Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent Midweek 3 Sermon -- Psalm 85 (LSB Advent 3H)

December 17, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us!”

That is not the cry of one who is safe and secure. No, that is the statement of one who is desperate, one who perceives the weight of God’s wrath and displeasure. So the psalmist captures the feeling of the Lord God’s people, all those who dwell on earth and who feel the grips of sin, death, and Satan in their lives.

The psalmist calls for divine aid, for an end to the wrath and displeasure that strikes his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his fellow people: “Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” You can sense the frustration issuing from the psalmist’s heart, mind, and soul. He wants a different exhibition of the Lord God’s feeling toward him and his fellow people: “Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation!”

What the psalmist desires is what the Lord God has promised to deliver. The Lord God speaks through the prophet: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The Lord God does not want His people mired in frustration, but to have them receive His steadfast love and salvation. And as proof of His true feelings for them, He sends the Promised One; He makes good on His promises.

That is how the people’s call for restoration will be answered by the Lord God. The Christ in His redemptive work brings salvation. He does not show indignation, but compassion to the world. The prophet says: “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him.” But this is not the work of a tyrant. The Lord God comes with might, not in brutal conquest, but in liberation and deliverance.

You have heard how the Lord God’s might was used: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” The work of Jesus is steadfast love and salvation. What He provides is the restoration that the psalmist could only partially dream of. Christ’s compassion puts away divine indignation by Himself receiving it in His crucifixion, so that the Lord God could redeem people and deliver them.

But remember how the psalmist begins his lament: “Lord, You were favorable to Your land; You restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger.” What the psalmist describes are all past events. In fact, what Jesus describes as taking place to answer John’s lament is also in the past. There was favor and restoration. There was deliverance and forgiveness. But the psalmist feels beaten down, just as John did in prison; he feels wrath and indignation. And how similar you are to John and Isaiah and the psalmist!

You can take the psalmist’s words and make them your own, for your sin and its effects in your lives will make you likewise cry out for deliverance. Like the psalmist, you ask: “Will You be angry with us forever?” Like the psalmist, your need for forgiveness makes you scream: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us!” The hurt and damage and pain that this world inflicts, both physically and spiritually, brings forth the prayer: “Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation.”

But will the Lord God remain silent? Will He ignore your pleas? The answer is no, but his answer is not always in the way you want or expect. The Lord God answers the same way as He spoke to His people of old: “Comfort, My people. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned.” He attaches His promise of what will happen for you: “The Lord God comes with His might, and His arm rules for Him.” And the promise of return is what undergirds the response of faith and hope that the psalmist and all of the Lord God’s people make: “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.”

That promise is what you cling to, as it is the only hope for those plagued by sin, illness, and the looming specter of death. The nearness of salvation invigorates the weak and gives courage to the fearful. Christ says: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” And that extends to those who place their trust in the promise of His return, those who hold on to that hope in the midst of the toil and troubles of this life. Blessedness comes to those who take no offense at Christ, even as the wait for His return lingers on.

You cry out: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us!” And the Lord God says: “I have already done so. Your pardon and peace have been given; they continue to be given to you as you wait. You have My promise and My guarantee. Believe them.” The Lord God knows your weakness and frailty: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field.” But the Lord God has given you something more secure: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”

That Word says to you: “Your sins are forgiven.” That Word says to you: “You shall have life and have it abundantly.” That Word says to you: “The oppression of sin, death, and Satan will come to an end.” That Word says to you: “Surely salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.” The Lord God’s salvation is one year, one month, one day, nearer to you. So rejoice and take comfort, for what was first promised has already come true: “Blind men see, lame men walk, lepers are clean, deaf men hear, dead men live, poor men are comforted.”

Because “the Word of our God will stand forever,” His second promise will also be fulfilled. That is the message of Advent. Forgiveness, life, and salvation will be yours to keep after this world and all its troubles has ended. Your desperation for divine aid will be met with Christ’s glorious return. For then, the God of your salvation will restore you and His indignation will be put away from you forever.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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