Good News for the Desolate and Forsaken

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The text for today is our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 62:1-5, which has already been read.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Imagine a prisoner, sitting chained in a dark dungeon for years.  The hopelessness, the loneliness, the desolation, the feeling of being totally forsaken by everyone, including God.  Nothing could be sadder, could it?
Actually, it could be sadder.  It is sadder.  Because what this prisoner doesn’t realize is that she is not alone.  The darkness has kept her from seeing that there are many other sisters and brothers right there all around her.  The silence—hers and that of her fellow captives—has kept her from realizing that she is not alone.  Many others are held in the same chains. 
And to make matters even worse, the darkness and silence have kept all of them from realizing that the doors to their prison were flung wide open long ago.  They’ve sat silently enduring this feeling of desolation and forsakenness because they didn’t realize that their release had already been secured, their chains loosed.  They would have only needed to step out of the darkness, and their own shouts of gratitude would have alerted the others that their release had been won.
What could bring such darkness?  What could leave such silence?  Sin and the effects of sin—guilt and shame, anger and despair.  It could be any sin, but particularly today, as we are observing the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, I want to speak about the sin of abortion.  Yes, abortion is political and controversial.  But, at its core, it is a sin, deserving of God’s wrath and condemnation.  But it also a sin for which the penalty has already been paid.  Jesus is the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world.  By His blood He atones for the sins of all people.  His blood cleanses us from the stain of every sin and gives us a good conscience. 
That’s why we are compelled to speak out today.  We dare not remain silent.  While we are very clear to declare that abortion is not an unforgivable sin, we also make it clear that it is sin!  Abortion destroys, in very brutal ways, 3,000 times a day in this country, a tiny human life.  Abortion destroys a life gifted and created by God.  Abortion destroys a life for whom Jesus was born and died.  Therefore a Christian cannot legitimately defend abortion as a right or a good choice.       
But as tragic as this fact is, those little babies are less than half of the victims of abortion, though understandably, they get almost all of the attention.  I speak today on behalf of the millions of women and men who have been left desolate and forsaken because of this sin.  I do this, knowing that since 75% of those who’ve had an abortion are professed Christians, there could very well be someone listening today who has been affected by abortion.  You may feel like the people Isaiah was talking to when they realized the gravity of their sin: “We hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom” (59:9b). 
If that describes you, if that describes any of you because of any sin in your life, God has Good News for you today!  If you have had an abortion or pressured someone into an abortion, I’d especially like to talk with you right now.  You other sinners can listen in because we all need to hear this; but we don’t talk about abortion much in church and so those struggling with this sin and its effects don’t always hear the Good News applied specifically to them.  But I hope that you are hearing it today!  Take what you are hearing personally.  God’s restoration of the sinner is a complete restoration.  No matter what that sin!
You are precious to God, like a royal diadem—a crown of beauty, a badge of honor.  You may feel like you sit in darkness, but you walk in the light.  You may feel forsaken, but you are God’s delight.  It may seem like you are desolate and alone, but you are married, joined to God by His great love for you.  Indeed, He rejoices over you as a bridegroom over His beautiful bride.
Yes, this is Good News.  So stunningly good we are compelled to ask, “How can this be?” 
It comes as God’s gift through His Son Jesus Christ.  God restores us as “royal diadems” by emptying Himself of His divine royalty and taking the form of a servant.  God restores us as “crowns of beauty” by impaling His Son with a crown of thorns and nailing Him to a cross.  The blood that flowed from that cross cleanses the blood on our hands because of sin and our toleration of sin. 
This Good News comes as a gift from God through Jesus.  The only reason we can be called “My Delight” is because God made His Son in whom He delighted the Forsaken One.  God placed all of our unspeakable and idolatrous sins upon Jesus.  God forsook Him.  God turned His face away from Jesus so He could shine His face upon us and delight in us.
The only reason we can be called “Married” is because God made Jesus “Desolate.”  What Jesus suffered on that cross was more than torturous physical pain.  Jesus suffered the very desolation of eternal hell we all deserved.  What love that God would condemn His Son so He could rejoice over us!  Now, nothing separates us from that love.  Nothing stands between us and God.  We are married! 
The Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, gave Himself up for us, that He might sanctify us, having cleansed us by the washing of the water with the Word, so that He might present us to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish.  We, the Bride of Christ, are no longer abandoned, but reconciled, cared for, and protected.
Nevertheless, we live in a fallen world.  The darkness, the desolation, and the forsakenness make it so easy to forget the victory that has already been won on our behalf.  Though he is defeated, our enemy, Satan, seeks to take as many of God’s people with him as he can.  He seeks to separate us from Christ and His love.  As followers of Christ, we are in the middle of a spiritual battle.  
Two things need to be remembered as we consider this spiritual warfare.  First, we know that Satan is a liar, the father of lies, the arch-deceiver.  We therefore are likely to be outwitted by him if we rely on our own knowledge, experience, and power.  Second, we know that Satan masquerades as “an angel of light.”  He seldom, if ever, shows his true face.  He deceives us into looking to ourselves—our own resources and feelings—for answers to life’s challenges and achievements.  He tricks us into believing that right is wrong and wrong is right. 
The strategy of Satan is clever and yet simple.  He concentrates on attacking the two strongholds that are occupied by Christ here on earth.  The first stronghold is the Church, the beautiful, delightful Zion and Jerusalem of our text.  Christ, the Lamb of God, is present in the Church.  So wherever the Church assembles on earth, its prayers and praises undo the work of Satan.  The Church, therefore, is the main enemy of the evil one.  But he cannot destroy it, for it has been given a safe place by God, a place where it remains out of the devil’s reach.
