I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Which would you like first? If you’re like me, you’d prefer to rip the band-aid off and get the bad news over with and finish with the good news. So let’s get to it.
The bad news. Humans have made a pretty big mess out of this world. Yes, we’ve done some amazingly good things too, but we’ve made an awful mess of the world. One of my ministry settings is as a hospital chaplain. When I visit with patients, a lot of them are there because either they, or someone else, has made a huge mess of their lives. Sometimes it’s from drug or alcohol abuse, sometimes they are victim of crime, often they have not taken very good care of their bodies. Sometimes they’ve been in such despair that they attempted to end their life by suicide. I’m not going to spend a lot of time listing the ways human beings have made a mess out of the world, if you need proof, just turn on the news for an hour or two.
Here’s the thing about messes, you can ignore them, and they will simply get worse, or you can clean them up. Usually when you clean up a mess you preserve somethings and you discard others. You try to salvage what is worth saving and discard what isn’t. That requires some decision making. What to keep and what to discard. If you want clean dishes, you have to discard the dirty stuff that’s on the dishes. If you want a clean house, you have to purge the junk. If you don’t ever throw anything out then you become a hoarder and that’s an awful mess and no way to live a flourishing and happy life.
In today’s first reading in Isaiah, Israel had made quite a mess. They failed to be faithful to YHWH, the God who created them and called them to be His. Despite warnings and pleadings, Israel worshipped other gods. They failed to give YHWH their exclusive love and devotion. After numerous attempts to get them to stop, God finally allowed them to face the consequences of their unfaithfulness. God allowed their enemies to conquer them, destroy their beloved temple and city, Jerusalem, and they went into captivity for 70 years. That was the bad news.
Now for the good news. God was going to rescue them, restore them and return them to their beloved Jerusalem.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a] 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
Isaiah goes on to describe how much better things will be for God’s people. He uses the image of a bride being rejoiced over by her groom. God’s love for his people is great.
Toward the end of the section is the promise: ” ‘See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him”
Notice God’s rescue of his people is good news for some, and bad news for others. It’s both the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance.
Think about WWII for a minute. When the Allied Forces defeated Hitler and his armies and came to the internment camps like Auschwitz, it was good news for the prisoners, but bad news for the German army. Hitler chose suicide over the swift justice that was sure to come. For the men and woman who were set free it was good news but for the perpetrators of injustice it was a day of vengeance.
Jesus is coming again. In Titus 2 we are told:
“11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
God’s purpose in allowing His people Israel to face judgement was his way of cleaning up the mess that they had made and giving them a chance to start fresh, free from the worship of idols.
God’s purpose in sending Jesus was to extend the opportunity of salvation to all people, again, to clean up the mess and rescue those who are willing to receive the grace of God. While we are waiting for Jesus to come and all the mess to be finally cleaned up, God invites us in the name of Jesus to follow him and live Godly lives, rejecting the mess of the world.
The world is a mess and God is fully and finally going to clean it up through the coming of Jesus Christ. For those who reject God’s grace and mercy it will be a day of vengeance. While we wait, God is working in our lives to clean up our messes and put us to work doing good, helping point others to God. Are you willing to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions? Are you willing to be different (FUEL 2019). Are you eager to do what is good? God wants to purify you and put you to work. Are you willing?