The Paradise of the Church

The Paradise of the Church

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

The sermon today comes from our Old Testament Lesson, from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 11.

If you want visual evidence of the world’s Fall into sin, just turn on your television. You don’t need to find a trashy, trampy Miley Cyrus video. You don’t have to find an R-rated movie, either. You don’t have to find the popular sitcom where behavior condemned by God’s Word is not only prominent, but even celebrated.

All you really need to do is find Animal Planet, Discovery, or the National Geographic channel. Sit back and watch as the remorseless wolf stalks, snatches, and rips a young lamb’s body to shreds. Gaze at the lions’ faces, their ravenous mouths smeared crimson with the blood of the week-old gazelle. See the ultra-slow motion replay as the viper lashes out and sinks its fangs into a cute bunny rabbit, gushes its venom into the flesh, waits for the poison to take effect, and then painstakingly swallows its victim—a large bulge moving slowly down its length, being slowly dissolved and digested.

There’s a reason we call them wildlife—they truly represent that which is wild and untamed. They are mostly outside man’s control. God had created them to be a blessing to us, to be ruled by the Adams and Eves and their offspring.

But, since our first ancestors opened the devil’s briefcase of evil and mayhem, the animals now often maul their would-be overlords. No longer truly under our dominion but for a few species, they live by instinct, not conscience. Just like us, they prey on the weak. They fight to survive.

Threaten that survival, back them or us into a corner, and prepare for the fangs to be aimed at your throat, Sir Adam and Miss Eve. Darwin got a lot of things wrong, but one truth he observed is that it’s survival of the fittest, the meanest, the strongest, the craftiest. Nature’s motto is not “live and let live.” It’s not even “live and let die.” It comes right down the brutal reality of “kill to live.”

And because of that, there is hardly a better image of who you really are than what you’ll see taking place in the animal kingdom. What the cat does to the mouse, and what the eagle does to the rabbit, is exactly what we do with our words and actions as we playfully or violently rip apart the lives of others and gnaw on their bones.

“The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand,” says our God, as Isaiah records earlier in his book (Is 1:3). So the painful truth is that we are actually worse than the animals. To call our loveless, meaningless actions “beastly” is actually an insult to the beasts. At least most of them kill for their own survival. After we recklessly behave like animals and violate God’s intentions, we slice up babies in the womb for the sake of convenience and economics. We stab each other in the back, for humor’s sake. We rip reputations to shreds with our gossiping tongues, for pleasure’s sake, and to advance our own agendas.

And though we whitewash our outer shells, and soothingly purr out pious words for all to hear, inside us lurks a lion that is eager to devour. The Old Animal within cannot be domesticated; he can only be killed.

It is good to have Advent before Christmas. What good is the coming of the Savior to those who think they are good in and of themselves? As He lies in the manger—that dining table of beasts—He shows us for whom He came. Jesus came for you, Adam, and for you, Eve. He came for you who have become animalistic, no longer superior to, but actually below the beasts, for we have the capacity to understand God’s will, but not the willpower to follow it. Nonetheless, you are beloved by Christ. He is here as wholesome, nourishing, perfecting food for you, so that you need not devour one another to get ahead.

So repent—today is the day of salvation, now is the season of repentance. The Christ child draws nigh even now. What’s more, fully grown and fully accomplishing all that He came for, He draws nigh again, in all His crucified, risen, and ascended power and glory. He will come with His winnowing fork to thresh the grain, separating wheat and chaff. He comes, also, with shovel in hand, to bury this old creation once and for all. His Advent is near, His Advent is now. Repent and believe.

In his first Advent, as was prophesied, Christ came forth in the city of David—a shoot, and new branch—from the stump of Jesse. For over 500 years David’s throne had sat cold and vacant. His line of monarchy was in ruins; first cut down by the Assyrian chainsaw and then shredded by the Babylonian chipper; only a seemingly lifeless stump remained.

