Monday, December 31, 2007

Psalm 20:8 - “20:8”

New Year’s Eve
Monday, December 31, 2007

In college, when I was trying to get in some habit of having personal devotion time, I’d find a quiet place on campus, get my Bible out of my backpack, say a little prayer, and then. . .wonder what I was supposed to do now. I wasn’t sure what to read in my Bible, so I started playing a game. I’d close my eyes, flip open the Bible, and whatever page I landed on—that’s what I’d read for the day.

I don’t really recommend this way of having devotions or studying the Bible, although I found some of my notes that I took during these random readings and actually it does seem like I was getting something out of it. And of course I was; it’s God’s Word, so every page is filled with His words that give us life and salvation.

But anyway, that flip open the Bible technique inspired tonight’s sermon. With 2008 starting tomorrow, I started wondering what we’d find if we simply opened the Bible to all of the twenty-oh-eights in the Bible, in other words, chapter 20 verse 8. And just like my random devotions in college, it turns out that because it is God’s Word, there’s actually some very key verses from Scripture for New Year’s Eve on those twenty-oh-eights.

Although, the first one I opened to was Genesis 20:8—which you can see on the screen: “So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid.” That one doesn’t work out so easily. It’s the middle of a story, and so that twenty-oh-eight—and a number of other ones—weren’t so easy to use like this for a sermon.

But then you come to Exodus 20:8, and now we’re getting somewhere. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It’s the third commandment, a perfect place to start our meditation as we enter a New Year. God has always called on His people to honor Him by setting aside time for worship, prayer, and studying His Word, and as we enter 2008, the third commandment is a good reminder to make a resolution to truly and properly honor God by setting aside time each week to be in worship, study the Bible, pray, share devotions with the family, and find ways to serve the ministry of the church.

You see, you thought just opening to the twenty-oh-eights would be random, but here we have a perfect New Year’s resolution.

The next twenty-oh-eight in the next book of the Bible, Leviticus, is quite similar. “Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” Just as the third commandment calls on us to honor God with our time, now this twenty-oh-eight calls on us to follow all of God’s statutes, His laws, His instructions, His commandments for our lives. It’s a little broad, I suppose, for a New Year’s resolution, but still, it works. In 2008, resolve to follow God’s instructions—rather than just making up your own rules about how to live.

Although, there’s something a little more here than just a commandment. In Leviticus 20:8, God is also saying, “I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” I am the Lord who makes you holy, makes you perfect, blameless, sinless. On the one hand, this verse has just given us a resolution to follow God’s laws, but on the other hand, God is telling us something about what He does for us.

In fact, now it doesn’t seem like we’re supposed to follow God’s statutes in order to earn His favor. Instead, it seems like we follow God’s statutes in response to the fact that He sanctifies us, makes us holy, makes us to be the people He meant us to be. Following God’s laws, well, that’s a way of thanking God for what He’s done. It’s like Leviticus 20:8 is saying, “Keep my statutes and do them, because that’s who you are now. I am the Lord who sanctifies you, so live like the people I made you to be.”

Truth be told, now we’re really getting somewhere with this twenty-oh-eight thing, because you know that any sermon that just told you to make a resolution to follow God’s commandments would leave you either feeling smug—like you’re a good Christian because you follow God’s commandments—or leave you feeling condemned—like you’ll never earn God’s favor because you’ll never be able to keep your New Year’s resolution to follow God’s statutes. A sermon shouldn’t leave you feeling either—smug or condemned.

Instead, we need some Gospel, some Good News, a twenty-oh-eight that tells us how God is able to take us who fail at every resolution we make to follow His laws, how God is able to take us and make us to be His holy people. Leviticus 20:8 tells us that this is what God does, but we need to jump to a twenty-oh-eight from the New Testament to show us how God did it.

John 20:8, “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed….” This twenty-oh-eight tells us how God fulfills Leviticus 20:8. How does God sanctify us, make us holy in His sight? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus. When the other disciple—that’s how the Gospel writer John talks about himself—when John went into the tomb on that Easter morning, he saw that Jesus was gone, and he believed what Jesus had told them: “The Son of Man will rise again after three days.” John believed—and along with the other disciples—would go on to preach about how Jesus sanctifies all people, makes all people holy through His death and resurrection.

