Isaiah 61:1-4 “Repair”
Believe it or not, the last time I preached from this text in Isaiah was just after the 9/11 attacks in 2001! As a boy I had been to the World Trade Center in New York while stopping on my way to visit my grandfather in Massachusetts. I remember also being on the top of the Empire State building and looking south to see the twin towers standing like sentries above Manhattan. They are gone now. We still mourn the needless loss of life. We still wonder what would drive a man named Osama bin Laden to create such terror in the world.
One of the interesting historical notes looking back today is that we did not rebuild the twin towers. We did not just say let us make things exactly as they were before. I see pictures of the new WTO tower and believe it to be a much more beautiful sight. The new structure is certainly more graceful and monumental at the same time. It is better than before without a doubt.
“Do you not wish that we could just turn back the clock?” I hear this from others all the time. “I remember when ____________” fill in the blank! Would it not be great if we could live in that world that was just before September 11th? A world before Covid? Yet, we all know there is no turning back. We are just fooling ourselves. However, we do have a future ahead of us that can manifest God’s glory if we start thinking about how we are going to rebuild. Looking back is fine, but looking forward is glorious!
Yes, the vaccines are being rolled out now to finally bring an end to the pandemic under which we have suffered. But, this world is never going to be the same after this. It should not be the same. In fact, if it did go back to what was before, then we would be vulnerable to another pandemic. We would have gone through all the suffering and death of Covid and would have learned nothing. We need to make things better after this.
For the Israelites, they had their mound of rubble to return to. This was the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple that was destroyed was the one that was originally built by King David and improved by King Solomon. It is known today as Solomon’s Temple. The fact of the matter is that they could have tried to rebuild stone-by-stone the Temple of Solomon, but they did not. They built a new structure. We talked about this in Bible Study that when Nehemiah rebuilt the gates and walls around Jerusalem, they were taller and wider than they had been before.
Those who do try to go back are usually sadly disappointed in their results to re-create what has been lost. I have colleagues who tout the idea of becoming once more like the churches of the New Testament. Well, when I read Paul’s letters in which he addresses all of the problems of the early church, I think the church has done well to advance in these last two thousand years! I have hope that the future church will continue to be blessed by God as a whole bunch better than simply “restored.” Is that not our hope for the “New Jerusalem” at the time of Christ’s return? Who would want the old Jerusalem if you could have the new one?
When I was a boy going to school everyday in elementary grades, I loved to rush home from school to get to my big box of Legos. I would make so many different buildings. It was one of my greatest joys of childhood.
My younger sister was four years younger than me. She was at that stage of childhood development that experts would say “beginning to develop her ego by affecting her immediate environment.” That is the high-end way of saying that she destroyed everything I built while I was away at school. Everyday I would come home and complain to my mom that Kirsten had once again destroyed my brick structures.
My mother would always say, “Good. Now you can start over and make something better.” As a child that logic was not very comforting at all. However, today as an adult I easily see my mother’s point. If my little sister had not continually knocked down everything I made, I would have simply left the completed structures and never played with Lego again. Destroying your own structures to build again is super hard. So, we should be thankful for those who knock us down.
The book of Isaiah in the Bible is divided into three parts: 1-39, 40-55, & 56-66. In First Isaiah we hear a prophecy that tells us that no matter what kind of death and destruction we may face, no matter what kind evil things we ourselves have done, God is a merciful God. In Second Isaiah we receive the prophecy that no matter how much sorrow we face in our suffering and no matter how fearful we might be, God is a comforting God. Now, in Third Isaiah we receive this prophecy that no matter how hard we try to re-create what we had before, God is the one who creates our future, and it is brighter than we have ever known before. No matter how much we think of ourselves and our abilities in this world, God’s grace is greater, and we shall know this. God’s mercy is greater. God’s comfort is greater.
In First Isaiah God left us as a stump, a root that could grow back again through his mercy. In Second Isaiah, God gave us new life and hope in a barely perceptible shoot coming back out of that root. In Third Isaiah, God grows a new tree from the old stump. And, make no mistake: God does not try to re-create the same tree that was there before. This is a new tree. When we see that a tree has started to grow off of the stump, we do not say “Look, it is the same old tree coming back again.” We say instead: “Look, there is a new tree growing from that old stump.” Through God’s mercy and grace there is a new thing happening that can be far greater and stronger than the tree that was there before.
I want to read just the last lines of Isaiah 60 (coming right before what we read this morning: Eugene Peterson’s translation: “God will be your eternal light. Your days of grieving are over. All your people will live right and well, in permanent possession of the land. They’re the green shoot that I planted, planted with my own hands to display my glory. The runt will become a great tribe, the weakling a strong nation. I am God. At the right time I’ll make it happen.”
In our own lives, we should not be trying to re-gain or re-build. Instead we should allow God to plant that new life within us. Let us look at verse three of today’s text: “to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord to display His glory.”
Jesus is this new life. Jesus is the new thing that God is doing. Christmas is a totally new covenant coming from God to God’s faithful on earth. When Jesus comes to the synagogue in Nazareth, He comes forward and unrolls a scroll with the words of the prophet Isaiah—indeed the very text that was read this morning—and then claims “This is fulfilled today in your hearing.” Check it out in Luke 4:21. And everyone was amazed by this.
We also should be amazed this Christmas. God is doing a new thing.
Look at your own life right now. Are there relationships and feelings that seem to be held together with duct tape? Quick repairs of your life maybe not holding up well? Maybe it is time to actually completely renew those relationships and feelings this morning. Maybe it is time to let God tear you down and rebuild you for God’s glory. Maybe God is trying to do a new thing in your life this morning. Maybe God has already cut you to the root, has planted that seed inside of you, and now is waiting for that new life to sprout up in you.
From Isaiah 43: “Behold I am doing a new thing!”