3rd Sunday in Advent – B LSB #’s 354, 349, 388
Text – Isaiah 61:4
They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, devastations of generation to generation.
GENERATION TO GENERATION
“And the Lord God made for Adam & for his wife garments of skins & clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21 ESV) It is very possible that God took the life or lives of one or more animals in order to make those garments of skins. It may well have been a lamb or two that gave their lives for the sin of Adam & Eve, & thus began generation to generation of devastations.
Those devastations have continued in every generation since, thousands upon thousands of years. The very 1st born human child killed the 2nd born. By the time of Noah, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, & that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5 ESV)
After God blotted out mankind from the face of the land, & Noah’s family repopulated the earth, along came the tower of Babel. There, the people said, “…let us build ourselves …a tower with its top in the heavens, & let us make a name for ourselves…” (Genesis 11:4 ESV) “So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth…” (Genesis 11:8 ESV)
About 200 years after Babel, God called Abram to follow Him out of the darkness of idolatry. Lot chooses to live in Sodom & Gomorrah & eventually the Lord sends two angels to the city. They warn Lot, “…we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord…” (Genesis 19:13 ESV)
“Then the Lord rained on Sodom & Gomorrah sulfur & fire… And He overthrew those cities, & all the valley, & all the inhabitants of the cities, & what grew on the ground.” (Genesis 19:24-25 ESV) All those devastations occurred in the first 2100 years of human history. There’ve been another 4000 years of devastations of generation to generation since. Just in the past 110 years there has been WWI, the Russian Civil War, WWII, the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War, now the Ukraine War & war in the Gaza Strip. Over 148 million people have been killed during those wars alone.
In that time over 80 million additional people have died of starvation. Countless numbers of people have been murdered & pandemics have killed millions more. Sin has delivered death en masse, yet it also kills by a thousand silent cuts one person at a time. Millions of people suffer abuse at the hands of friends & family many of the days of their lives.
Devastations of generation to generation makes a fitting summary of human history. That is what sin does. Sinners victimize other sinners who then feel entitled to retaliate, seeking revenge against those who hurt them. It’s a never-ending cycle creating more victims & more retaliation. Much of our nation’s politics is driven by grievances & counter-grievances.
As the endless cycle of violence escalates, everyone’s fuse grows shorter. Explosions of anger happen on a regular basis. Phrases like road rage & mass shooter have become part of our nation’s vocabulary. Yet, the day is surely coming when all those long-standing devastations will finally be healed & repaired.
That is what the season of Advent points to both in the 1st & in the 2nd comings of Christ. Everything that sin has taken away, Yahweh will give back twofold, as Isaiah wrote: “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.” (61:7)
The season of Advent is so tightly connected to Christmas that we have a difficult time grasping everything it points to. Advent reminds us that all of human history is being redeemed by Christ. We see glimpses of it in our lives as forgiveness brings healing to broken relationships; as people recognize the voice of Jesus & follow Him. The Good News of Jesus’ death & resurrection empowers people already today to become a force for reconstruction. Mourners are turned into builders by Christ’s love.
You’ve probably heard that more importantly than Messiah’s birth, Advent points ahead to Messiah’s return. However, we tend to look at the arrival of heaven in very personal terms – no more sorrow, no more tears, no more suffering – for me. But Advent also points ahead to all of human history being redeemed – generation to generation, no more devastations.
God is working all of history to its final conclusion & that will encompass far more than our own personal salvation. Revelation gives this description: “…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes & peoples & languages, standing before the throne & before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (7:9 ESV)
No more will wildfires devastate the forests. Hurricanes will not destroy vast swaths of the land. Animals will not eat other animals, & road kill by car & truck will never injure or maim another creature. Children will not suffer from birth defects. Pollution of the air & water will be no more. No human being will suffer from anxiety, guilt or depression ever again.
Holy Scripture tells us that the whole creation has been groaning as it awaits the return of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:22) With His birth in Bethlehem, Jesus came to 1) bring good news to the oppressed, 2) bind up the brokenhearted, 3) proclaim liberty to the captives, 4) proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, 5) comfort all who mourn, 6) provide for those who mourn in Zion.
Those were the promises that Isaiah was predicting for the people of Nehemiah’s day as they returned to Jerusalem. Isaiah wrote about 190 years before the events he spoke of. The people would be struggling with the task of rebuilding, not just the city but their society. The land lies desolate. The cities are all burned, laid waste without inhabitants, houses had no one living in them. As they looked around their beloved city, they saw troubled relationships & power struggles with those who had not been taken into exile, but continued to make their lives in Jerusalem. They saw no signs of a rebuilt temple. God’s promise of restoration, comfort, freedom & praise seemed far off — yet it was spoken.
The enormity of the building task is underscored in the description of what the comforted mourners will raise up & repair: “the devastations of generation to generation.” You & I cannot see the obliteration of ancient Jerusalem but we do see “the devastations of many generations” in our world. Millions of people are missing today because a parent chose not to have their child.
The people of ancient Judah left God behind so Yahweh sent them into exile to wake them up. When people leave God behind, en masse, devastations of generation to generation are always the result. All the wars in human history are due to at least one nation’s leaders leaving God behind. Advent is calling our nation’s people & leaders to return to God for salvation.
The people of our nation need to wake up, to start watching & to be ready. However, as children of God we are not just pointing fingers because each one of us also needs to be continually reminded that Advent is pointing to Christ’s return & the Day of Judgment. Both the Old & the New Testaments remind us that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves.
Yahweh does that, not out of spite or hate, but to call us back to Him. Though we don’t see it now as clearly as we will in heaven, almighty God is already working to raise up & repair the devastations of generation to generation.
That is happening now in millions of small ways & most especially every time the Holy Spirit brings someone to faith. And it will happen on a grand scale on the Last Day as our Creator brings about the new heaven & the new earth. All the devastations of this old & worn out planet will be completely repaired & they will never come to pass again. For now, when your hopes turn to ashes, remember that God offers us a great new day in Jesus Christ through His death & resurrection. Advent reminds us that the old is passing away & the new is coming. In large & small ways, that process is always going on for God’s people. The resurrection of Jesus made that certain. The devastations of generation to generation will come to an end.
At a time of year when the landscape surrounding most churches is bleak & hostile to life, when the least amount of daylight is right around the corner, the message of Isaiah 61 brings hope not for spring blossoms but for spirits made alive in God’s love as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming at Christmas. We come alive when our sins are erased & our souls made clean.
Isaiah opens this text with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” This can remind us of the opening of Genesis where the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at creation. Once again, out of the chaos of destruction & exile, Yahweh is even now creating something new. He is not waiting until the Last Day to renew our hearts & our minds.
As St. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, & may your whole spirit & soul & body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” (5:23-24 ESV) Amen.
Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes, the Savior promised long; let every heart prepare a throne & every voice a song. He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure, & with the treasures of His grace to enrich the humble poor. Amen. LSB 349:1, 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet