Sunday, January 20, 2013

Isaiah 62:2-5 Second Sunday After Epiphany

“Jesus loves me, this I know.”  As a young child I learned to sing this song, and as a child I never doubted it.   But as I grew up I began to realize that the world is more difficult, more dangerous, and more complicated.  My faith that Jesus loves me is still there, but I don’t always feel his love for me.  I think that’s what makes my faith more sure, more solidly grounded than when I was a child.  A mature look at life acknowledges that things aren’t always good.  A mature study of Scripture will show us that God is still with us, and that he delights in those who repent of their sins, even though we may still feel like garbage.  Even in saddest times, there is proof that Jesus does love you.  You are his crown, even when you feel that you are not.  Though you may feel forgotten by God, you are dear to him as a bride.  He calls you his crown, a display of his glory.  He calls you his bride, because of his love for you.  In these words spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah, hear how…

Theme:  God delights in you.

2     The nations will see your righteousness,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
3     You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4     No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
5     As a young man marries a maiden,
so will your sons marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.
Isaiah 62:2-5
A. God delights in you, like a crown of splendor, displaying his glory. 
God pictures us like a king’s crown; a beautiful, bejeweled piece of handiwork. 
Sometimes we will talk of some great work as a crowning achievement, as the thing that we are most proud of, the thing that shows how great we are—for instance, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, or Sacramento’s mini golden gate bridge.  You are God’s crown, the display of his glory.  You are his crowning achievement. 
Children are taught to believe this.  In simple, childlike faith, you are asked to accept it and trust that God delights in you.  But as you grow up in the real world, something about the situation seems out of order.  In your real life, you might think that the Almighty God, who does everything well, could have done better for you, if you are his crowning achievement.  You aren’t going to feel like God delights in you if you think it should be shown in your success, the happiness of your marriage, your kids all good and talented, your church bustling full of people and programs.  
In the ups and downs of Christian life, you may be at a low where it seems like God doesn’t take any delight in you at all.
If you have an honest moment with yourself, ask yourself if there may be reasons why God would have a right to give up on you.  If you are God’s crown and his delight, why don’t you act like it?  In your real life as a church person, you may sing “Jesus loves me, this I know,” but you will feel like a failure and a fraud. 
Lance Armstrong isn’t the only one with a past to hide.  I don’t think any of you would be volunteering to let Oprah dredge out your secrets. But the guilt builds, the guilt for not being as holy as church people are supposed to be.  Oprah asked Lance, “why confess now?”  He said, “It is impossible to live up to this perfect picture—the cancer survivor, the 7 time tour winner.”  Will we forgive him or not?  But let’s not be hypocrites, we are all fakes and frauds.  If I held a private confession session, not many of you would be there.  You don’t want me to know.  But God knows, and you may ask, “how can he delight in me?”

