(The audio file is here)
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" Pt 5
(The audio file is here)
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Pt 5
Isaiah 35.1-10 (Revelation 3.7-13)
O LORD, raise up your power, we pray, and come among us, and with great might aid us; that whereas, through our own sins and wickedness we are sorely impeded and hindered in running the race that is set before us, may your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There are at least two dangerous directions people take when looking at a passage like Isaiah 35. First, there are those who see these promises and think, “Aha! Utopia! We can advance the kingdom of God and bring heaven on earth!” Most Utopian movements—Whether Marxist-Leninism, social justice advocacy, or Christian America-ism—have this sense behind them. But history has taught us (and God through history) that every attempt at Utopia only ends in Dystopia and desolation! Second, there are those who go to the other direction and say, “Well, this is all beautiful, and such. And, yes, it will only come about after Christ returns. But presently it is safely off at a distance; the here and now is utterly disconnected from the there and then.” This perspective breeds the “No need to polish brass on a sinking ship” syndrome. But I hope to show you that what God has promised in Isaiah 35 has already begun—though it has not opened up into full-flower yet—and it will explosively fill out and come to completion at just the right time. And this hopefulness is clearly echoed in the final verse of our Advent Carol: “O come, thou Key of David, come And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.” As this verse also bleeds Bible and glistens Gospel, we hear it reflecting on and praying Isaiah 35, with the promise of a new world (35.1-7) and a new way (35.8-10).
New World (35.1-7): In Genesis 3, what came about as a result of Adam’s fall and Eve’s defection? Creation was cursed; weeds, dust, sweat and death. Adam and Eve are exiled outside of Eden into a wilderness that was not flowing with milk and honey, but rather with ragweed and poison ivy! But then here in Isaiah it is foretold how the Curse will be Reversed! This beautiful description of a new heavens and earth (35.1-2, 6b-7) revolve around human renovation (35.3-6a). The shocker is that Jesus claims to have launched this moment! “And Jesus answered them, “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” (Matthew 11.4-6). But then again 35.1-2 and 6b-7 remind us that surrounding humanities’ renovation is cosmic transformation! Romans 8.18-25.
Maybe you’re sitting there saying inside your head, “Well, nice. But I don’t see any of this, don’t you know! I don’t see with my own eyes any empirical evidence that this new world and new wellness has begun! So, maybe, Mike, you’ve flipped your lid.” Well, yes, you may be correct, and I’m bonkers. The “empirical evidence” is a bit scanty. But isn’t that why the writer of Hebrews said what he said in Hebrews 2.8-9? “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” We don’t see all of this just yet, but we do see Jesus! And that’s the point! Christ Jesus is the New Creation Man. God’s new creation is introduced in Christ; and it is through Jesus, by his becoming part of creation in his conception in blessed Mary’s womb, his embryonic growth, his birth, holy life, teaching, death, resurrection and enthronement that God has already opened up the beginning of the reversal of the old, settled, long-established, inhospitable situations of the old creation order into a new thing: into new life, new wholeness, new hospitality, new creation! (1) This is why as Christians we are concerned about families, nations, tribes being at peace. (2) This is why Christians care so deeply about divorce, adultery, incest and pornography etc. which only continue to breed the old order of beastly darkness and brutal destructiveness. (3) This is why celebrators of Christmas attend to poverty, racism, sickness, dying people, foreigners (both legal and otherwise) and the creation itself, because God has come and God has become part of creation in that little human embryo that developed and grew and was born a little baby boy! And in coming he has put the old savage order on notice: “Time’s up. Your day is at an end! Sickness, death, class bigotry, and brutal injustice are being done away because of my incarnation, life, death and resurrection! And when I return, I will judge both the living and the dead to see if you have been part of my new creation remedy or if you have continued to be part of the old order disease!”
And so this pregnant scenario gives birth to renewed courage, restoring vigor, strength, and life where once there was only limping lameness (35.3). This renewed courage flows from the promise that God will come, and that he will come to set all wrongs to right (35.4b), and he brings full deliverance and salvation (35.4c). Rightly the choir sang: “He comes the prisoners to release, in Satan’s bondage held. The gates of brass before him burst, the iron fetters yield. He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure, and with the treasures of his grace, to enrich the humbled poor” (Philip Doddridge, “Hark, The Glad Sound!”). Hebrews 2.14; 1 John 3.5 and 8b; Galatians 1.4! Therefore, if Jesus himself is the initiation, the launching of God’s New Creation Program, then where should you want to be? What ought you to be longing for, yearning for and aching for? “O come, thou Key of David, come And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.” And God’s new world is closely connected to God’s new way.
New Way (35.8-10): The new world must cause a new way. This New Creation must mean a re-formation of life-style from the heart outward! It’s no surprise that the way upward to the city, to Zion, is the Way of Holiness; the way devoid of the “unclean” who desire to remain in their uncleanness. It is the way devoid of ravenous beasts (whether the manipulative, devouring, or viciously consuming kind) and the way that will be full of those going further on and further up! 1 John 2.15-17…inside-out change of habits, reactions, etc. “O come, thou Key of David, come And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.”
Now, you might be asking, ‘Why is there a highway going in the City-of-God direction?’ That’s a good question. It because it is the highway back from exile, back from “the east of Eden,” and God has initiated the way of return to his own joyous, peace-enriched, love-lavished City. And our Lord Jesus the Messiah is that Way, that truth and that life. No one can come to the Father, nor into this new creation life, but by him: “O come, thou Key of David, come And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.” And if we’re walking this Highway of holiness then we are no longer part of the devious, devouring, manipulative beasts, but rather the rejoicing, released, ransomed pilgrims who are on the way home and are calling others to come and join with us, who obtain “gladness and joy” and who watch as “sorrow and sighing flee away” (35.10)! “O come, thou Key of David, come And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Therefore, as you sing this Advent carol, smile and laugh, because God’s New Creation has begun; and shout: Joy to the World! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her king! No longer dare we settle in and sorrowfully say with Mr. Tumnus in the Chronicles of Narnia, “it’s always winter and never Christmas.” Now dance and be free to take delight! And pray this verse for all, pray for our country, pray for our world, pray for our brothers and sisters in Chengdu China, Cameroon, Nigeria, Venezuela, pray for your family, pray for yourselves: “O come, thou Key of David, come And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.”