Restoration and Vindication
Israel was looking for restoration to prominence. But would restoration come in the way they had hoped or expected?
Call to Worship
Pastor: O my God, do not take me away at the mid-point of my life,
People: You whose years endure throughout all generations.
Pastor: Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
People: And the heavens are the work of your hands.
Pastor: They will perish, but you endure.
People: They will all wear out like a garment;
Pastor: You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
People: But you are the same, and your years have no end.
Pastor: The children of your servants shall live secure;
People: Their offspring shall be established in your presence.
– Based on Psalm 102:24–28
*Hymn of Praise # 113 Angels We Have Heard on High
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) Come to us now, Holy Spirit. Enter every struggle that lies here and embrace it with your courage. Enter every decision that is made among us and enhance it with your wisdom. For we offer this moment in our life to you, O God, Visit us now with your love.
Our Offering to God We are called to share in love with others.
Doxology Prayer of Dedication O God of ages past, God of the present, and God of years to come, we ask you to help us use this coming year in ways that bring honor to you and all people to faith in your Son. We look out over 365 days of possibility. We anticipate opportunities to give of our time, our talent, and our financial resources. Make this a year of growth for us, both as individuals and as a congregation, that we may serve those who are the least of our brothers and sisters. Bless our offerings of this day, that they may be only a foretaste of what we will offer to you. In Jesus we pray. Amen.
Scripture Reading Colossians 3:12–21
So many gifts; so many responsibilities. While the writer lists many of God’s gifts to us – above all, love – so the writer admonishes God’s people to use the gifts accordingly, including wives, husbands, and children.
TM So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
Wives, understand and support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master. Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don’t take advantage of them. Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master no end. Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.
NLT 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
16 Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Instructions for Christian Households
18 You wives must submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord. 19 And you husbands must love your wives and never treat them harshly.
20 You children must always obey your parents, for this is what pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, don’t aggravate your children. If you do, they will become discouraged and quit trying.
NRSV 12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
18Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.
20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. 21Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.
*Hymn of Prayer # 120 Joy to the World
Pastoral Prayer Merciful God, a year has past; a new year beckons. We recognize our failures over the past 12 months. Even in the past days we have indulged ourselves in ways that do not bring honor to you or physical or spiritual health to ourselves. For some it is an excess of goods at Christmas. For some it is an excess of food or drink. For some it is a willful disregard for sharing the many goods and gifts that we have. In the joy of celebrating a baby born in a manger, we celebrate also the forgiveness offered through that baby’s life, death, and resurrection. Bring us newness of life in this year and always. /// Eternal God, you have set us in your creation, and you bless us with your love through the events of our lives. In this new year, open our hearts and minds to know your presence and see your love at work. Give us faith and grace to live in the light of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, our source of joy forever. Amen.
*Hymn of Praise insert Away in a Manger
Scripture Reading Isaiah 61:10—62:3
After the exile, the people of Israel take on renewed position with their God. The prophet uses the language of weddings and royalty to remind the people that they will have a new status in the world.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. 1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Message Restoration and Vindication
Sometimes things don’t appear very positive for God’s people, even as they were not positive upon their return from exile. God sometimes can vindicate the people in ways that they don’t expect, even decades or hundreds of years in the future. It is without doubt that God’s children will be restored. Will it necessarily be in this kingdom?
It didn’t look so good for the Nelson family. The parents both worked hard at modest, low-paying jobs. Their two girls were in seventh grade and fourth grade. They lived in a house that didn’t look too bad if one didn’t look too closely. But the builder had shaved every corner possible in order to make it affordable for people with lower incomes. The Nelsons had celebrated Christmas, and had gone to their grandparents’ home for a couple more days of celebration. They could not have anticipated the disaster that awaited them. In their absence, a substandard wire in the basement of their home chose the dark of the night to unleash its power in a destructive way. The fire smoldered for a long while, and ultimately only a quarter of the home was actually burned. But there was smoke and soot everywhere. Even the insides of the girls’ jewelry boxes were soiled.