The second stronghold of Christ is the conscience of each Christian.  Each person with a good conscience is a stronghold of Christ in enemy territory, a place where Christ is present and active.  And Jesus uses us as a base for His counterattack on Satan.  We are His elite troops, lamps through which His light shines out into the night and routs the power of darkness.  Voices that will not remain silent, but who warn of danger and point to safety and freedom in Christ.  Since Satan cannot destroy the Church, he sets out to destroy its disciples.  So, perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that God’s people are drawn into the same sins, at about the same rate, as the rest of the world.
But what is surprising is how God uses even Satan’s attacks to fulfill His plans for us.  The devil, says Luther, is God’s fool.  He unwittingly ends up doing God’s work.  Satan’s strategy usually backfires on him by driving people to Christ rather than away from Him, to deliver us from the darkness and bondage of sin.
Permit me this illustration to demonstrate how this works.  Before I went to the seminary, my family and I lived on the edge of Freeman, South Dakota.  We had an older home, but half of a city block for our backyard.  Plenty of room for the kids to play and for me to have a garden.  On the edge of the garden, I had a compost pile, where I put all the lawn clippings, dead plants, and fallen leaves. 
We soon found a major problem with a compost pile: snakes and mice loved it.  The warmth of the composting materials attracted the cold-blooded creatures, and the food scraps attracted the mice.  Though the snakes tended to limit my wife’s excursions to the garden, it was the mice that bothered me.  If they would have just kept to the compost, I could have lived with them; but they had the uncanny ability to find the tomatoes the night before I was ready to pick them.
There are two ways to get rid of mice from a backyard.  You can poison them.  But that is, at best, a temporary solution, because as long as we continued to put the food scraps onto the compost pile, other mice would move in and replace those poisoned.  What’s worse, the poison can kill other creatures.  The better alternative is to eliminate the food source.  No garbage, no mice!
That’s how Christ deals with Satan and the evil powers that threaten to infest us.  He gets rid of evil by getting rid of the garbage we produce and stow away in our souls.  He cleans out what is unclean in us so that it cannot be used against us.  Sin makes us spiritually unclean.  Like composting garbage, it taints our souls and stains our conscience so that we feel uneasy and out of place in God’s presence. 
That goes both for the evil that we do and the evil that is done to us.  The evil that we do makes us feel guilty and afraid of God; we fear His disapproval and dread His rejection of us.  The evil that is done to us, fills us with anger and hatred against those who have abused us.  We withdraw into ourselves because we feel too tainted to be of any worth to God and the people around us. 
In both cases, we feel so ashamed of ourselves that we conceal the problem.  In the first case we cover up our guilt and shame; in the second case we cover up anger and hatred.  We therefore repress the sin and its effect on us, like hiding our rotting garbage in the basements of our homes.  Yet the evil still remains; it festers away and contaminates our souls, like a secret infection in our bodies.  That hidden garbage opens up a window of opportunity for Satan, who is an expert in impurity.
Because we belong to Christ, Satan has no real spiritual power over us.  The only hold Satan has on us is his skillful use of our hidden garbage.  He persuades us to keep it hidden in the dark recesses of our minds so deeply that we barely know either its cause or effect on us.  Then, when the time is ripe, our evil secrets are brought out, like a trump card, and wielded against us.  So Satan not only gets us to cover up the dirt in our lives, he also digs it up and throws it in our face.
Christ deals with the impurity from our sin in two ways.  On the one hand, He covers up our guilt and shame with His own righteousness and holiness so that we can stand before God and our fellow saints with a good conscience.  At first, He concentrates on rebuilding our faith in God’s goodness and our love for our brothers and sisters in the family of God.  He does not encourage us to discover the evil in our hearts, but He gets us to rely on the Father’s grace and mercy. 
Then, when we are ready for it, He allows Satan to dig up some sin or offense so that we let Christ deal with it and fix it up.  The devil loses another foothold in our souls; His darkness is exposed and expelled by the light.
Christ also uses the Law to diagnose our spiritual condition.  The Ten Commandments have been given to us as an instrument for the examination of our consciences.  Like a mirror, they help us to see ourselves as God sees us.  They identify the sins that need to be confessed and the offenses that need to be healed.  And they lead us to contrition and repentance, to make us ready to hear the Good News of full salvation that has already been won for us in Jesus Christ.
St. John writes:  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Did you hear that?  All unrighteousness!  This is Good News!  No matter what the sin.  It is completely covered.  There is nothing for us to do.  There is nothing left to do.  We receive this gift through faith and humbly rejoice.
But we do not rejoice to ourselves.  When you have really Good News like this, you can’t keep silent.  Isaiah couldn’t.  “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch” (v 1).  The blessings God prepared for His people are too important and too wonderful to keep hidden.
The Epiphany season is about making known this Good News.  It’s about shining the brightness of this Good News into a sin-darkened world and into sin-darkened lives, to the forsaken and the desolate.  And we have Good News!  We have the Good News of a Savior who loves us and forgives us, who knows about suffering and how to bring good from suffering.  For people who have their hearts burdened with the darkness of guilt and regret, we have Good News of a Savior who has taken our sin and taken our place on a cross because of that sin.  We have the Good News of a Savior who not only restores, but restores completely.    
We have the Good News of a Savior who continues to seek out the forsaken and desolate and unites us to Himself through His Word and Sacrament.  Who makes you His own in Holy Baptism, adorning you with His own righteousness and Name.  In His Holy Supper, He pours out the good wine, which is the new testament in His blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.  In each of these means of grace, He continues to bring you this very Good News: You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

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