1st Wednesday of Advent
Come, O Come, Emmanuel and rescue us the captive Israel! Amen. The word of God for our consideration this evening is from the book of Isaiah chapter 4 (read text). In the name of Jesus, our branch, dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In order for us to really understand the text before us we have to understand what just came before it. This past Sunday we heard from chapter 2 of Isaiah where God gave the Israelites a glimpse of the future glory of God’s kingdom when the Messiah would come and establish His kingdom. Then the rest of chapter 2 and chapter 3 go on to describe the sin of Judah and what God is about to do. First, he talks about what Judah looks like: they are full of the superstitions of the East, they practice divination like the Philistines, their land is full of silver and gold, full of horses and chariots, their land is also full of idols, they bow down to the work of their hands. And because of all that the Lord is about to take away from Judah her supply and support. People will oppress each other, a man will grab one of his brothers and say, “You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!” But he will cry out, “I have no remedy, I have no food or clothing in my house, don’t make me the leader.” It goes on, they parade their sin like Sodom, they will bring destruction on themselves. In that day 7 women will take hold of one man and say, “We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace.”
Wow! What’s all that mean? Why 7 women wanting to marry one man? Well, all the men will be gone – either died or in exile- and the women are willing to provide for themselves but they just want the honor of being married! People are grabbing a guy and trying to make him their leader simply because he has a cloak! Can you imagine that? Asking someone to be the president simply because he owns a winter coat??! Judah was such a mess that’s what it was going to be like. Judah’s sins were so grievous that God was about to carry out judgment on them and allow foreign nations to invade them, exile them, and destroy their land.
What do you think it would have been like to be an Israelite hearing this? Or an Israelite experience such disaster? Might you be led to question: what’s going on? We’re ruined! God’s left us! We’re losing, the enemies are winning! Is it all helpless? Is it all hopeless?
And so, our lives as believers can often feel the same way. As we look at the world around us we see Christian values that once were upheld are now crumbling and people live however they see fit. Things that would have been considered shameful 50 years ago are now common place on TV or on the Internet or in magazines. The number of people who profess to be Christians is on a decline while those who profess to be Muslim is on incline.
And then we look at our own lives. And we struggle. We try to serve God faithfully, try to live uprightly and morally and righteously, try to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first, but then we see how we struggle again and again and again. We fall into the same temptations again and again, the same sins keep raising their ugly heads in our lives, our conscience still troubles us for sins we committed years ago, we still lie awake at night thinking, “How could I have done such a wicked thing and sinned against God?” How could God love someone like me?
The OT Israelites could empathize. God had great expectations of them and they failed. They were to be the Lighthouse for the world to show the world who the true God is, but they failed, they were worse than the heathen nations around them! How could God love such a SINFUL nation? It’s as if they were supposed to be this glorious tree, but now, because of their unfaithfulness they were an ugly, gnarly stump.
And then out of the blue comes this message from God: “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.” That nation may be an old, ugly stump, BUT out of that stump a branch will sprout, life will come bursting out of that old stump. Who is this “branch”? It’s a picture of Jesus, the coming Messiah!
He will be the true King. Unlike so many of the Kings of Israel. Over and over again we hear descriptions of Judah’s kings: “they failed to get rid of the high places” or “their hearts weren’t totally devoted to the Lord.” Even Judah’s good kings had their failings. And some of their kings were just atrocious: stealing from the people, abusing their power, one king during Jeremiah’s time even took God’s Word recorded by Jeremiah and tore it apart and burned it bit by bit!
But this branch is totally different. What would this branch do for the people? “Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.” Instead of this “branch” hurting the people, this branch only helps. He cleanses the people! Here it’s pictured as a cleansing after a war, that “the branch” washes away the filth and the blood from His people. You see, sin has a way of leaving us battered and bruised. Sin can “cut” us, can hurt us, can tear us up. When I sin, I hurt. I feel dirty, filthy. But Jesus’ death on the cross cleans me, washes my filth away. When someone sins against me, I can feel wounded, bruised, battered. Jesus’ forgiveness is healing, for it reminds us of our relationship with God- He’s forgiven me and because of that I’m going to heaven. Jesus’ forgiveness then motivates us to reflect forgiveness to that person who’s hurt me, and through that forgiveness, God heals me!
And there’s even more! This branch will not go away! He’ll stay with me, with His protecting love! As a good king should, He brings real safety to His people. Here, He reminds the Israelites of that truth by alluding to part of the Exodus. “Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy.” When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He led them by the pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, reminding them of God’s presence with them. Then when the Egyptians came storming after them, the pillar stood between the Egyptians and the Israelites, giving the Israelites protection. And so this “branch,” Jesus, will continue to do so for His people. He’ll continue to protect, continue to keep us safe. No, not necessarily in regards to earthly things, but in regards to what really matters: the spiritual, the eternal.
And so what a branch you have! At first the picture seems so humble – a branch coming out of a stump. It looks so humble, there’s so little glory. And sure enough, Jesus came to this earth in a tremendously humble way – born of a virgin, in a stable, placed in a manger.
But make no mistake; this branch is beautiful! And glorious! He’s bringing you the forgiveness you need, bringing you and me the healing from our sins, standing over us with His protecting love, throughout our lives. This branch is beautiful and glorious! Amen.