What God said back in Leviticus 20:8 comes to pass through John 20:8. When God says that He is the One who sanctifies us, He can say this because of Jesus, because Jesus died and rose again.

Ah, now that’s better. Now we’re not just coming here to make a New Year’s resolution. We could do that by watching any TV talk show or just staying at home. Lots of people talk about making resolutions, but only here, only in God’s Word do we find a God who knows that we’re going to break all of our resolutions to follow His instructions and still He comes and says He’ll make us holy in His eyes, make us to look like people who keep all of their resolutions.

Did you catch that? That’s kind of what God is saying in Leviticus 20:8—I am the Lord who makes you into people who keep all of their resolutions. You know that that’s not true on the ground in reality, but when God looks at you, He see Jesus, He sees Jesus who is perfect and keeps every resolution, He sees the holiness of Jesus instead of the ways you break His statutes. So now when someone asks you if you made a New Year’s resolution, you can say: “I sure did, and I have already kept my resolution perfectly.”

There’s one more twenty-oh-eight we’ll look at which kind of gives us a picture of this, what it means that we trust in what God sees rather than what we see, that we trust in what God is making into reality instead of the reality that we know.

Psalm 20:8 says, “They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” Now for this twenty-oh-eight we have to check out the context a little bit more, so here is verse 7 and 8: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”

Psalm 20 is a psalm for the king, a psalm celebrating the king of Israel, perhaps even sort of a prayer over the king and his rule of the people. It’s a psalm that talks about trusting in God’s help for the king, the kingdom, and the people. It’s a psalm that knows God’s reality might be different than the reality on the ground right in front of their faces.

The king and the people might be up against an enemy army that they’ll never possibly be able to defeat, but because God has a different, better, everlasting reality in store for His people, that’s why Psalm 20:8 can say, “They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” The other army might trust in chariots and horses, they might trust in their ability to overpower Israel, but the people of God know that eventually all of their enemies will collapse, will fall, will fail to win the day. The people of God know that the only thing they can really trust in is the Name of God. God will make them rise and stand upright. God will give them victory in the end. God will give them a victory that no one else may understand. God will give them everlasting victory, peace, security, safety, and blessing.

That’s your situation at the beginning of 2008. The popular idea is that by making a New Year’s resolution that somehow you will be able to change your life, change your world, somehow conquer whatever threatens you. But they will collapse and fall, they—the resolutions—will fail you, they—the people who trust in their ability to change themselves by themselves—they will collapse and fall.

Some trust in resolutions and some trust in self-improvement schemes, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright through the power of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, through the righteousness and holiness of Jesus, through the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.

We know that the twenty-oh-eights of the Bible tell us God’s hope and will for our lives. We know that the third commandment calls us on us to remember the Sabbath, to set aside time for worship, prayer, and studying God’s Word. But we also know that following God’s statutes, His laws, that’s simply a response to what God has already done for us: sanctified us, made us holy in His sight. He makes us holy through the death and resurrection of Jesus, gives us a holiness that can’t be improved upon by our resolutions, a holiness that can’t be destroyed by our failures to keep resolutions, a holiness that’s purely a gift from God.

So now as we enter 2008, we know our reality is different than the reality we can see. We see how we fail to keep resolutions, we see how we fail to keep God’s laws, but our reality in Christ is that we are holy, blameless, free, perfect, and given eternal life. We have already kept every resolution we made.

Because that’s our reality in Christ, now we live our lives in a such a way as to thank God with our actions. We resolve to keep God’s commandments, because we want to live in a way that pleases God, in a way that can give back to God just a little of what He’s given us. We resolve to follow God’s statutes knowing we’ll fail, but we’re trying to learn what it means to be God’s holy people, what would it look like if our lives matched who God has already made us to be.