Bob was dispirited, but he had insurance. This is what insurance was for, right? The house would be rebuilt, the soot and smoke would be cleaned. It would be better than ever. But it wasn’t better than ever. Insurance did cover the major part of the damage, But it couldn’t replace everything that was damaged. The pictures and special clothing couldn’t be replaced adequately. The deductible the Nelsons had to pay was considerable, and the house always had a bit of a smell of smoke. The Nelsons had hoped that everything would be restored, but their home never got back to the way it was before the fire.
It didn’t look so good for the people of Israel in their return from their forced exile. They had lived under the rule of Assyrians and Babylonians. They were away from their homeland for generations. They were looking forward to a new beginning. There had been promises that Israel would be restored. Jerusalem again would be a capital to which princes and kings would come. God’s people would be restored to a place of prominence in the world. The restored temple would again be the centerpiece of worship.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Upon their return to their former land, they found that everything couldn’t go back to the way it once was under David and Solomon. Others were living in their towns and cities. Rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem was hard work. And we know that outside a glimmer of prominence, Israel never was a world or regional power. Persia was flexing its muscle, and Rome was ramping up to become the power broker of the world. Yet there is no hedging in Isaiah’s proclamation in our lesson today. Isaiah doesn’t lay out the possibility of Israel’s restoration. He lays it out as a matter of certain expectation. Isaiah uses the imagery of a bridegroom and a bride. They are decked with the adornments of celebration. Isaiah uses the imagery of agriculture – the earth and garden bringing forth shoots and fruits. So shall Israel be adorned and so shall Israel bear fruit. But how can that be the case? The days of David and Solomon were long gone. More powerful nations treated Israel like third class citizens. How was Israel to be vindicated? Perhaps Israel’s vindication was to come in a way that the people did not expect. At the time of Jesus, there were some who wanted to make Jesus a king to usher in the new age for Israel. Even today, there are some who still expect Israel to return to world prominence under the direction of a Messiah.
Isaiah was right, but in a way not anticipated by God’s people. Nations would see Israel’s vindication, and kings would see the glory of Israel. We stand about halfway between two festivals in the church. Christmas, of course, is celebrated by both church and culture. Even most non-Christians in America celebrate Christmas in some way. In these 12 days of Christmas, the church seeks to point not to gifts and trees, but to the baby in the manger.
The next festival comes in five days – Epiphany – a festival absolutely ignored by our culture even though it is a day on which important gifts are given. It is the day we mark as the visit of the Magi or Wise Men or Kings to the boy, Jesus. Kings, you say? Kings will see the glory of Israel? And would that glory be a boy? That boy would wear a crown of beauty one day – made of thorns. That boy would hold a royal diadem in his hand – a shepherd’s staff.
Well, how does it look for you on this first day of a new year? Is this the fresh start for which you have been looking? Perhaps you have big plans for the year. This is the year that you will lose those 25 pounds. This is the year you will start your new business. This is the year that you will begin daily devotions and volunteer more often in the church. All of those things are great. Humans being what we are, though, most of our resolutions will come to nothing. We fail to rebuild ourselves or our lives, even as Israel was not able to rebuild the temple or Jerusalem to their satisfaction. Even so, none of that negates the promises of Isaiah and the promises of God. While things may not be just as we might like them in this world, there is going to be a vindication for God’s people. That vindication has just been celebrated as God’s Son born in a manger. And we can rejoice, for we have been clothed with that one’s garments of salvation. Happy New Year! Happy? Maybe. Probably. As most of us count our blessings, we have more than we deserve, and we certainly have more than did the people returning from exile. We are not starting from the poverty of slavery and the lack of goods. To the contrary, most of us have far too much and find it difficult to move because we are over-burdened. Or perhaps over-blessed.
We are very blessed. But we will be even more blessed as we await final vindication and restoration. For Christians, this will not be a rebuilt Jerusalem or temple. It probably will not be in the next 12 months, save for the few of us whose earthly lives will come to an end. Instead, the final vindication comes in God’s good time. So let us rejoice and exult in God’s promise this New Year. Amen.– Norman W. Wahl
*Hymn of Response #220 Break Thou the Bread of Life
Communion Hymn # 222 Sing Them Over Again to Me
Thought for the Day
While continuing in the Christmas season, the world celebrates this day as the start to a new year. Israel was looking for a new start in the Lord. Is there a new start today for you?