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.