Old Testament Reading Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11
Epistle Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24
Gospel Reading: John 1:6–8, 19–28
Sermon: “Good News”
So far this Advent season we have journeyed along with the prophetic words of Isaiah as we first examined the theme of Hope. Hope for the One who was, and is, and is to come again. We then dealt with the theme of Preparation and waiting for that coming. Now this week, our theme turns to joyful witness about just who this coming one really is and the true nature of his mission. I have mentioned before that Biblical prophesy many times has the wondrous property of being true for more than one time and more than one audience. Our God speaks out through the prophets of his eternal nature and his great eternal love, so perhaps this is why those words continue to resonate throughout time in different situations. This property of multiple fulfillment is certainly in view this morning. Isaiah speaks for God directly to the Babylonian exiles – telling them that God has Good News for them. God is proclaiming release, restoration, comfort, healing and a glorious future.
This, of course, is not only a message for for those ancient Israelites – God is eternal and so is his intention to bind up and reconcile with his children. That is best demonstrated when Jesus read these same words at the beginning of his ministry in the Synagogue of his home town of Nazareth. (Luke 4:16-21 NIV)
As Luke tells us  … He stood up to read,  and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
With those words, Jesus applied these verses to himself, Claiming that they had been fulfilled in their hearing. It was his mission statement and it packs quite a punch when we realize the full impact of just what is said. Not only is Jesus’ ministry of healing and compassion foreshadowed here, but there is much more. When Jesus claims Isaiah’s prophecy he also claims the role of Messiah. The one who can give beauty and righteousness and a spirit of Praise instead of ashes, mourning, devastation and despair. He is the one to finally proclaim the Year of Jubilee – the time set out in the ancient law when slaves were set free, all debts were canceled and ancestral lands returned to the original families. These words speak to us in the church of the very grace of God – Forgiveness of Sin, reconciliation of of separation from God here and now and promise of our eternal home with God forevermore. Through his mission, desolation and wilderness were to become as the very garden of Eden. God’s creation as God originally intended it to be – very Good. This is very Good News indeed. We, right along with the Israelites can say – “We are the people that God has blessed” (Is 61:9b)
The gospel of John, which I freely admit is my personal favorite among the gospels, is all about who Jesus really is. It begins with the wonderful prologue which we will share again as we worship on Christmas Eve in candlelight. The Gospel of John begins this way – describing our Savior: (John 1:1-5 NIV)  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The very next words are words of witness to this light and they come from John the Baptist (John 1:6-8 NIV)
 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
Jesus testified that Isaiah spoke about him when he talked of the one who was to come and save the people. John’s entire mission in life was to prepare the way and to witness to the light when it was revealed to Israel. He would not accept any of the official titles of, or about, the one who was to come. “I am not the Messiah” he said. “I am not the Prophet” (speaking of the Prophet that Moses said was to come after him). He further denied that he was even Elijah who was to return to prepare for the Messiah. He said this even though later Jesus even said that John had indeed been sent in the Spirit and office of Elijah. No, He would accept none of their titles. He was there for only one thing – to witness to the person and mission of Jesus Christ.
When they asked in frustration essentially ‘who are you then – give us some sort of answer?’ John also quotes the words of Isaiah and claims them for himself. (John 1:23 NIV) “John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ” We heard those words in worship last week as we considered the theme of preparation. John was content to point to Jesus without claiming any other office for himself. He told the Pharisees: “… among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” The very next day, John is even more explicit as he physically points to Jesus himself saying: (John 1:29-31 NIV) “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
It is as if John is on the witness stand in court: Are you… no, well then are you… no Who are you then? ‘I am a witness to that man right there! He is up front about his own lack of status and office, he takes no credit himself, but he testifies vigorously about Jesus – the Savior of the world. You know, we could do a lot worse than to take John’s method to heart and emulate it thoroughly – It’s not about us, it’s all about Jesus, who he is; what he has done for us, and continues to do for us.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on those who so closely questioned John and later Jesus himself. The miracle of the incarnation – God coming to us in Human flesh, and yet was truely Lord of the universe is a lot to take in, Yet it is precisely what we celebrate this time of Year and it is very good News indeed. In spite of John’s witness, and the testimony of the gospel writers, It still took the church a long time to come to a common understanding of who this person Jesus is and what his wondrous birth, life, death and resurrection fully mean for us. It wasn’t until the 300’s AD at the council of Nicaea that our current understanding was finally solidified and even then it took almost another 100 years before being fully adopted by the whole church. It was in that period of the 5th century when a poet named Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, was born in northern Spain, a magistrate whose religious convictions came late in life. His subsequent sacred poems were literary and personal. He wrote a whole series of sacred Poems – one each hour of the day.
Part of one of them, is preserved as one of the oldest hymns still existing in the church today. “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”, its hymn #108 in our Glory to God Hymnal. Perhaps its an old favorite for you as it is for me, more likely, you may never have heard of it. It speaks beautifully of who Jesus is and what he has done using the imagery of the gospels. Its particularly appropriate for the Advent and Christmas season. Take out your song sheet and follow along as I read the words – then we will sing together using music that is almost as ancient as the words.
1 Of the Father’s love begotten,
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega;
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!
2 By his Word was all created;
he commanded; it was done:
heaven and earth and depths of ocean,
universe of three in one,
all that sees the moon’s soft shining,
all that breathes beneath the sun,
evermore and evermore!
3 O, that birth forever blessed
when the Virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race,
and the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore!
4 This is he whom seers in old time
chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets
promised in their faithful word.
Now he shines, the long-expected.
Let creation praise its Lord,
evermore and evermore!
5 O ye heights of heaven, adore him.
Angel hosts, his praises sing.
Powers, dominions, bow before him,
and extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent;
every voice in concert ring,
evermore and evermore!
6 Christ, to thee with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be.
Honor, glory, and dominion,
and eternal victory,
evermore and evermore! Amen.