Sunday of Confusion???

Isaiah 65:17-25

New Heavens and a New Earth

17 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

            {Prayer}

This is one of those mornings, as Pastor Meyer pointed out at the beginning of the service, which has many different names.  It’s the Last Sunday of the Church Year.  But it is also known by some as the Sunday of Fulfillment or the Last Sunday of End Time.  But then we have it in our bulletin as the Christ the King Sunday.  So which is it?  Well, as confusing as each of these different titles may be, the answer is … E, all the above.  Each of these titles, whether they are listed separately or are linked together, they are all fitting for this particular Sunday.

And here’s why.  This is the Last Sunday of the Church Year because next Sunday we start up the season of Advent.  The season of Advent directs our attention to the birth of Jesus in that tiny manger in Bethlehem.  Thus the church calendar starts with the anticipation, the preparation of the birth of Jesus.  After Jesus is born, the rest of the church calendar revolves around his earthly life.  But besides getting us ready for Christmas, the season of Advent also directs our attention to this morning, the Sunday of Fulfilment or the Last Sunday of End Time.  The writer to the Hebrews says that “{Jesus} will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:29b).

And that is what this Sunday is about.  The newborn king whose birth in that messy manger in Bethlehem which we will celebrate a month from today will come again on the very last day riding in on the clouds as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords accompanied with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God (1 Thess. 5:16).  Jesus will make his second appearance, and when he appears, everyone, whether they believed in Jesus as their Savior or not, will clearly know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ is truly the King of all.

So in a nutshell, that is what this morning is about.  It is all about the triumphant return of Jesus as King.  It’s all about the last day when Jesus comes and puts the old order of this sinful world to rest and as it says in Isaiah 65, “Behold, {he} will create new heavens and a new earth” (65:1).  Today is all about the day in which Jesus comes to raise our lowly bodies from our graves and makes them to be perfect, to be like his most glorious body.

Now, I don’t know about you, but to be truly honest with you, when I look at the whole order of worship we put together this morning … I’m confused.  I understand, I clearly get how on this day we celebrate that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and on that great and mysterious day of the Lord, because of Jesus’ victorious defeat of sin, death, and Satan they will no longer exist, they will no longer have any power over us.  I get that!  I’m excited about that!  Oh sure, I’m with each of you in that there are many things I still want to do or accomplish in my life before that great and awesome day comes… but if I don’t get to them for whatever reason, I know that by the faith given to me in my baptism and by the gracious suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus … I will someday dwell in the glorious realms of this new heaven and new earth which Isaiah speaks of in our Old Testament lesson and those things I want to accomplish won’t matter anymore.

I know all that and I truly believe it with all my heart … and yet for some odd reason I’m still confused and maybe so are you, maybe you’re not.  And even if you aren’t, here’s what my confusion is … if this morning is all about the great return of Jesus as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then why on God’s good green creation are we singing a hymn like “Joy to the World” for the sermon hymn?  Of all the great hymns to sing on a festive Sunday as this, why are we singing a Christmas hymn?  The simple answer is because I picked it, but why?

Well, let me maybe muddy the waters of your confusion this morning a little more with this question … when is a Christmas hymn not a Christmas hymn?  When is a Christmas hymn not a Christmas hymn?  For me, for a song to be classified as a Christmas hymn, it should meet certain criteria.  For instances, perhaps a Christmas hymn is not a Christmas hymn when it doesn’t focus on the birth of Christ?  I mean really, isn’t that the point of a Christmas hymn?  Isn’t a Christmas hymn supposed to tell us about the good news which brings us great joy, that today in the city of David, a Savior has been born unto you (Luke 2:10-11)?  Isn’t a Christmas hymn supposed to tell us the story of Christ’s birth in that tiny town of Bethlehem?  Show of hands, how many of you agree with me on this?

How many of you would rank Joy to the World as one of your first Christmas hymns? Joy to the World is one of most people’s favorite hymns to sing at Christmas time.  But if you look at the words of it … you know what you won’t find?  You won’t find any mention of the birth of Jesus.  You won’t find any message of the angels telling the shepherds to go and see the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths.  You won’t find any angels rejoicing over the birth of the Son of God.  Joy to the World has nothing to do with the birth of Christ.  So should it even be considered a Christmas hymn?

Now before you answer that, let’s look at this hymn a little more in depth.  When Isaac Watts wrote this beloved hymn, he didn’t base it off of any of the birth narratives we read at Christmas.  Instead, he based this hymn on Psalm 98, especially the later part of it.  Here is what Psalm 98 says, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity” (Ps 98:4, 7-9).

If you noticed, there is no mention of the birth of Jesus, there is no mention of angels or shepherds or even the Magi which we put in our nativities.  There is mention of the Lord, but it is in the sense of him coming to judge the earth.  The judging of the earth didn’t occur at Christmas, it is something which you and I are still waiting for to happen.  We are still waiting for Jesus to fulfill the promise He made to the disciples that he would come again.  And on that most glorious last day, as the writer to the Hebrews told us earlier, Christ will not come to bear the sins of the world but he will come to judge the world.  Those who believe in him will be given eternal life and those who don’t believe will be forever condemned.

So let’s clear up the confusion.  Why do we sing Joy to the World at Christmas and on a day like today?  Well, the reason why Joy to the World is fitting for Christmas and the reason why we sing it then is because the hymn celebrates God’s involvement with His people.  That involvement began way back at the beginning of all time, but God’s involvement with His people in the flesh began that night in that messy manger in that tiny little town of Bethlehem.  God in the flesh of Jesus came down from heaven to be with His people.  Jesus fully immersed himself into our daily lives.  He experienced everything we experience, all our heartaches, all our pain, all our joys and successes, but more importantly, Jesus came to be like us so that He could be our Savior.  Jesus came to live under the Law of God like us but he did it perfectly.  Jesus came to suffer God’s wrath and die on the cross for the sins of the world.  Jesus came to rise from the coldness of death to defeat sin and death, and to declare victory over Satan.

But that is only really the beginning of God’s involvement with us through Jesus.  Jesus now lives in heaven and he has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit which lives within the hearts of you and me and all believers.  God grants all believers His eternal peace which surpasses all human understanding.  And Jesus has promised to return and when he does, Jesus will reach into our graves, raise our frail, decrepit, and sinful bodies from our graves in order to restore them to perfection.  Once we are raised, once we are made perfect, we will live with Christ and all the saints who have gone before in those new heavens and earth which Isaiah tells about this morning.  There in that new creation, we will rejoice and give praise to our Savior.

But if you look at the worlds of Psalm 98 and look at the words Isaac Watts uses … you’ll notice that it is not just you and I who will rejoice when Christ returns … all of creation will be rejoicing.  Just listen to these words … “Fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy. No more let sins and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow.”  Not only will you and I be restored to perfection, but so will the rest of God’s wonderful creation.

So why sing a hymn typically sung at Christmas on this Christ the King Sunday?  Because the celebration of Christmas is not just about the birth of Jesus.  That is part of it, but it isn’t the whole thing.  The celebration of Christmas also involves celebrating the rest of the story.  It involves celebrating Christ’s perfect life, his death, his resurrection and how on that last day as he rides in as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus will end any and all confusion we may have as he restores you and me and all of creation to perfection.  In the midst of that perfection we will not remember any of the confusing things of this world for we will be in the glorious and most awesome presences of Christ, the King of Kings.  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing!”  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, now and forever.  Amen.