3rd Sunday in Advent – B LSB #596 v. 2-4, 6
Text – Isaiah 61:10
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, & as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
CRUSHED BY THE UGLY STICK
That phrase does not come up in polite, considerate or kind conversation. It’s used to make fun of people, sometimes in a good-natured way, though it certainly can be used in a cruel & vicious manner as well. Just as Murphy’s Law is used to explain bad luck, the Ugly Stick is used to explain how someone missed out on the supermodel occupation.
The internet dictionary defines it as: A stick having the magical property of turning anyone touched by it – ugly. Now, I don’t mean to be cruel, but how many of you like to think of yourself as being ugly, & I mean crushed by the ugly stick? Not so much? That’s what I thought.
Then, you need to realize that our heavenly Father is not looking for anyone who is beautiful. The God who created us, & sacrificed His Son to rescue us, is only looking for people who are ugly. From our conception in the womb our sinful nature made us ugly to the core. Satan had beaten us with the ugly stick & we were in desperate need of a makeover.
That is not tolerant language, yet St. Paul pushes the intolerance even further when he states: “…I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I cannot.” (Romans 7:18 NLT)
When someone is dying of a disease, the last thing they want in their doctor is tolerance of that disease. Intolerance is not always the great evil that our culture & media are portraying it as. My wife has cancer, & we do not want a doctor that is tolerant of the disease. Cancer kills people & we want the cancer eradicated if possible, but first it had to be diagnosed so we’d know what we’re fighting. Then it could be determined how to fight against it. Likewise, sin is killing each one of us, but in our nation today people have become increasingly tolerant of that disease. So many people, Christians included, are not interested in diagnosing the cause behind their symptoms, & they do not want to spend time & energy to fight against the disease.
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, a common response is denial. It’s the kind of problem you don’t want, & the same is true with God’s diagnosis of our sin. We’d rather stick our head in the sand & hope the obvious symptoms just go away.
If a doctor brings up the C word, it makes people afraid, but at least they don’t attack the doctor. The patient wants their doctor to be intolerant of the disease. If you approach someone & bring up the sin word, concerning their words or deeds, you are likely to have a fight on your hands, because that person will want you to be tolerant of their sin.
Even with cancer, today there’s a fairly large chance that you won’t die of it anytime soon. So, although people are afraid of it, they eventually accept the diagnosis & do their best to fight against it. Cancer doesn’t bring with it the feelings of guilt like sin does, because cancer is a choice no one makes intentionally. Sin, is something that we willfully choose.
And our sin is more frightening than cancer because it is an affront to a holy God. In fact, our heavenly Father’s holiness is what makes our sin so ugly. The contrast between us & our holy, righteous Lord is too great for you or me to comprehend. Every one of us has a chance in fighting cancer, but our sin destroys any chance we have of fighting against sin.
Perfection & holiness, by definition, are the total absence of sin. A rotten apple cannot make itself un-rotten. When a person has been crushed by the ugly stick they cannot simply will themselves to be beautiful. True ugliness has nothing to do with physical appearance. It is a matter of the soul. That complicates things immensely for us because we cannot see, or examine or measure its properties. For that reason, people who rely on science to explain life propose that the soul doesn’t exist. For those who rely on non-Christian religions to explain life, there’s a tendency to place the soul in the position of god. It is only the Christian religion that explains life according to what is obvious, though uncomfortable – sin has broken everything.
Now, it is true that Christianity has, by far, the most negative & deadly diagnosis for the problems of mankind. As St. Paul wrote: “I want to do what is right, but I cannot.” In no way, shape or form are we able to achieve even goodness, let alone perfection or holiness. In verse 4 of today’s reading from Isaiah, he wrote:
“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 is preaching good news because the Lord of the universe is going to rebuild, raise up & repair. Yet underlying that entire verse is the total devastation from which it needs to be restored.
To interpret this text, you need to realize that as Isaiah is speaking, he’s referring to more than one aspect of the future. First is the physical reality of the cities of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar would totally wipe them out. However, Judah’s worship of false gods had also, already utterly destroyed the moral & spiritual character of Yahweh’s people.
