New Year Day and Christmas 1, Glen Carbon, Il. 2017
Isaiah 63:1-14 – I will tell of the loving kindnesses of the Lord.
Once more the earth has spun its yearly circuit of seasons and with its daily cycle of light and darkness. A second orbit is the one we followers of Christ make in our own daily life, orbiting around Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the Light which came into the world, the Sun of Righteousness who shines in our lives in the days when all seems light and happiness; as well as, the dark times, when all appears to be grey and foggy. The Psalmist wrote of the Lord, “Even the darkness is not dark to you…for darkness is as light with you.”
God’s Son also spoke in the beginning when, “God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.” Indeed, “All things were made through him” and Jesus continues to “uphold the universe by the power of his Word.” Therefore, author of Psalm 148, calls out to the earth,
Praise the Lord, sun and moon and shining stars.
Praise the Lord, you great sea monsters,
fire and hail, snow and ice,
stormy wind that obey his voice.
Praise the Lord, mountains and hills,
fruit trees and cedars,
the beasts and all the cattle,
creeping creatures and winged birds.
Praise the Lord, all kings and commoners,
young men and maidens, old and young together.
Yet, God does not primarily present himself in his power and majesty. Nor in his warnings, “You must not,” “Do not.” Luther writes, “Divinity may terrify man. Inexpressible majesty will crush him. That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.” Now we have a third orbit, for God has encircled us with his care and gracious deeds. For He is truly Immanuel, God with us from, January 1 to December 31. He is God with us, 24/7. With us in the abundance of his loyalty to his promises and the bounty of his goodness. God’s actions toward us are born out of who God is, the God of “Loving kindnesses.”
Loving Kindnesses are in God’s heart. In an Epiphany sermon, Luther has God saying, “I give unto you all My grace, love and blessing, which I have in my heart…My beloved Son…My very heart, the true, eternal fountain of all grace and good.” Luther asks, “What more could He have given or done for us, and what greater or better thing could anyone’s heart desire or conceive?”
For Israel, the heart of God was in the loving the kindnesses when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and the Lord drove back the water by a strong east wind. Isaiah tells how God, “brought them through the deep sure-footed as horses in open country, like cattle moving down into a valley guided by the spirit of the Lord.” God led them in the wilderness in a column of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
God showed his loving kindnesses daily in the wilderness and continued after they settled, with blessings of land, food, security and prosperity and the loyalty of God’s friendship. God has shown us his great favor in house, home, heat, cooled air, cars, and wide screen TV’s and computers by which we can keep in contact with one another. We are blessed with family, friends and fellow church members who care about us. God acts in tenderness, “As one whom his mother comforts so I will comfort you…comfort, comfort you my people.” Through the prophet Jeremiah, God muses, “How wonderful it would be to treat you like children and give you a beautiful land…and I thought, You will call me father, and you won’t turn away from me.” Isaiah also listens in as God says, “Surely they are my…children who will not deal falsely.” God would care for his people with a mother’s tenderness and a father’s protective love for his children. And whenever Israel was bullied by any other people he himself felt their trouble. He delivered them himself in his love and compassion. When they stumbled, he lifted them up and carried them.
God tells Israel, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people (that I chose you) …for you were the fewest of all peoples. It is because the Lord loves you” and is keeping his promise which he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He saw Israel, because they were the lowest of the low. God Cannot see us when we put ourselves above him, for there is nothing above God. Nor is there anything beside God for none are his equal. God can see us best when we are lowly and humble. When as Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life must lose it. Whoever would be great must be your servant, for the son of man came not to be served but to serve.”
Yet though God became their savior servant, “they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit.” Could God have been so naïve as to think he could choose one people from all the peoples of the world who would be different than all the rest? Well, apparently, he did. How did that work out? Let’s look at ourselves and see. When we were brought to the font for baptism, God, through the water and the word washed us clean of all sin, then tells us you are holy, you are a new person, a new creation and “I am making you my temple my home here on earth. Therefore, live lives as pure and holy as I the Lord your God am holy. I have delivered you from the realm of darkness into my marvelous light. Live in the light.”
You know how we are. We fail even as Israel failed. I thought that a good New Year’s resolution for 2017 would be to praise God more as psalm 148 calls us to do. To wake up every morning with praise and thankfulness to God for a night’s sleep and to go to bed at night with thanksgiving for the blessings of the day, and during the day live with cheerful resolve and put away evil thoughts and complaining. But what actually happens. At the end of each day, I need to drown my old sinful nature in my baptism so that a new person gets out of bed in the morning. This has been going on over 75 years, and I still can’t get it right. Every Sunday I must be back at church to join in the confession of sins and hear that my failures are forgiven.
Through Jesus Christ, God’s grace is sufficient to come to terms with our failure to live faithfully as his chosen people. As we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans, we are children of God through faith. We were baptized into Christ and we have put on Christ. We are a holy people, the Redeemed of the Lord. More than 50 times during 2017 we will hear as we leave the service, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” And so, it shall be as we depart, with our faith nourished with his body and blood and the name of the Lord imprinted on our hearts and lives. Whether 2017 is a happy year or not, it will filled with the Lord’s loving Kindnesses.