Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the third Wednesday of Advent 12/16/2020. The service is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, use the order of Vespers found on LSB page 229 or download it here: Advent3 Vespers

The texts for the sermon were Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Isaiah 35.


In Eden, Adam and Eve saw God, and they walked with God. He loved them, and they loved Him back. In Eden, they heard His voice, and sang for joy. In Eden, they could leap like deer and play with jackals. No anxiety, no fear.

Life in the Garden was one of blossoms and streams. And maybe most of all, life in Eden meant the joy of being home: the joy of being at home with your heavenly Father, the joy of walking in the cool of the day with His Son, and in the light of His Holy Spirit.

Outside of that being and living, there is dying. Outside of that walking and that light, there is wandering and darkness. Outside that Garden is wilderness.

It’s not a truly happy place even when things are going well. Even when they are not being captured by the Babylonians, and led into exile, even when they are not being made into slaves and killed in countless battles, even when things are going “well” for God’s people,

Some people are born blind or deaf; some people’s legs won’t work right; some people’s mouths can’t form words.

And so a mother might never even hear that her child loves her; a father may never see his son grow up to be a man. Even when things are going well, the wilderness is a place of anxiety and sorrow, of weakness and fear. For God’s people, the wilderness is a place of longing – longing to live and not to die; longing to flourish as children and not as exiles and slaves; longing to be home again with their Father, and walk with His Son in the light of His Spirit.

Even when, on the whole, things are going “well,” our world is not what it’s supposed to be. Every day kids are still  born blind or deaf, mute or lame; disease and war take our friends and loved ones from us; anxiety and fear cripple families and relationships. And, as it was for God’s exiled people, our status as His children does not seem to prevent most of it.

We are His children, to be sure, and yet this fallen world is a wilderness of our own making – dark, fearful, and vast.

What exiles like you and me and Israel really need is to live in a place of God’s making. What we really need is to go home again to Eden.

But the distance between here and there is so great, and the terrain is so hazardous, and the land is so full of predators, that folks like us, who have weak hands and feeble knees, and anxious hearts – we’ll never make it.

Isaiah’s prophecy, then, is not just for Judah; and it does not speak only of their deliverance from foreign nations. Isaiah’s prophecy is for you. Through His prophet, your heavenly Father says that He wants the same thing: that what He’d really like is to have everyone home for Christmas.

But because we cannot make it home, He will bring home to us. Why should your weak hands become strong? Why should your knees get firm? Why should your anxious hearts be cured of fear?

Because God has promised to come and save you. He kept His word to the exiles in Babylon, just the way He kept His word to Moses and His people, Israel. Just the way He kept His word to Abraham and David. In just that way, He has kept His promise to you.

It is this very passage that Jesus brings to John the Baptist’s attention. That means it was not fulfilled merely when Judah’s captives were delivered, but when Jesus came to ransom all of you.

Be strong; fear not! The vengeance and recompense of God has been poured out on His Son. Be strong; fear not! By full manger and, full cross, with full heart and empty tomb, He has come to save you.

He has come to carry you home again to Eden, to His new creation. Our sorrowful wilderness made glad, our deserts full of flowers, our eyes opened to see God face to face, our ears opened to hear His living voice, our mouths open to sing, our legs strong to dance.

You can have a taste of that right now. For the Church is a place of God’s making, and not our own – a bright oasis in a dark wilderness, a stream in the desert. A home for God’s pilgrim people; and a place of life amidst death.

You are the ransomed of the LORD, and you shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon your heads; you shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


First Lutheran Church Sermon Archive

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