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The Good News

Date: Dec. 14, 2014

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 125:1-6, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

Key Verse: Isaiah 61:1

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.”

Have you heard any of those good news bad news jokes? Well I have two of them for you. Here’s the first one, there was a man and a doctor. The doctor says, “I have some good news and some bad news.” The man asks, “What is the good news?” “The good news is that the tests show that you have 24 hours to live,” the doctor replies. Astonished, the man asks, “How is that good news? What is the bad news?” To that, the doctor answers, “The bad news is that I forgot to tell you yesterday!” Here is another one. There was an artist and a gallery owner. The gallery owner tells the artist, “I have some good news and some bad news.” The artist asks, “What is the good news?” The gallery owner responds, “The good news is that a man came in here today asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you die. When I told him they would he bought every one of your paintings.” Flabbergasted, the artist exclaims, “That’s great! What is the bad news?” Cautiously, the gallery owner says, “The bad news is that the man was your doctor!” All joking aside, we like good news because the news is good. It is as simple as that. And the best news is good even when not compared to the bad news. When you pass an impossible exam – that is good news. When you land your coveted first job – that is good news. When you discover the unified theory of physics that eluded even Einstein himself – that is good news. Do you see it now? For me, three of the biggest pieces of good news have all come from my wife. The first comes from over six years ago when my wife agreed to marry me. She didn’t know what she was getting in to, but it was good news for me. The second comes almost exactly two years later, when I came home from work and she told me how a doctor’s visit went. Surprise, surprise, she is pregnant with my daughter. The last piece of good news in this trio happened at around two years ago. You are probably guessing where I am going with this one, but that news is that my wife was pregnant with our son. These things are definitely good news. Each time I was so elated to hear about the news. Today, however, I have even greater news to give and it is unabashedly good news.

This is our third Sunday for Advent. So we are preparing our hearts for the arrival of Jesus. In the first week, Mike told us about the coming of the Son of Man. Then, last week, Bob had us anticipating that arrival and preparing for it. We believe that Jesus is coming and we really need to make sure that we are ready for it. But have you ever thought of why we should care about Jesus coming? Have you ever thought about why we should get ready? What is the point of it all? What is all this Christmas and Advent about? Well, in short, Jesus’ coming is good news. Both of his comings are good news: his first coming and his second coming. Roughly two thousand seventeen years ago, word of this good news first broke. It didn’t come by a news flash or a tweet. Alerts weren’t sent to phones and there was no crowd forming. The news came from some angels, singing a chorus in an open field to some lowly shepherds. The lead angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12) Then all the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) A baby born is good news. A baby that is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord himself is awesome news. The implications of which are astounding. That is exactly what we are going to talk about: the implications of that baby and the implications of who he is.

Let’s start off in our first passage from Isaiah 61. It begins, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Isaiah 61:1) This verse is the actual focus of the message today. It mentions proclaiming the good news to the poor. We are going to be talking all about the good news, but what about the poor? We live in the most prosperous nation in the world. By global standards, even our poor are rich, but the poor that the passage mentions is not limited to those who are financially deficient. In fact, the poor for this passage is anyone who is miserable, has problems or is poor in circumstances and spirit, and who doesn’t have problems? Am I right? Each and every one of us has problems. None of us is immune. So the good news for the poor that is proclaimed is for each and every one of us.

As we read on in the passage from Isaiah, we can see what the good news for the poor actually is. “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 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.” (Isaiah 61:1-3) The good news is that the brokenhearted would be bound up, the captive would be freed, those who mourn would be comforted, and there will be joy instead of sorrow. The good news is that whatever horrible things we are going through will end, and a new day will come: a day without any problems or pain or suffering or shame, a day without evil and darkness, and a day without anger, fear and frustration. That’s good news.

