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first midweek Advent Service

Isaiah 8:9-9:1

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Wed. after Advent 1
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Wed, Dec 2, 2020 

We seem to be living in an era of conspiracy theories.  Therefore it seems right to quote the Lord who spoke through the Prophet Isaiah these words: “Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’ concerning all that this people call a conspiracy, nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.  The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.”

The lure of conspiracy theories is fear.  You may hear something that sounds pretty unlikely, but you think, “Gee, if that is true, it is really frightening!” Even if you do not fully believe the theory, it may color the way you view things.

Fear is so captivating.  But we do not want to admit we are fearful unless we have to.  We are likely to say that we are concerned, or we are cautious, or some euphemism like that.  Yet we are easily influenced by fear, even if we cannot consciously recognize it.

The devil wants you afraid.  Then you are easily influenced by his terrors.  As a panicked animal is more easily brought down by a predator, so the roaring lion seeks to panic us into becoming his prey.

But the Lord says, “Fear Me.” We still struggle with the proper understanding of how you fear the Lord.  Certainly we do not fear Him the same way we fear other people and things.  We should reverently respect Him, treating Him as the true God who is far above us.  We should be aware that we are deserving of His punishment, even through, through faith in Christ, that punishment will pass us by.  So we should not treat Him disrespectfully or ignore His voice.

We sinners find it hard to properly fear Him.  Sin wants to treat God either as a hated enemy or as a casual friend.  He should be neither.  But He is the One whom we should dread in the sense that He is utterly holy, and we are the opposite of holiness.  With trembling we should approach Him, in deep and heartfelt sorrow for our many sins.

But our sinful flesh does not want that.  We want happy and easy and pleasant thoughts and emotions toward God.  We want cheerful lights and familiar carols.  No fear of God there.  Not that the lights and carols are bad.  But if they are what we indulge in but skip the fear of God, then the lights and carols become all but meaningless.

These things are all about Christ our Lord.  If He is not received with fear and trembling, then He is a Rock of offense.  He, the Stone of stumbling, will be a trap to all who do not receive Him with fear and faith.  The essence of a trap is that it appears harmless.  Just so, the all-friendly and all-pleasant Christ is only a mirage invented by those who resist the fear of God.  To such people, the true Christ is a source of destruction.

“Be shattered, O you peoples!  Be broken in pieces!” The Lord through Isaiah spoke those words to the people of Israel.  Most of Israel gave superficial lip service to the Lord, yet their lives were not much affected by His worship.  No fear of God there.  They wanted their light and momentary warm thoughts toward the Lord to satisfy Him, as if He is someone we think fondly of a few times a year, then ignore the rest of the time.  Meanwhile, they feared this or that in their lives all the time.

To such people who thought they were well-prepared for Him, the Lord said, “Gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces.  Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing.  Speak the word, but it will not stand.  For God is with us.” In other words, they were warned that all their preparations would mean nothing; both their preparations to meet the Lord as well as preparations to meet the Assyrians, who would come and devastate their country as punishment.  The kings and the priests and the people thought that their hearts were full of light and goodness.  They were the chosen people of God!  But such pride contains no fear.  Yet they feared their earthly enemies, and they feared death.  When the enemy drew near, they would frantically try all kinds of things to escape their punishment, but to no avail.

To his words of warning, Isaiah added the phrase, “For God is with us,” In Hebrew, this is the word, “Immanuel”.  This seems like an odd way to speak.  Just a chapter earlier, Isaiah had prophesied that the virgin would conceive and bear a Son, and His name would be Immanuel.  This is good news, right?  This is cause for rejoicing, right?  Yes and no.  So far as we meet Him in humble fear, Christ is our gracious Savior.  But so far as we fear other things but not Him, then He becomes the Stone of offense to us.  So the name “Immanuel” becomes a name of terror for many.  His coming, far from being light and joy, will be darkness and anguish.

In the same way, the people of Israel should have been faithfully devoted to the Lord, and He would be their Shield and Protection.  But instead, their faithless hearts made His name into a word of warning.

If we diligently speak and listen to all that the Word says, then we will have light.  God grant us so to receive Him, according to fear and repentance and faith.  Without the Word, we are like foolish people who seek after spirits and mediums, as if the dead can help the living, as misguided as people who seek a resurrected Lord in a tomb.

The Word declares that the living Lord has come.  Therefore we have been as the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali and Galilee.  Those lands saw the terror of the king of Assyria crashing down upon them.  In the day of darkness, they experienced terror and horror and death.  The luckier ones had their homes destroyed and became fugitives.  In that day, many cursed God in despair.

But another day came when the Lord visited those lands of northern Israel.  Then He came as a gentle Savior.  He brought peace and grace to those who repented.  He came as the Light that destroys the darkness, for He would enter the darkness of death and break its power.  The Light of the world walked in the lands that had known the darkness of death and despair.  The Almighty held out His hand with miracles and hope to those who had been lowly and forsaken.

So with us.  We had been lost in darkness.  We had no hope, until the Light came to us.  How did we invite Him to our land and our homes?  We did not.  We perhaps thought that we were the light.  We perhaps thought that there was no danger or darkness for us.  But He came nevertheless, even though we were filled with sinful pride.

So we should treat Him as He is, not as we want Him to be.  He has saved us, the undeserving.  We must not act as if we deserved His coming.  We must not act as if we enticed Him to us with our pure hearts.

Thus we should find time to tremble.  The devil wants to distract us with many fears, but we should insist upon fearing God.  We should not treat Him nonchalantly, as an equal.  We should find out what our knees are for, if only figuratively speaking.  For the King comes, and should we stand proudly before Him?  Although He comes to save, we do not deserve His salvation.

God give us the fear of Him by His Holy Spirit, that we may meet Him rightly.  Amen.

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