Now 2008 with all of its resolutions, with all of our attempts to keep the third commandment by making time for God, our attempts to keep God’s statutes, now 2008 can just be a year to praise and thank God with our actions, to thank God for what He’s already done: made us into His holy people for another year as we wait for His Son to come again.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Isaiah 28:5-6 - “Royal Crown”

Christmas Eve (11 PM Candelight/Youth-led service)
Monday, December 24, 2007

The youth have a special message to share with you tonight, and really I mainly want them to tell you about why we celebrate Christmas.

But I have to tell you, it’s really mainly about RC, Royal Crown Cola (pull out 2-liter).

I don’t mean that the youth aren’t ready to lead the service because they’re busy getting some soda. No, they’re ready. In fact, last night when the youth were practicing I was the only one drinking a soda.

Instead what I mean is that the theme for tonight, the Treasure of Christmas, it’s all about an RC, it’s all about a Royal Crown. Although maybe not this kind of royal crown.

Take a look on the screens at two verses from Isaiah chapter 28(:5-6). Isaiah says,

In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.
He will be a spirit of justice
to him who sits in judgment,
a source of strength
to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

“The LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath,” a royal crown on the heads of His people.

Tonight the youth will share with you about how Jesus is our treasure, a treasure born this night, and that’s what Isaiah is saying here.

A king’s crown is a beautiful treasure, and Isaiah is saying that we are crowned with the greatest treasure: the Lord Himself. You have a royal crown, and that crown is Jesus. The Lord is our royal crown, our treasure, our everything. Just as a king without a crown is not a king at all, so if we don’t have the Lord as our royal crown, then we’re nothing.

Jesus came at Christmas to be our royal crown, to give us His spirit of justice, truth, love, grace, and mercy. Jesus came at Christmas, took one look at our shabby lives, and decided to put a crown on our heads, His crown, His own royal nature. The Lord is your royal crown, your treasure, the One who sets you up to be His servant in all that do.

Isaiah gives two examples in these verses of what it means to serve the Lord because you have His royal crown. “[The Lord] will be a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment.” In other words, if you’re a judge, if you have the responsibility of making judgments and decisions, then your ability to judge right and wrong, to correctly handle situations, your ability will come from the Lord. The Lord is the spirit of justice working in you; the Lord is your royal crown, your treasure, the One who gives you the ability to serve Him in truth and love.

Again Isaiah gives an example: “[The Lord will be] a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.” If you’re a soldier, if you’re in a battle, if you have the responsibility of protecting others, then your strength comes from the Lord. The Lord is the strength working in you; the Lord is your royal crown, your treasure, the One who gives you the ability to stand up against whatever attacks you.

Those are just two examples that Isaiah gives, and you might not be a judge or a soldier. But the same principle applies to all of us: You don’t go out and do great things because you’re so great; you can go out and do great things for the Lord and for others because you’ve got a royal crown on your heads, because you’re got Jesus as your crown.

Jesus is our treasure, but Jesus the Treasure turns right around and makes us His Treasure. He has a royal crown, He’s the King of Kings as you’ll hear, but Jesus turns around and crowns us with His royalty, beauty, and holiness. Christmas, the birth of Jesus is God’s gift to the world, but Jesus came to make us a gift to the Father. Jesus came to make us into holy, innocent, forgiven people of God. That’s a royal crown, indeed.

So now when you’re at your Christmas parties, or when you’re walking down the grocery store aisle, you’ve got a sermon in a bottle right there with the RC, Royal Crown Cola. The soda might be called Royal Crown, but we know that our true royal crown is Jesus Himself.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

“The Redeemed Will Be. . .With Immanuel”
Part 2 - Isaiah 7:10-17 - “…With Immanuel”

4th Sunday in Advent
(Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, December 23, 2007

Listen to the audio of this sermon (Real Player)

(Bring out a lectern on pedestal from the old Holy Emmanuel Ev. Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN)

It’s not every preacher that shows up at his new church with his own pulpit.

This pulpit is a little short now, but this top piece is actually from the pulpit of my home congregation’s old church. In 1969, the congregation moved to the suburbs, but the old church was in Minneapolis and this was the pulpit. The church was built in 1909, and this top wood piece may very well be from back then. One of the members, Joe Hibben, his family kept the pulpit and made a little stand for it. They used it as a Bible stand. When I was ordained, Joe gave me this pulpit. He said he figured a son of the congregation going to be a pastor should keep this pulpit. It was one of the most touching gifts I’ve received.