A lot of these concepts seem a little distant. We are all not brokenhearted. We are not all captive. Not all of us are mourning or filled with sorrow, but when we examine them a little closer, these concepts are much deeper than we give them credit for. Take a closer look. Why are brokenhearted people bound up? It’s because they are wounded. Their hearts and souls are wounded and they need tending to. The wounds need to be bound up so that they can heal. Heart wounds come from broken relationships. It is so easy for friendships to fade away or shatter. Busyness and time can wear away the relationships that we hold dear and pride and the wrong words can sever ties between even the closest people. The result is that we end up alone and our hearts break. It can be family, friends or a relationship at work, but our lives are not the same with out the bonds we made with other people. It’s like a knife to the heart without those people, but this passage says that brokenhearted people will be bound up. There is good news: loneliness doesn’t have to last forever. Your wounds can be healed.

Another concept that can seem a little distant is captives being set free. None of us here are in prison. If you were in prison, you would not be here. Now there are people out there that are imprisoned for their faith and this passage does promise their freedom, but there is more than that. We are captives when we are frozen in fear, when we feel held back, when we feel shame for who we are, and when we are blinded by our sorrow, frustration or anger. Each of these things imprisons us in our bodies. We are held back from our greatest potential and stunted by the chains that keep us there. We are imprisoned in a darkness of our own making, because our sins.

Our sins, everything that we have done wrong, every bad thought and action we have ever had, lead us to places that we do not want to go or even intended to go. Jealousy and envy keep us from seeing what he actually have and being content with what we have. Instead, we are filled with an insatiable appetite. We see things with our eyes that we want and we desire to make it ours. When we make it our own, our desire does not fade and we search for another way to fill it. It is an endless cycle, a nauseating ride for our soul, and our lives become nothing more than a means to satisfy ourselves. This is a dark place to go. The more desperate to fill the desire we become, the more willing we are to give up everything to have it. Some people are so insecure with themselves that they do anything to satisfy a nugget of desire, no matter how depraved.

Pride puts us in the place of God in our minds and we try to control situations. We want the outcome to be a certain way. When we drive down the road, half the people to infuriatingly slow and the other half is reckless without any thought of others. To both these people, we are aggravated and cry out for them to move out of the way. They don’t know who we are. They have no right to move so slowly. They have no right to sneak in front of us. In our pride, we are filled with frustration and anger. Our hearts darken as anger fills our souls and we snap at the slightest infraction. We bellow and roar and incite fear into the hearts of everyone around us. We drive people away and we are left alone in our pride. We sit in a swirling darkness wondering where everyone is.

Laziness causes us to be wasteful. Because we can’t get up off our butts, there is so much lost opportunity. We don’t want to do something, so we stall and stall and put it off to another time, another day. Then we wonder about what happened to all the time. How did Christmas get here so quickly? We haven’t had any time to prepare to get gifts and now we have to rush around to get something, anything. It won’t be thoughtful; it is just a gift for the sake of giving a gift. With laziness, we just do the bare minimum and we struggle just to survive each day. We enjoy our moments, only to find ourselves quickly scrambling. It is exhausting and more effort than if we just got off our butts in the first place.

Doubt and despair have us make horrible decisions, ones that we regret that we have made. We treat people with contempt because they bother us, but before we know it, circumstances have changed and they are no longer in our lives. We say things and do things that cause harm to others. We make financial decisions only to realize that debt is heaped upon us. We feel crushed and ashamed for what we have done. We wish that we could take it all back. Knowing what we know now, we would have never done it in the first place. We started ourselves down a certain path and there is no way off of it. We are in darkness and if you are honest with yourself then you can recognize your need.

What we need is a way out of the darkness. When we are in the midst of it, it looks like it will never end. Over and over and over again, the same things happen. When will it ever end? When will this darkness finally pass? In the darkness, we can think that it will never end. Nothing will ever change, but it is not true. There is hope. Remember what the angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) Good news has arrived that will cause great joy for all the people. A Savior has been born; he is the Messiah, the Lord. He is a light that shines in the darkness. If you look at the passage from John 1, we see that a man name John came to testify concerning that light, so that all men might believe. He testified, “He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27) The light is someone who is so powerful and important that John, as in John the Baptist, does not consider himself worthy of performing even the lowliest of servant’s tasks. He is the Messiah, God in the flesh. That is a seismic shift in all of our situations.

