Good morning! Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Christmas Eve is 14 days away! How are your preparations going? Grace and I did most of our decorating this last week. We’re going to put up our tree sometime in the next few days. How’s it going for you?
You know all these lights and decorations are beautiful, but we mustn’t let them detract us from the most important thing. The Lord is far more interested in how we prepare our hearts for his coming, than in how we prepare our house for Christmas Day.
This morning, we heard the story of how God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. But that’s not the whole story. God’s Advent preparations go all the way back to the Garden of Eden because that’s where the trouble started.
If you remember as a result of their sin, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. They were driven out the east gate and a big angel with a flaming sword was stationed there to keep them from sneaking back in. We’ve been living east of Eden ever since.
Along with being expelled from the Garden went a curse that included thorns, thistles, pain, trouble and death. We’re still suffering from this curse today. But even before Adam and Eve left the Garden, God was already at work on a plan to bring us home again.
That plan would demand that His One and Only Son, Jesus, leave heaven, become one of us and then shed his blood on a Roman cross as a sacrifice for our sin. All so that we could be brought home again. That’s what Advent, Christmas, Easter are all about!
Most of you have the heard the story of John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry. Today we read about his miraculous birth. But I want us to go back over 700 years before all this to place to a prophetic word that came through a man named Isaiah.
Let’s open our Bibles to Isaiah 40. Let me give you some background to this text. As I said, it’s some 700 years before Jesus’ birth, 300 years after the glory days of David and Solomon. Israel is rich but sin, depravity, wickedness have overwhelmed the land.
A nation called Assyria has assembled its army to attack Jerusalem. To save themselves, Israel, rather than calling on the Lord attempts to make an alliance with Babylon. When the Babylonian envoys come to Jerusalem the king shows them all the treasures of the temple.
The Lord miraculously delivered Israel from the Assyrians, but Israel continues its idolatrous way. 150 years later, the Babylonians return and ransack Jerusalem. They haul the people away as captives to the sands of faraway Babylon. It appeared that Israel was no more.
Then after 70 years in captivity the Lord miraculously returned these exiles back to their home. They rebuild Jerusalem. It was like a resurrection from the dead. Isaiah 40 foretells this return home across the desert 200 years before the events actually took place. This is a picture of how the Lord is going to come and take us home again. Let’s take a closer look at Isaiah 40. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for…” Isaiah 40:1-2
The way of sin is a terrible road. Satan deceives us into thinking rebellion against God and doing things our own way, is the way to life. Remember the Prodigal Son? He thought he was headed for good times - he ended up slopping hogs wishing he could get home again.
Living out the curse that came with being cast out of Eden isn’t easy. And no matter how hard we try we can’t fix it, we can’t get home again. Life east of Eden is bitter and harsh.
But God isn’t against us, God is for us. He promises that he himself will end the curse and bring us home again. He wants to restore real meaning and purpose to our lives. Note the remainder of this verse, “She has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:2
The meaning of this phrase is not apparent in English. It sounds like the Lord is going to punish us double for all our sins, but that can’t be right. God is just and that’s not just.
To get the meaning we must understand the Hebrew. Isaiah 61:7 helps us out. “Instead of shame, my people will receive a double portion, instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance, they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.” Isaiah 61:7
In Israel, the double inheritance always belonged to the first-born. Who is the first-born of God the Father? It’s Jesus. The double inheritance belongs to him. Because of our sin, we’ve abandoned our birthright. We no longer have an inheritance. All we have is a curse.
But God does something on our behalf that is unheard of. He gives us the inheritance that belongs to Jesus and he places our curse on Jesus. The Apostle Paul calls this the scandal of the Gospel. And it is. Our salvation is a scandalous gift of love and grace.
There’s more. Vs 3-5 “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5
We’re used to hearing these words associated with John the Baptist, but they refer to far more than just that. It was a rugged trip through the wilderness from our exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem. But the Lord himself is going to go with us. He’s not only going to smooth the way, he’s going to become the way. Remember what Jesus said, “I am the Way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through or by way of me.”
Look at vs11, “He tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isa 40:11
Who does that sound like? It’s Jesus, he’s the Good Shepherd who is going to lead us out of the hopelessness of our sin, through the wilderness of this life, over and through every obstacle, back to the new Jerusalem, the new Eden, our home in heaven with him.
There’s more. Jump back to vs 6-8…
“People are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isa 40:6-8
Death is the final no to every human attempt to be our own God. God alone is our source and hope. It’s an act of God’s mercy that we don’t live forever in this broken world. Where did this crazy idea that we don’t need God come from? Look back to the temptation in the Garden where Satan said to Adam and Eve, “You, too, can be like God.”
How could anyone be so naïve as to believe that? I don’t know, except we’ve all done it. Satan was cast out of heaven because he led rebellion with a third of the angels in heaven. He said, “I will exalt myself to be like the most high.”
How can the created ever have the audacity to assume equality with the Creator? It’s a mystery. An even greater mystery: why would the Creator forgive and rescue the rebels who hung him on a cross for the sake of exalting themselves? It’s beyond me!
Here is a love beyond our understanding. But this love of God for sinners like us is the only reason we are alive today. God is completely other than us. He is mightier, more holy, more intelligent, stronger. He is in every way greater and he alone is worthy of our worship.
This omnipotent, omniscient, all mighty God emptied himself of all his glory to be born among us and give his life as a sacrifice for sin that made our forgiveness possible.
He came to exchange his holy inheritance for our curse. He came to be the Good Shepherd that leads us back to our heavenly home through the minefields of this world. What are you going to do with this Jesus? Will you follow him? Will you declare him as your Savior and Lord, or will you resist him and his Lordship and try to do be your own God?
This road through life isn’t easy. But the Lord has come to be with us. Not only will he make a way, he will be the way. Our own strength will run out, but he will see us through and bring us home again. I can’t wait to be home with him for Christmas!
Let’s close by reading these closing verses of Isaiah 40 together. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isa 40:28-31
The message of Advent is that Jesus himself, God in the flesh, has come to save us from our sin, cancel the curse, open the gate of Eden and become the way to bring us home again. Home for Christmas! You know what needs to change in your life. Will you repent of your sinful rebellion and follow Jesus back home again?