Of course, I didn’t just bring it out today to tell you that story. I brought it out, because this pulpit has a connection with this congregation, too. This pulpit that I just brought out here at Immanuel Lutheran Church, this pulpit is from Holy Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Coming here to Immanuel—Brookfield is a bit like coming home, because I was baptized and confirmed at Holy Emmanuel in Minnesota. The home congregation spells “Emmanuel” with an “e,” but either way, it’s the same word—the Name given to Jesus, the Name mentioned in the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard today, and the Name mentioned again in Matthew, today’s Gospel reading.

So I grew up knowing that Immanuel means “God with us,” a Name given to Jesus because He took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.

What I never really thought about while I was growing up at Holy Emmanuel Lutheran Church was that this Name that Isaiah talks about, a Savior who would be Named Immanuel, it really wasn’t a new message from the Lord. Immanuel, God with us, is the message that God had been speaking to His people from the beginning. Immanuel just happens to sum up all of those promises in one Name.

You can hear the Immanuel promise throughout the Old Testament. Go back to Abraham, and God said, “And I will be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7). God promised to be with Abraham and be his God.

Two generations later, God says to Jacob: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go….For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15).

God called Moses to be His servant, and God told him, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Then God told Moses and all of the people, “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20). The Lord’s angel went with them; God was with them in a way they couldn’t miss. The Lord was with them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

When Moses died, God told Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).

Jump ahead through Israel’s history, and God makes the same promise to David: “I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you” (2 Samuel 7:9).

And then when David’s son, Solomon, took the throne, Solomon was confident that God still promised to be with the people. Solomon prayed, “The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us” (1 Kings 8:57). Solomon called on God to be with them, knowing that God would be faithful to this promise.

So, then, when the Lord sent Isaiah to preach saying, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” it’s a repeat of the same promise. When the people heard the Name Immanuel, they would’ve heard God’s promise to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, and all of the people, the promise to be with them and never leave them.

As one Bible dictionary puts it, “The past, present, and future intimate relationship of God’s presence with his people is summed up in the name Immanuel” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 677).

And why is that Name, why is that promise so important? Because ever since sin entered this world it has meant that we are separated from God, we are blind to our God’s constant presence, we do not see just how closely the Lord watches over us, supports us, guides us, protects us, and loves us.

The Lord’s refrain, His repeated promise of saying “I am with you,” that’s an answer to the constantly repeating worries of our hearts and minds, such as the worries in Psalm 44 (23-24):

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

The people felt as if the Lord was distant, gone, ignoring their prayers, unaware of their troubles, so God repeated Himself throughout the Old Testament—“I am with you, I will never leave you.” So God gave His Son a Name that would always remind us of the promise—“I am with you, I will never leave you.”

Of course, it wasn’t just the people of the Old Testament that had trouble believing God was still with them. You probably find yourself asking that question, too, wondering where is God when your mom is dying from cancer? Where is God when you see the people of New Orleans still struggling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina? Where is God when you just find yourself overwhelmed with the Christmas blues which are far more serious than any Elvis Presley “Blue Christmas”?

You know that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, but still you find yourself asking if God really understands the troubles down here—divorce, alcoholism, broken friendships, credit card debt, stress, and the temptations to break just about every commandment every Friday and Saturday night.

The name of this congregation is meant to give us confidence in God’s promise to be with us, but Immanuel isn’t some pat answer; it isn’t God saying, “Everything will work out in the end.”

Instead, Immanuel is a statement of fact, a promise that God truly is with us.

Just because we know that Jesus is Immanuel doesn’t mean that now divorce never happens, alcoholics are immediately cured, credit card debts disappear, and we’re never tempted to sin again.

Instead, Immanuel is a promise that none of those things in your world can change the fact that God is with you. We’ll all get bogged down at times by sins and tragedies and sadness, but Jesus is still Immanuel.