B. God delights in you, as the object of his affection. 
The words God spoke in our text are certainly for us, but they were for Old Testament Israel first, spoken at a time when their homes were about to be destroyed, their husbands and sons about to be killed in battle, and they would soon be taken out of the land God gave them, where promised to bless them.  His words assured them that he had not taken his love away, that he would not stay angry forever, and they would have joyful days again.  He would think of them like a young man thinks of the woman he is going to marry.  He would give their land back to them as a great blessing, just like he gives a young woman to a young man in marriage.  Notice this—He spoke these words before any of the terrible things happened.  God was always planning to do this.  He wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t give up on him and get angry when they felt his anger.
We learn that God doesn’t take away his love when he makes us feel his anger.  He still delights in us.  He still loves us, in his words “like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.  If we are feeling his anger now, we should be sorrowful for angering him with our sins, but don’t give up on him.  You will enjoy his blessings again, because he delights in you, as his bride.
There really was no reason given to Israel why God would continue to love them like his bride, except for his love itself.  This is what he is known for.  When Moses asked God what his name was, God replied, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.”  There were no conditions attached; no improvement that he would have to see first.  God promised his love before he even began to punish.
When you feel his anger, trust that this is not the end for you.  In his love for us, he lets us feel his anger from time to time, so that we will take our sins seriously again, be sorrowful, sincerely desire to listen to him and obey.  Take the opportunity that your troubles provide to repent, be sorrowful for your sins, but don’t give up hope.  Know that God forgives, and that you will feel his love again.  He will bless you again.  In fact, you will enjoy all his blessings in heaven with him, like a bride brought home to live in the mansion of her new husband.
We heard about God loving his people like this in the Gospel.  Into this sinful world Jesus came, and he loved us so much that he cared about every little problem we have, like a man cares about every little problem that his new bride may have.  They ran out of wine for the wedding.  Jesus wanted to help the hosts save face, and he wanted the guests to enjoy the wedding, so he changed the water into wine—and not just any wine, but the best, most enjoyable wine.  Our God delights in us.  He cares about every little problem.
God told us more about his love through the Apostle Paul—like a husband bestowing gifts on his bride, he gives us his gifts, like the gift of faith, the Holy Spirit, and messages of wisdom and knowledge through the Spirit.  To all of you, God has given the gift of faith, and the opportunity to read his Word and hear messages of wisdom from the Bible from godly parents and from godly pastors.  Don’t overlook this gift of God—he has not taken his Word away from you.  He is still reaching out to you to forgive, to protect you from the devil, and bring you to heaven.  Remember this one thing, even if you feel utterly deserted by God—you still have his Word, and the sole purpose of his Word is to bring you to heaven to be with him.  You are his bride, and he delights in you.
A1. God delights in you as the display of his glory.
Now we return to the original thought, and see how it is true that we display God’s glory, like his crown, his crowing work.  No, we are not as rich, successful, and happy as we could be if God wanted to make that happen.  When we are unhappy, disappointed, and poor, it is because of our sinfulness and God’s anger against sin.  But in spite of that, he calls us his bride.  He calls us to repent of our sins so that he can bring us close and shower us with more blessings.  He has promised to bring us into his home, to the glorious mansion in heaven.
Now, if you were to tell someone about the greatest things about your God, you would probably talk about these things…his love and faithfulness to you, his patience, mercy, and the fact that he always forgives and still wants you to be with him in heaven.  We see the greatness of God in the love that he shows for us. 
Nowhere do we see his love more clearly than in Christ our Savior.  He has been revealed as the Son of God, who cares deeply about all our needs, (even changing water into wine!) and who even would give up his life for us on the cross, so that we would not die because of our sins.  In Jesus, we see God revealed to us as the Husband of his people, willing even to die for his bride.   How greatly God loves you!
Now just think, how clearly we will see all this love of God, when he welcomes sinners like us to heaven.  Saints and angels alike will be amazed at what God has done for us, and praise him for his great love.  Bringing us to heaven is his crowning work.  We are his bride.  He delights in us, because he displays his glorious love in us.
St. Paul wrote about God displaying this great love in him.  He called himself the worst sinner—the chief of sinners, because even though he knew the Word of God well, he still acted contrary to God’s will on a daily basis, at one time even putting Christians to death.  But God made him hate his sins, and poured out his love and forgiveness on Paul.  Now, in Paul, we all see how deeply God loves and how completely he forgives—a murderer of Christians can be forgiven so completely that God would make him an apostle.
You may feel God’s anger now, but you will not forever.  He has not deserted you.  If there is any way that it will be good for you, he will give you joy again.  I know this, because he hasn’t taken his love away.  He still shows that he delights in you as his crown and his bride.  He shows it by continuing to give his gifts to you—He still blesses you in many ways that you may take for granted, giving you clothing and shoes, house and home, perhaps a wife and children.  He still calls you to repent every day, because he hasn’t gone back on the word that he spoke at your baptism.  You are still his own dear child.  He reaches out to you with his Word to show his love in what Jesus has done for you.  He still brings you his sacrifice, all wrapped up in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper—his true body and true blood, given for you and to you for the forgiveness of your sins.

God delights in you.  If you have children, you might compare it to the way that you love and care for your children.  If you don’t have children, you may have a pet that you love and care for.  But in neither case does it really compare to the way that God loves and cares for us.  He delights in his creatures, the work of his hands—more than you delight in pets, more than your children.  He created you.  Psalm 139 says that he knit us together in our mother’s womb.  He will never take that love away, and will pay any price to have us with him.  All of this we see in Jesus—God’s great love and concern for all our needs, even the little ones.  Like a husband who wants to make his wife happy, Jesus changed water into wine.  Like a husband who would die to save his wife, Jesus died to save us from God’s eternal punishment in hell.  God has shown his glory by making us sinful people his crown and his bride.  How wonderful, that God delights in us!  Amen.