We don’t have to sit in darkness anymore. We don’t have to despair about our situations. We no longer have to regret our poor decisions. It speaks of the light in Isaiah, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 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. 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 61:1-4) We may mourn and mope, but Jesus pushes it all away. He takes our mourning and sadness and fills it with joy. He takes our despair and turns it into praise. Life, all life, can be redeemed. Our lives, like the ancient ruins can be rebuilt, restored and renewed. There are things we picked up from our parents and have been going on for generations, but it all can be redeemed. It is even better that we don’t have to do it. If you look through all of our passages you can see that it is the Lord who does it.

In Isaiah, we see, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:10-11) In Psalm 126, it says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion we were like those who dreamed.” (Psalm 126:1) It is the Lord who restores fortunes. In 1 Thessalonians, it says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1Thessalonians 5:23-24) God will do it. It is not our burden to change our lives. It is not our burden to rid ourselves of darkness. God will do it.

When he removes us from darkness, our lives change. Now there is two ways that our lives change and they pertain to the implications of each of Jesus’ advents. At his birth, Jesus is proclaimed to be good news of great joy. Jesus’ birth marked a new era where light rules over darkness. It might look like darkness has a stranglehold on the world. The sins of humanity stain this world with blood. If you have ever wondered why there is evil in the world, all you have to do is look in the mirror. If you have ever wondered why God doesn’t do anything about the evil in the world, I say to you that he has when he sent is son to be born as a little baby in a manger. There is a song, “If you told me all about your sorrows I'd tell you about a cure. If you told me you can't fight the battle, There's a Baby Boy who won the war. The war was won by a Baby Boy” (Baby Boy by for King & Country). A Baby Boy is the cure for sorrow and he as won the war.

But you might look around and wonder, “This world is still so dark. We have beheadings and riots and scandals. It doesn’t look like that baby boy has done anything.” Well, it does look pretty bleak, but remember Jesus has two advents. In his first arrival, he came as a baby boy. He came full of grace and truth. He came, not to change the majority of people’s circumstance, but to change people. He didn’t come to lift us out of the darkness, but he came to help us shine his light in the darkness. In Jesus’ first coming, he gives us hope and changes our perceptions of our situations. What looked insurmountable mountain can now be seen for what it is, nothing but an anthill. Have you ever had one of those moments where you were freaking out over a problem, but when you calmed down, it proved to be a non-issue? It was easy to deal with. I had something like that at work recently. I didn’t freak out, but I dreaded doing something because it was extremely daunting. However, when I didn’t focus on how daunting it was and just worked, all the problems worked out and I am nearly done. The physical situation didn’t change, but my perception of it did. That is what Jesus did in his first coming and continues to do until he comes again. Jesus changes us from the inside. Our past is still our past. Our decisions are still our decisions. The external world is still the same, but we are changing, and how we see the world is changing. In 1 Thessalonians, again, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1Thessalonians 5:23-24) God sanctifies us through and through, making us blameless until the day Jesus returns.

When Jesus comes back, as Mike and Bob have told us, even greater changes will happen. Those who do not accept what Jesus has done for us will be consumed by fire. Those who accept Jesus and are changed from within will see a new heaven and a new earth. The old will be swept away and a new creation will come. Our bodies will be transformed and on that day, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:4-5) It may sound scary that everything will be destroyed and God is making everything new, but what is coming is infinitely better that what we currently have. There will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. When we realize this, our hope is not that our life now will get better, but that we make it to where everything is new and all our tears are wiped away.

Now, this is the part where you might wonder what you can do or how you should react. There are a myriad of ways and you can see some in these passages, but I really want to leave you with is the realization that your burden has been lifted and that is good news. Are you filled with fear and despair, and fear it will never end? You don’t have to live that way anymore, because light is here. Are you filled with doubt and uncertainty about the future, wondering what it holds? You don’t have to gripped by doubt, but trust in the mighty one who holds all creation in his hand. Are you angry and frustrated at the world? You don’t have to react that way anymore. You can make a choice to leave it all behind. Psalm 126 ends, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” (Psalm 126:5-6) Advent means that we don’t have to live in darkness anymore. Our tears can become songs of joy and that is truly good news.

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