Because Jesus is Immanuel, that means we are the people with God, we are God’s people, we are the ones that will never be alone, will always have God with them. . .which—if you listen—is what so many people need to hear.

You’ll hear people around you asking the big questions about whether God is still around, whether God cares about them, whether God knows what we’re going through down here, whether God is just some big absentee landlord or whether He’s actually involved in our day-to-day lives. You’ll hear friends, family, and acquaintances ask those questions in different ways; you just have to be listening for it. You have to be listening to see that they need to hear the Name again, to hear Immanuel, to hear that Jesus is God with us.

One way to train yourself to hear the questions is to hear the questions in popular culture. If you listen closely to television shows, movies, and music, if you read books, newspapers, and magazines with both eyes open, you’ll start catching the ways that people ask whether God is with them or not.

Take music, for instance. In 1995, Joan Osborne released a song called “One of Us” where she sings, “What if God was one of us?/Just a slob like one of us.” It’s a song that doesn’t come to any real conclusion, but it’s asking the same question that troubles us as believers: is God with us?

Now you could have a knee-jerk reaction to this and tell Joan Osborne, “Of course God is one of us. Jesus was born and is both God and man. How could you sing a song that questions whether God is with us?”

But now if Joan is your friend and she isn’t singing a song but just posing a question that’s troubling her, your knee-jerk reaction may shut down the conversation.

Instead, agree with Joan, “it’s a good question,” mention that sometimes you also have trouble believing God is around, and then tell her, “I think that’s why Jesus has that other Name, Immanuel, because it means ‘God with us.’ We need that reminder every day.”

Or take another example for anyone who likes hip-hop—or for anyone who thinks all rap music is talking about sex and drugs and crime. Tricky is rapper from Britain, and in his song, “Wait for God,” he says, “I wait for God and it’s very hard…/I drink your blood and I’m still thirsty.”

Again, you might be ready to go on the attack, saying that Tricky is being sacrilegious or blasphemous or rude by saying, “I drink your blood and I’m still thirsty,” implying that the Lord’s Supper isn’t enough.

Yet, haven’t you ever, honestly, haven’t you ever felt like the Lord’s Supper isn’t enough, that you’re still waiting for God, still waiting to be with Him, to truly know that God is with you? Haven’t you ever struggled or been frustrated, because it seems like it’d be so much easier if we could see God and just know that He is always with us?

And then when you’re honest with yourself, when you’ll admit that what Tricky is saying isn’t that much different than what you’ve felt, then you’re ready to talk to the Trickys in your life, to the people struggling to wait for God, who want to be close to God but feel like they need more than this, who struggle because they want some kind of proof that God is with them. When you’re ready to listen and admit your own doubts, then you’re ready to help Tricky understand that this is why Jesus is called Immanuel. Jesus is God with us.

We’re waiting for Jesus to come again, but His Name tells us that He is God with us and we are the people that He wants to be with.

Most people aren’t going to know right away what your church name means. People don’t just drive by thinking—“Oh, yeah, God is with us.”

But you know what it means. You know that God encourages us by sending Jesus. You know that God is one of us. You know what our congregation’s name means, so take the name of our church with you. Take Immanuel to people who are struggling in their faith. Use Immanuel as the hopeful, comforting, reassuring answer that we all need, the way in which God constantly repeats Himself because we’re constantly repeating the same question: “Are you there, God?”

By having the name Immanuel Lutheran Church, this congregation has a special message for people asking that question. “Are you there, God?” and we say, “Immanuel. God is with you.”

Sunday, December 16, 2007

“The Redeemed Will Be. . .With Immanuel”
Part 1 - Isaiah 35:1-10 - “The Redeemed Will Be…”

3rd Sunday in Advent (Year A - Lutheran Service Book Readings)
Sunday, December 16, and Monday, December 17, 2007

Listen to the audio of this sermon (Real Player)

Last week during my installation, I was the guy sitting in the middle of the aisle wondering if I’m really ready to be your pastor, I was anxious and overwhelmed. Pastor Dan preached a sermon that was very encouraging for me, reassuring me that I have a sure calling from the Lord. I have a sure calling.

