:1 ESV
 Isaiah 61:2 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet