December 19, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.”
The heart of darkness had fallen over Israel and Judah. Assyria was beginning its conquest of the Northern Kingdom. Judah had fallen into rank idolatry and paganism, which would lead to its own exile. Judah’s king, Ahaz, had allied himself with Assyria. Judah took up arms against Syria and Israel. Ahaz adopted the worship practices of the nations around him, even having taking the Lord’s altar out of its prominent spot in the Temple and putting a new altar patterned after one in Damascus in its place. The priests were complicit with Ahaz’s plan.
But in the midst of this darkness, the Lord sends his prophet Isaiah. He comes with a great promise: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’” The Lord sends a message that Judah will be delivered, will be saved. That is, if they place their trust in Him.
So Ahaz is instructed to ask for a sign, a proof of this pledge that the Lord makes: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz will not do so. He feigns piety: “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” But the real reason that he cannot ask a sign of the Lord is that his heart is darkened by idolatry and false belief. He does not have the Lord as his god. So Ahaz will not follow the instruction that comes from Him.
But the promise still stands. The Lord will fulfill what His words declared. And so Isaiah tells all to listen and believe: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The Lord will not be left ignored and forgotten. He will not be cast aside forever, not even by Judah’s kings. No, He will make Himself known as supreme: “For out of Zion shall go the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
And so the actions in Nazareth take place. The announcement is made to a virgin betrothed to a descendant of David: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Here the promise is fulfilled. Here the Immanuel—“God with us”—is seen. The gracious visitation of the Lord takes place to lighten darkened hearts. Here is the beginning of a new era.
A new rule is established. It is enacted as the Lord speaks. He teaches His ways, so that you can walk in them. He is present with you to illumine your hearts and minds, so that you know what is good and right. His word goes out and calls you to belief. It promises a place in His kingdom for you. He speaks powerfully, yet graciously, so that your sins are forgiven. His salvation is near to all who fear Him.
This is what the Messiah conceived in the Virgin’s womb brings to you in this world of idolatry and false belief. The darkness of sin and death is all around. But the Word that becomes flesh begins to dispel it. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men,” you will hear again in matter of days at Christmastide. And so you are drawn to it, called to follow: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Jesus’ gracious visitation is here now. It is here in the Gospel words spoken for you to hear and believe. It is here in the proofs of the pledge, in the signs of your salvation: baptism, absolution, eucharist. His words of promise are made. His words of life are given. They make you a part of His realm. You are among the nations and people who have come to the mountain of the Lord and the house of the God of Jacob. He has taught you His ways and set you as disciples to walk in His paths. For the Lord knows well the darkness of your hearts. He has watched it affect His people of many times and places. But He has not stood idly by. He has acted for your benefit. He has come and dwells among you, being Immanuel for you.
Your call is to receive this. Your call is to listen to His fulfilled words of promise and believe them. The sign given as the virgin conceived marks salvation for you: Jesus does indeed save His people. When He speaks, you receive His benefits. So your desire is to hear it: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” No more folly like Ahaz, chasing after false promises and making himself a slave to idols. Instead, you have the Lord’s true wisdom that His words bring, the light that shines in the darkness of your hearts. So may you say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.