And in fact, there’s been a lot of little things that have helped me know that this is where God wants me. The letter from Pastor Dan that came with the call documents showed me that he is exactly what I need in a Senior Pastor and colleague. Our house in Manitowoc sold quickly. We bought a house in Wauwatosa. These things have been extra little encouragements along the way.

But really I don’t have a sure calling because of those things. I am confident of my calling as a pastor because of God’s Word—the way in which He promises to be with me as I serve Him. My confidence isn’t in me; it’s in Him.

And I have a sure calling, because I didn’t choose you. You chose me. You called me. I trust that God works through the call process to show me His way for my life and my ministry. I trust that He uses you dear people to direct me.

So my sure calling isn’t based on little things, but there was another little thing that made me sure that God sent me to you. It also makes me think that God does have a sense of humor.

You see, the selected reading for this third Sunday in Advent which we heard comes from Isaiah 35 where the prophet says, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness….Only the redeemed will walk there” (8a,9b), and then next week I’ll preach again for the fourth Sunday in Advent when the appointed reading comes from Isaiah 7 where the prophet says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (14).

Those two readings together, that’s how we get my two-part sermon series title, “The Redeemed Will Be. . .With Immanuel.”

Do you see God’s sense of humor there? Do you see the little way that God is helping me know that He has sent me to your pastor?

Next week should be fairly obvious. . .His Name will be Immanuel, it’s a reading about this congregation’s name. But today, today when Isaiah says, “The redeemed will walk there,” well, now you’d have to know where I just came from, where I’ve been a pastor for seven-and-a-half years in Manitowoc. . .Redeemer Lutheran Church. The Redeemed (point at myself) will be with Immanuel (point to congregation).

I was with Redeemer Lutheran, and now I am with Immanuel. I am the “redeemed” who will now be with Immanuel. It’s this great little pair of readings that is a reminder of how God has called me to this new place. And yet, more than that, it’s a great pair of words that talk about who we are, because even though you’re at Immanuel. . .and next week we’ll talk about what it means to be Immanuel Lutheran Church. . .even though you’ve been here, you’re still the redeemed, the loved ones of the Redeemer, so telling you about my former church’s name, about what Redeemer means, tells you about who you are as well, and it helps us to see what Isaiah means in the Old Testament reading from today.

What does Redeemer mean? What is a redeemer? A redeemer is one who redeems. But what does it really mean? What does it mean to have a redeemer who makes us the redeemed ones? Up at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Manitowoc, I kept asking the people those questions, because I wanted them to know what their name meant, to know what their name meant for each of them personally. So now I’ll tell you, because really it is one of the great picture words of the Bible.

“Redeemer” comes out of the world of slavery. It wasn’t a spiritual word to begin with; instead it’s a metaphor, a common word in the daily lives of people that was used to describe something spiritual, something that’s unfamiliar, it’s a word about something we understand used to describe something we have a hard time understanding.

Back in the Old Testament and New Testament times, if someone got into very bad debt, sometimes the only solution was that they would become slaves to the person they owed money to. If someone borrowed a bunch of money from their rich neighbor, but then couldn’t pay back the money, well, the rich neighbor then took that person to be a slave.

Now the only way for the slave to be free again was for the money to be paid back. That price is the redeeming price. Someone else needed to come and redeem, buy back the person’s freedom from the slave master.

The person who pays the price is known as the redeemer. Usually it was a family member who found enough money and paid the master. The redeemer isn’t buying the person as a slave; the redeemer is paying the price so that the person can go free.

Well, that’s the original use of the word, but it is a great metaphor, a great picture for what happens to us in Christ. We are the slaves, and sin is our master. We are slaves to sin with no way to free ourselves. But then Jesus comes to be the Redeemer, the One who pays the price, redeems us, buys us back from sin, so that we have freedom and life. Yet, Jesus didn’t pay with money, not with gold or silver, but with His innocent, precious blood, with His death on the cross. Because Jesus paid the price on the cross, now we go free, now we are freed from sin.