But such “impossible” situations are God’s favorite arenas of activity. For whenever God begins something, it always seems to the eye of unbelief as if nothing will come of it. Yet the promise of Isaiah still stood—as of that moment unfulfilled, but never forgotten by God. It was biding its time, hibernating beneath the ground as the root of Jesse—the very source of life, eager to sprout upward. And so it was, from within virgin soil, Jesse’s root emerged as Jesse’s shoot. God became man while yet remaining God.

This Son of David, this Son of Adam, and this Son of God—He came for you. His advent landed him within the zoo of this world—no, actually worse than a zoo. Maybe even worse than a cage overrun with wild, rabid beasts! Perhaps it is as bad as the ancient Roman Coliseum—where man and beast battled to the death for the entertainment of others.

But in spite the horrific behavior of His creatures—actions as well as thought and words that He had observed for so long, He still came. For us—wild and untamed in heart though we are—still for us He came.

The Spirit rests upon him, a perfect Spirit, the sevenfold Spirit of God. He rests on him to bring the six days of the original creation to its goal in the seventh and then the eighth day of the new creation. A New Adam, a New Genesis, a New You. This Spirit of the Lord overcomes our worldly spirits. The Spirit of wisdom and understanding replaces our foolishness and idiocy. The Spirit of counsel and might overpowers our deception and weakness. The Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord conquers our ignorance and impenitence. He hovers over the living waters of the Font, to recreate us there. There we are restored; adopted as sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. The Spirit who alighted upon the Son in the form of a dove now builds its nest within the branches of your soul.

Before this Son you stand, judged by Him but also declared innocent for His sake. As the New and Better Adam, He is your father. As the New and Better David, He is your king. He judges you not by what His eyes see or what His ears hear. He judges you with righteousness and equity. And even though you are guilty, for your sake He takes the blame. On your behalf, the rod of punishment leaves welts on his back instead. The belt of righteousness fastened about His waist; the belt of faithfulness wrapped around His loins—these He shares, and wraps around you. Your tattered rags of infidelity and unrighteousness, He ties around himself. You become what He is, even as He becomes what you are. It is the Great Exchange. You switch places, so that all the good He has is yours, and all the bad you have becomes His.

In this Great Exchange, this gracious substitution, He who is the pure and holy Lamb of God makes you to be lambs of the Father’s flock, also pure and holy in His sight. So it is in His Church, where everything is more than meets the eye. For you are all different, yet also all the same. Men and women, young and old, meek and arrogant, rich and poor, powerful and powerless: all of you are made one in Christ Jesus. It is here that the wolf dwells with the lamb; the leopard lies down with the young goat; the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together. In the holy mountain of His Church, they shall not hurt or destroy. You have been made new, re-created in the image of Him who is peace and love personified.

All this becomes true not because we are perfect in and of ourselves, but because we have been dressed up in the perfection of Him who has been perfect for us. His nourishing blood rained upon the barren, deadly desert of this world to create a new Garden of Eden, a Church where God and man are reunited in blest communion. And of that holy Church you are a part. Chosen, He has bought you. Bought, He has washed you. Washed, He has welcomed you in. Welcomed, He has fed you with the fruit from Himself, from the very the Tree of Life. For a Branch from the root of Jesse has borne fruit, and of that pleasant, life-giving fruit you are welcome to eat.

So pull up a chair to the table, to the living Tree that gives life. Eat, drink, and be merry, in the Eden of the Church, in the New and Better Adam, in the New and Better David who ever reigns over the kingdom of God. Here and with Him you will never die. For you have already died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Blessed are you who come baptized in the Name of the Lord, for

Your Sins are Forgiven; Your Place in God’s Family is Safe and Secure.

His Advent has won all this for you. His coming is your arrival back to Eden’s gate. He has opened the door, and stands waiting with open arms. Welcome home to His holy mountain. Welcome back to your resting place.

In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.