The Lord is My Strength and My Song
Text: Isaiah 12:1-6
4 Lent, C
Perhaps you have never really thought of Lent as a “singing time of year.” Especially a season for singing joyfully. Beautiful and moving Christmas Carols, or resplendent and triumphant Easter strains are what normally pop into mind when one talks of the glory of song in the Christian Church. Yet as good as each of these are, I personally don't think that they hold a candle to the singing the church does during the season of Lent. Christmas speaks well of the incarnation and Easter the Resurrection, but Lent ... ah the hymns of Lent strike powerfully at the central chord of God's salvation history.
Consider our text from Isaiah. It is a perfect example of the beauty of a Lenten hymn. And yes I say this fully realizing that this is almost word for word the OT Canticle from the Service of Prayer and Preaching which many people struggle to learn to sing in their mid-week services. But, those things that are most beautiful and most important in the end are always worth the effort to learn. Those things that speak to the heart and mind of God are never easy for us to grasp at first.
Consider the strange words with which our text begins: (1) You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. God was angry with me? How? ... Why? ... people ask. I'm doing the best I can. I try to live right. I try to be a good person. Such a statement is hard for people to joyfully put to song. But God is angry with sin and every person is a sinner. Every action, every intention, every emotion of the heart is tainted with sin, stained with sin, twisted by sin. As we sang in our Hymn just a few moments ago: “In Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man, we all have fled that evening voice that sought us as we ran.” The very one who can help is the one that our sin keeps us from. None of us is exempt. None of us is righteous. Our best just isn't good enough.
Yet despite our sin, Isaiah sings, God turned his anger away that He might comfort us wretched sinners. It is the picture of the Father in our Gospel reading, overjoyed at the sight of his long lost son, throwing dignity to the wind and running out to throw his arms around his bedraggled and beleaguered child. Why? The song of Isaiah goes on: (2) Behold, God is my salvation ... the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. God turned His wrath away by becoming our salvation for us. By sending His beloved Son into the flesh. By becoming the sin that he hates that he might slay it once and for all in the flesh of His one and Only. To leave it buried in the tomb forever. As we will sing in our Closing Hymn: “Christ Jesus is the ground of Faith, who was made flesh and suffered death all then who trust in Him alone are built on this chief cornerstone.”
And again, in song: “Be of good cheer, for God's own Son forgives all sins which you have done and justified by Jesus' blood Your Baptism grants the highest good.” (3) With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Jesus is our well of salvation. A life-giving water granted in Baptism to which we may return again and again and again. He is the gift of life that will never fail. Jesus is our strength for overcoming sin. Jesus is our song. What greater thing can we sing of than all our Lord has done to rescue us from God's anger? What greater joy can there be than in the thankful song of a forgiven sinner.
Or again as St. Paul declares in our Epistle (2 Cor. 5:18-20) “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
How are we God's ambassadors? How does He make His appeal through us? Through our song dear friends! This is the glorious task to which our Lord has called us ... to sing! (2) Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; (4) And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.
But not just any singing will do. Not all praises are the same. The truest and best way to give thanks to the Lord is to exalt his name that is to make his deeds known from one end of the earth to the other. It is the message of reconciliation he has entrusted to us and this is at the heart of every great and joyful hymn of praise. Not our emotional response, not some pretty tune that sticks in your head. The message that God was in Christ reconciling sinners to himself. The great and mighty deeds of salvation wrought by Jesus in his life death and resurrection. The gifts of forgiveness life and salvation freely distributed in Word and Water and Bread and Wine.
And it is for all these reasons that Lent is truly one of the greatest and most joyous seasons of song we Christians have. It is all in there: our sin, the need of a saviour, the great and mighty deeds of Christ and our eternal confidence in Him. “Jesus sinners doth receive, oh may all this saying ponder who in sin's delusions live and from God and heaven wander! Here is hope for all who grieve: Jesus sinners doth receive.” Therefore let us join with the saints of old, the saints in heaven and the saints yet to come in using these forty days as a time of powerful song!
Let us stop and consider the rich blessing that God's saints in Christ have left for us in songs that get to the heart of the Gospel. Songs like: “In Adam we have all been one” “God loved the world so that He gave” and “Jesus sinners doth receive” Not only are they beautiful to sing, but each one encapsulates the entire doctrine of our salvation through Jesus Christ alone, without any merit or worthiness on our part. Each one is a powerful witness to the God who is our strength and our song. Each is a joyous reminder of all that God, right here in our midst, is doing for us even now. And, I pray, each would be a powerful witness to all that God is even now doing through us as our song is heard throughout this world. (6) Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.