Sermon from Rev. Zickler for Dec. 10, 2017

20171010 Sermon Advent 2B 2017
December 10, 2017
Isaiah 40:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Old Testament Reading, especially these words, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field…. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

For God a thousand years are as a day and a day a thousand years. It certainly must have seemed like thousands of years when John the Baptist came to those people of Israel. God had promised this coming, He had promised this voice calling in the wilderness about 700 years before this through the words of Isaiah, and as the Israelites awaited this coming it must have seemed as though that expectation was being wasted. But then John came on the scene. He came preparing the way for the Lord, making his paths straight. John came fulfilling what was said in Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.

So yes, John was here, and he could speak of the comfort of the coming King, of Jesus who was coming. Just as Isaiah described, here he was. He was the voice crying, and what did he say, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” That was John’s job. He was to make straight the way for our God. He was lifting up the low peoples, the valleys, and he was humbling the hills, the proud.

But how did he do this? By preaching these words. And as I say that, did you catch what else Isaiah said, “A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

All flesh is like grass. The winter comes and the grass stops growing. The long grasses dry up and wither. I am sure you have seen that. They can be the greenest, lushest grasses, but when the season ends for their growth, they become dry and withered. Or like the flower, it shrivels up and fades. The flower in all its glory, in all its beauty, it loses all of that and dries up to die.

As we consider these words, this thought, then, we should consider this for ourselves. This should give us pause. All flesh is like grass? We’re all going to pass away. Just like the grass fades away in the winter, so will we. Just as the flower bears all of its glory in the summer, we bear a glimmer of glory, and then the petals of our life begin to fall off until our blossom is nothing but a withered stem devoid of life. And what a reminder to us of just how fragile this is.

So what should we think in the midst of this? Well, we should consider just how transient all the things of this life are. We should consider just how quickly our flower fades, and its glory diminishes. Those of you older and wiser than I can speak to that. You know just how quickly it is that you look up and so many things are no longer around that you took for granted. Some of you have experienced the insanity of a house full of children, and now find only the quietness of solitude. Some of you have experienced the loss of a spouse, or even of a child. You know just how quickly the grass withers right before you. But even still there is this draw to that grass, isn’t there? There is still this temptation to cling to the petals of the flower as they are pulverized by even the most delicate touch, isn’t there? There is that attraction to earthly things: to earthly comforts; earthly security; earthly progress; to making sure that we have the best this world has to offer, the best care, the best provision; even the assurance that our bank accounts are at the appropriate level to provide the safety-net we so desperately want maintain.

In fact, in so many ways, our whole lives are structured around this, aren’t they? “The Doings” had an article a few weeks ago that described how teenage depression is on the rise. The reason? Many think it might be in relation to the pressures being put on them. They are being scheduled to the last minute, needing to already begin the task of padding their resume. Why? So that they can get into the appropriate college where they can continue this work of resume building. Again, why? So that they can get the best job out of school and have the ability to earn as much money as possible, right? Or at least have the opportunity to. Now, certainly it is not sinful in and of itself to have a high paying job, or to be wealthy—although no matter our vocation we should be generous just as God has been generous to us—but in the end where is all of this money going to get us? All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field…. The grass withers, the flower fades.

Now as I say that, while I’m on the topic of teenagers and depression, I also found an article that saw the cause of this depression as being related to screen-time on phones, and if I recall, there was an even closer association with social media. It seems that these teens who were feeling a sense of “uselessness and joylessness” were significantly affected by the time that they spent interacting with others online. In fact, the article drew a connection to this depression and the lack of face to face interaction. As Christians, this should make sense to us because God has made us to interact with other people, as one of my professors would say, “flesh to flesh.” But even as I say that, as satisfying as personal contact is and should be, what we see is how often we can draw our joy and usefulness from that interaction rather than from our Lord. But in the midst of this we see how much things are changing around us. As we think about things like screen-time, like social media, we see just how temporary things are.

Even more, think about the changes in priorities we’ve experienced in our day and place. In the book, U-Turn, which was written by George Barna, of Barna research, and David Barton, they describe how values have changed in our day. Looking at the values of our country at its founding—something determined by examining popular works of the time—they find the values of our country at its origin to include things such as justice, contentment, hard work, civic duty, humility, freedom, chastity, among others. In our day they find the values to focus on belonging/acceptance, comfort, entertainment, experiences, financial security, individuality, and the meaning and purpose of life, among others. While there was some overlap, for example in happiness, there is a stark difference, isn’t there? And we see it don’t we? We see this all around us.

And look at the difference in those values, values toward outward things: justice, hard work; civic duty; things focused not on my wants but toward the greater good. And today? Belonging, acceptance, comfort, entertainment, experience, financial security. All of this is focused on what? On myself.

Don’t we see it? All flesh is like grass. All of this is going to go away. It’s all going to perish. Our belonging won’t matter if we don’t belong with the sheep in the Eternal Kingdom. All of our individuality won’t matter if we’re suffering apart from the God who lovingly knit us together. All of the entertainment is but passing enjoyment which pales before the eternal joy we’ll have worshipping the Lamb on His throne. And as I say all of this, hopefully we can see the contrast.

Yes, all flesh is like grass, all of it will wither. We’ll all die. Everything with us. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, it’s all vanity. So where is our comfort? Where is our comfort when we look at the world around us and see it turning from values that are grounded in greater things, giving them up for what is selfish? Even more so, where is our comfort when we look at our own lives and see the draw we too feel for the self-centered focus of our time? Where is that comfort? After all, this passage started with that word didn’t it? “Comfort, Comfort, ye my people!” Where is it?

Our comfort is this: yes flesh fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. God’s word will never perish. God’s word will never die. It will never shrivel up and fall off its stem. It will never dry up and be whisked away in the wind. And Peter says it so well for you comfort in his first letter. Hear his words, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ…. you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Christians, this is your comfort, the good news preached to you. Your sinful ways have been atoned for in the Christ whose way John the Baptist prepared. Your draw to these short lived and transient values has been crucified with Jesus and is now buried in His tomb. This world which is self-centered, which seeks to push us and our children toward goals that will wither like grass, this world with its death and perishing has been overcome in the resurrection of Jesus who has been raised imperishable. And you have been raised in that word too. Raised in that word with the waters of baptism, born again through that imperishable seed.

This is what John was preparing for, this was the path he was making straight. And he calls you to do the same, to repent of your sin, and know that in Christ it has been forgiven. To know, yes, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field…. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” And Christians, in that word, you too will stand purged of all sin, all death, and all things perishable. Amen.