Sermon – Epiphany 2 – January 20, 2019
Isaiah 62:1-5 ‘You Are Beautiful’
CT: Against all odds and in contradiction to what we see the visible church to be, God sees something different, wonderful, and filled with rejoicing for you and me.
Intro: A wedding is supposed to be a joyous event, but it’s often filled with stress as people fuss over every detail; the day has to be perfect for the bride. The groom stands nervously in front waiting to make those serious yet frightening promises; “…till death us do part!” I often remind the groom to breathe easy because all eyes will be fixed on the bride. The bride is always beautiful!
A young mother of 3 flops down on the couch; the kids are finally asleep, the house still looks like a tornado went through it, her husband is working late, and she hasn’t even had a moment to look into a mirror today. That’s when her eyes catch her wedding photo—“I was so beautiful then!”
The elderly man gently brushes the silver white hair from her face and looks into her blue eyes; he sees past the age spots and smile wrinkles. He gently takes hold of her hands, gnarled and twisted by hard work and the ravages of arthritis, and says: “You are the most beautiful woman in the whole world.”
Ugly: How beautiful do you feel right now? So much can take away that wedding day kind of feeling; people, things, events, age; illness can leave us feeling betrayed, abandoned, desolate, and not so attractive. And it doesn’t always have to be the big things that get us down; sometimes it’s the little things, or a combination of them.
Isaiah wrote to people who didn’t feel very beautiful; ugly, unwanted, and abandoned might fit. Their land and homes were ravaged and destroyed by war. Their nation, their temple, their families were busted and torn apart. They were forced to live with people they did not know and in places they did not choose. They were told that their God was nothing—they were nothing; either fit in and be part of us or perish!
Our culture squeezes us to fit too. Think of the pressure to accept without question the prevailing views on marriage, human sexuality, or the sanctity of human life. Peer pressure is real and not just for teens. Why is marriage disregarded while living together is widely accepted as the new normal? Where does that come from? Does what your neighbour have effect what you want? Why do you deserve a vacation, a new car…why do our children have to be in hockey, football, soccer, basket ball…why does a mother murder a young teen to make way for her daughter on the cheerleading team?
And to many people in our communities, the church and your faith, well being maybe fine for you, for them is quite irrelevant. People seem to do quite well without it! Besides, the church has an ugly side to it! The visible church has plenty of warts and wrinkles. Even I feel ugly when I see how powerless the words of Law and Gospel , warning and encouragement given me seem to be against the pressures our culture exerts on fellow Christians.
Bride: But to us who feel far less than beautiful in the here and now, God gives Isaiah words that express how God sees you and me. No, these words are not about the nation of Israel or a strip of land in the Middle East or a city with a new stone temple. God is not silent about His promise for the one holy Christian Church; the communion of saints. Isaiah was given to tell of the coming Christ; His birth, and what He would do for us. He told of His suffering and dying and rising again for the forgiveness of all of our sins with uncanny detail. But He also saw the beauty the Christ would accomplish in you and me; the people God calls as His own. Isaiah describes this Church—us guys—His gathered people—as glorious!
To the world, the Christian church looks anything but glorious, yet Yaweh says “He will not be quiet until His Church’s righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a burning torch.” Sometimes all we can see are the warts and the wrinkles—a church persecuted and ridiculed by the world. But this does not stop the Lord from proclaiming His message of grace and mercy. It is out of the cross and the work of our Redeemer—our God involved in the nitty-gritty of our lives—our God who took the ugliness of our sin and covered it with the brightness—the whiteness—the beauty of the Bride that He now calls us “My Delight is in Her”, and our place in which we live as the securest of all possible; “Married.” He uses the metaphor of marriage; not the way we butcher it or fail in it, but as God made it to be.
Speak Up: It is God who has called, enlightened, and made His own into a people who have become His Zion and Jerusalem. Because of God’s work for us and in us, Isaiah calls you beautiful—“a royal diadem in the hand of our God.” He invested His time in you—His prophets—His Son’s blood—the power of His Gospel to be “a people for His own possession that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Yes, there are times when the power of the world, the devil, and our own sinful nature seems to leave the church looking weak and desolate. Yet in Ephesians 3 we read that through the Christian Church “the manifold wisdom of God is being made known (not just on earth, but) to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Through the eyes of faith we see the beauty of God’s Church—His people (in each other). Look at the person beside or behind you and see the beauty of God’s redeeming love. They are someone for whom Christ died; someone in whom the blood of Jesus has cleansed of every sin; someone whom God has welcomed into His family; they are your brother or sister in Christ! The warts and wrinkles only serve to remind us that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14) We know that we are not deserted or desolate now or ever because of the trustworthiness of Jesus; His cross and His empty tomb are for you. Through the waters of your Baptism you have the daily reminder that you are, in effect, married to Christ; securely bound to Him in the way God designed it. Cared for, protected, and no longer abandoned, we submit to Him, enjoy His love, and find eternal joy and happiness in Him. God creates in you and me a desire to live within the pleasant places He has designed for all mankind—to fear, love, and trust God above all things that we strive to keep His commandments.
God’s joy is in His Church—in you, while we rejoicing in His grace radiate His beauty; the forgiven people of God who struggle to see how God is doing that in us and others. May God give you and me the strength of faith to see His beauty in our midst.