More than just being the name of a congregation in Manitowoc, we are all the redeemed. Jesus is the Redeemer of the whole world, paying the price for the sins of the whole world. We are preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ knowing that He was born in order to die on the cross to pay the redeeming price to free us from slavery.

So that’s the picture behind the word: we’re like slaves who have had our chains unlocked, we’ve been set free. Keep that image in mind while you look at Isaiah 35 in your bulletins again. Let’s walk through it and see what it means to be the redeemed.

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

The whole land is rejoicing, the whole land has been redeemed from sin, the effects of sin, so the desert suddenly has life in it.

Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.

And with the whole land rejoicing, now here comes the encouragement for the people, for us, the slaves of sin who have been freed.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

We are the slaves to sin, and with this word from God, we look up from our dusty, hot land, we are worn, weary, wearing torn clothes, we are broken, bruised, injured, lame, weak, and run down by the cruel master called sin, and now we have hope.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.

The Lord is transforming our lives, the Lord is renewing our world, the Lord is giving us hope beyond what we can see.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.

And now here comes the image that really stands out in my mind. The slaves to sin, we are weary, and struggling against this world, struggling against the sin in us, now the Lord is leading us to the Way of Life—a road that rises up out of the desert, a highway that takes us away from all that threatens us.

In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
it will be for those who walk in that Way;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and the ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

It’s a highway to freedom. Together with the image of being freed from slavery, I imagine the scene this way:

I am dressed in rags with my body bruised and broken in so many ways from being a slave to sin. My eyes have huge dark circles around them, my skin is burnt, cracked, and covered with sores, and you can tell by looking at me that it has been a long time since I’ve had a good meal.

Now I am surrounded by ferocious, wild beasts, they’re ready to tear me apart. I am trying to run for my life, but with no food or water, I have no energy for the run. I have no energy to fight. I need to find a place that’s high up where I’ll be safe from the beasts, but even if I found a tree or a tower, there’s no way I’d have energy to climb.

Then suddenly beneath my feet, a highway rises up out of the desert. Even as I am lifted up onto this beautiful road in the desert, the wild beasts are all falling over themselves, falling off the sides of the highway, the sides that are becoming large cliffs. The beasts are tumbling down, but when they stop tumbling and get back on their feet to climb again, they end up just falling again. They’re terribly mad now, growling and roaring with terrible sounds, and I’d be afraid except. . .

I’m on the raised up highway. I’m on a highway that when I look down it, I can see freedom. The highway is lined with beautiful shade trees and flowers. There’s water flowing and food to eat. My clothes have been changed from rags to a beautiful white gown. My energy is restored, my skin is clear, my eyes are bright and alive. I am one of the redeemed on the highway of the Redeemer being led to freedom, life, and salvation.

That’s what it means that you and I are redeemed, that’s what it means that Jesus is your Redeemer, that’s what it means that our Savior is born Christmas Day, that’s what it means to be freed from sin and given the promise of life after death.

Except even though we’re on the highway of the redeemed, if you’re like me, it’s more like you’ve got one foot on the sure highway of the redeemed, and the other foot is hanging off the edge, getting shaken, pulled, scratched, whipped around like 10 NFL defensive linemen tackling a little 5-year old running back. We’re on the highway, but we’re not on the highway yet. We’re the redeemed, those who have been saved by Christ, but we’re still struggling down in this life, struggling against the sins that would keep us in a desert of death of our own making. We’re on a highway to freedom, but we’re still very much locked up in our own sinfulness.

Which brings us back to Advent, as we not only wait to celebrate the birthday of Jesus on Christmas, but Advent meaning we’re also waiting for Jesus to come again. We’re praying that Jesus will come and save us and take us finally to the end of the highway. That He’ll come and lift us up to be completely on that highway in the desert, to lift us above all of the troubles of this world forever. We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It’s not just a table prayer; it’s an Advent prayer; it’s a second coming of Jesus prayer; it’s a prayer of the redeemed waiting to be with their Redeemer forever. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, bring us up to Your highway, bring us to that freedom destination. We are the redeemed, the ones bought back by our Redeemer, who are now waiting for our Redeemer to come again. Come, Lord Jesus, Come quickly.