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Too Good to Be True?

November 22, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation for this last Sunday of the Church year comes from our Old Testament text where Isaiah records the Word of YHWH, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

One year ago, we started doing something we’ve not done before here at St. James: we started utilizing the historic one-year lectionary. With its different readings and emphases, we’ve often seen these texts, and how they connect, in new and unique ways. Looking back now, especially as we approach a brand-new church year and a return to the three- year series, I can say it’s been a fun journey … but let’s be honest, the year in which we underwent this journey was something of a dumpster fire.

I doubt that’s a controversial statement. Thankful as we are for all the blessings God so freely and graciously bestows upon us—chief among them is the gift of His Word—the year in which we’ve gone through the one-year lectionary has been among the most dismal, disappointing, upsetting, unsettling, and trying years in recent history. Without going into the minutiae of why this year has been so rough—as if I needed to—it’s safe to say we’ve all been affected. Overall, we’re more disheartened and depressed, angry that even our holidays aren’t immune (pardon the pun) to the ravages of this terrible year. I’ve said it more than a handful of times, and I’m sure you have too: “2020 can take a long walk off a short pier.”

Thus, it’s understandable to hear the words of our Old Testament lesson and feel somewhat … unconvinced. There seems to be a disconnect between these beautiful words of YHWH through His mouthpiece Isaiah and the reality of living in this broken world. “… be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create”? “… no more shall be heard … the sound of weeping and the cry of distress”? “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain”? Given the current circumstances in our world, this sounds too good to be true, and as Grandpa Heckert was wont to say, “If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it usually is.”

Normally, that is sound advice; I’m assuming everyone would meet the news of a long-lost relative leaving you a massive fortune … with no small amount of skepticism. For good or for ill, suspicion and cynicism are endemic to the human experience. Thus, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the mindset of the people to whom Isaiah was writing: the captive Judahites, trudging their way to, or already languishing in, Babylon. This once proud people had been brought low … very low … driven into the dirt by the hordes of Babylonian conquerors. To be sure, it was not undeserved; they had whored themselves out to false gods, abused the poor and the destitute, abused the power and gifts entrusted to them. The Messianic people … shattered their commitment to keeping God’s covenant. They relished in their hatred for their neighbor, and they adored their false gods pilfered from surrounding peoples. They deserved everything they got and more when God used Babylon as the agent of His wrath … and here they were, reaping the destruction they’d sown in their sin, slogging through the blistering wilderness to captivity.

I can imagine the few faithful amongst that faithless people trying to encourage their brothers and sisters in chains. No doubt, they would have quoted our very text: “I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. … They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

We can see how some might hear these words and disparage them.  After all, Jerusalem had fallen, the people were in distress, helpless and at the mercy of their foreign captors. All these words of encouragement, these reminders of YHWH’s eternal faithfulness, the promises He had made to His people … likely fell on many deaf ears. But the words of YHWH given through His prophets aren’t always about the immediate context. He’s not a genie granting wishes at your whims. His words of promise don’t always find their fulfillment in the here and now, and His words may not always seem pragmatic … but that doesn’t mean that they have no value.

On the contrary, YHWH Elohim has a history of making promises … and a strong reputation for keeping them. While many who were marched along that desert highway to Babylon wouldn’t live to see the Persian redemption of Judah, they still had the promise that God would act in His own time. He would keep His promises … and He has, and He does, and He will. He did protect His people through their captivity in Babylon. He did overthrow that wicked nation by using the rod of His wrath, Cyrus of Persia. He did bear His people Judah back through the wilderness to Jerusalem. He did, through the promptings of prophets and leaders, rebuild the city and the temple. And “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

That is, after all, who all of YHWH’s promises pointed to. In the history of the world to this point, there have been no greater promises given – and fulfilled – than those concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ. He was born of a virgin woman, from the line of Judah, in the city of David. He did keep God’s Law perfectly. He did heal and teach and amaze and infuriate. He was lead silently like a lamb to the slaughter in the house of Pontius Pilate, who in turn delivered Him over to be crucified. He was wounded for our transgressions, and He was crushed for our iniquities. Wicked men did cast lots for His clothing, even as they gloated and mocked over His unspeakable suffering. He did die upon the cross of Calvary after accomplishing all necessary things. His lifeless body was placed into the tomb of a rich man, a sinner. He did rise from the dead, just as He said He would. He did appear numerous times to His disciples. He did ascend to heaven, where He is ruling over His people with justice and equity. Does that sound too good to be true? No doubt. But all these promises were foretold … and all were accomplished! Exactly as He said they would be!

God is God, and when He makes a promise, He keeps it. That’s who He is. And there’s one promise yet to be accomplished, one that I’d wager we’ve all been praying would be accomplished in the near future here. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” In this COVID-laden, politically unstable, nasty, vitriolic world in which we live, does that sound too good to be true? Probably, but it is true, and it is truly good. We were not promised health, wealth, and happiness. But what we were promised … is that Jesus is coming back, to make all things new, once and for all … and like all His promises, in His time, it’s a promise that He will keep.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.