The Lord disciplines those He loves, so He brought devastation upon His people in order to turn them back to the Truth, the Way & the Life. The diagnosis was death & only radical changes would create a new opportunity for life. It is from exactly that situation which Yahweh loves to rescue, restore & bring life.
Our Savior does not pursue his bride because she is lovely; He seeks the one who is unlovely in order to make her beautiful, to bestow upon her a perfect righteousness. The nation of Judah had been crushed by the ugly stick & only God’s Messiah could reverse the curse. Our heavenly Father is not looking for anyone who is already beautiful. They don’t need to be rescued. The Good Shepherd is looking for those who are mourning over sickness & death in order that He might give them reasons for joyous celebration.
It’s as if people are dressed for a funeral, wearing ashes & weeping over the loss of a loved one. Then Yahweh comes to restore life & funeral clothes are swapped out for wedding garments! The mourner, with ashes on his head & wrapped in sackcloth, crushed in spirit with despair, becomes the party-goer with a beautiful headdress & wearing a garment of praise.
Isaiah describes this joyous occasion in verse 10: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, & as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Those who had been crushed by the ugly stick now take a radical turn for the better. Our Father in heaven counters the beating of the ugly stick through placing upon us a robe of holy righteousness. He replaces the weary spirit with one of gladness, like a person experiences when finally reaching the finish line of a long distance race.
It’s in light of returning from exile, it’s that moment when the discipline ends & the reconciliation truly begins, it’s with that vision of the 12 pearly gates in the background, that Christians diagnose sin for what it is. Sin is death, & should never in any way be held up as life. Sin will always corrupt & destroy no matter how good it looks at the time of temptation.
Yes, Christianity has, by far, the most negative & deadly diagnosis for the problems of mankind. It also has, by far, the only workable, healthy & positive solution for the problems of that you & I face in this sorely broken world. If you read the chapters surrounding today’s OT reading, you find that God is at work to divide the goats & the sheep, the unbelievers from those who do believe. Yet chapter 61 is entirely about the coming, eternal victory celebration to which only the sheep of Jesus’ fold are invited. Once they were crushed by the ugly stick, but in their despair they trusted their Lord’s diagnosis & followed His voice. That is the way to fight the disease of sin – follow Jesus. Wherever He leads there will be life to the full.
However, that life to the full, which we experience here by faith, is still only temporary. In heaven we won’t need faith to experience it. We will fully grasp that joy with every one of our senses for all of forever. So while we follow Jesus here on earth, rejoicing in the blessings He gives, we also pray daily, “…Thy kingdom come…”
Though Christ is with us, here on earth we still face the regular beating of the ugly stick, as Satan tempts us to despair. Thus in the Lord’s Prayer we plead for heaven to come. We plead for it to live within my heart & yours, during our remaining time of exile here on earth. Martin Luther explained that petition by writing:
“The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that God’s kingdom may come to us.” That is our Lord’s sure & certain promise, guaranteed by His resurrection from the dead. He has conquered death & paved the way to heaven for us.
Yet His kingdom lives within us even now. Therefore we are a light shining into the darkness of a world that refuses to acknowledge the intolerance of sin. Sin always kills. It never tolerates life. Satan laughs as he roams about the world crushing people with the ugly stick of sin. In response to Satan, Jesus inspired Isaiah the prophet to write:
“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 brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, & the opening of the prison to those who are bound; …I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, & as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
In the end, Satan is forever crushed by his own ugly stick in the depths of hell. Amen.
You were before your day of birth, indeed, from your conception, condemned & lost with all the earth, none good, without exception. For like your parents’ flesh & blood, turned inward from the highest good, you constantly denied Him. But all of that was washed away – immersed & drowned forever. The water of your Baptism day restored again whatever Old Adam & his sin destroyed & all our sinful selves employed according to our nature. In Baptism we now put on Christ – our shame is fully covered with all that He once sacrificed & freely for us suffered. For here the flood of His own blood now makes us holy, right & good before our heavenly Father. So use it well! You are made new – in Christ a new creation! As faithful Christians, live & do within your own vocation, until that day when you possess His glorious robe of righteousness bestowed on you forever! Amen.
 Lessing, R., Isaiah 56-66, Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, p. 273.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet