By Paul Koch –
There is a song that has been sung throughout time. We may not always hear it; but when we really listen, it is there and it tells an epic tale. It is an ancient story that has been told and is being told even now. Whether we know it or not, it is about us. It’s a song about a world gripped in sin and death. It’s about a God who is grieved and angry and even compassionate. It is about death and life, about pain and triumph. It sings of suffering, so much suffering. We see this suffering around us and feel in our bones, suffering that brings tears to our eyes and breaks the hearts of our loved ones. But it is not a funeral dirge; for it is a song of hope, as well. It is a song that we hear most clearly when we hear it from the pages of Holy Scripture. The great refrain of this song we hear from the prophet Isaiah, “I will gave thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me” (Is. 12:1).
The problem we face is that we often lose this song. Not that it stops, but we stop listening or we don’t listen to all of it. If we only listen to the parts we like, if we only pay attention to the refrains of joy and blessing, then even those great refrains lose their impact. The song no longer seems to be about us. If we forget our sin, if we make light of it and think it matters not, then the wonder and sweetness of Isaiah’s song goes flat. It no longer rises in our hearts and we hear it only as amusing background noise to our lives.
We live in a time and age where we are losing a battle of our own language. Along with it often goes our sensitivity to sinfulness, and with that goes our confession and repentance. Things that were never even discussed by our grandparents were eventually tolerated by our parents and now they are embraced by my generation as normal. Sin is now simply a problem of situations in life: where we are often reminded that we are to hate the sin but love the sinner. Sin is a bad choice made or a backsliding into something you don’t want to do. Sin is a mere hiccup on the road to recovery. But our God does not see sin so lightly. Sin is a rejection of his Lordship. It is a turning away from his Fatherly goodness. He despises sin. He hates sin. He hates the sinner. Those who sin will die and they will be punished. Sin is not a bad decision; it is a desire to live apart from your Creator. Apart from him there is no life.
The ancient song does not sing for joy to those trapped in sin. Rather the song screams at you to do one thing and one thing only. There is only one thing you can do as you stand before a righteous and pure God entangled in your sin and shame: run! Run from the wrath of God! Run because you have been found lacking! You have nothing within you that should cause him to relent. But to be honest, where shall we run? Where can we go that he will not find us? Where can we hide that his just law will not call us out and declare our guilt to the entire world? Oh, we can ignore it. We can drown it out in distractions, but not forever.
As the song roars at us, we begin to look for other alternatives. If we cannot run, if we cannot hide away from the wrath of God and accusation of the Law, then perhaps we can make a deal or create a diversion. Maybe we start by throwing our neighbors under the bus. We know that God hates sin and so we point out the sin in others. Look, look at them! At least I’m not as bad as they are. Why don’t you punish them? Focus on them? Their idolatry is worse than mine. Their sinfulness is carried out with reckless abandon. At least I want to do better. So we seek a deal. Just give me one more chance. Give me another shot; I promise I’ll get it right next time. In our delusion we think that we can cover our own sin with attempts at righteousness. The relentless beat of the ancient song denies us any comfort in such strategy. No, we are exposed. We are sinful, guilty, empty-handed creatures with nowhere to hide.
There is no way out for you, but the song goes on. Though all our efforts, all our cleverness, all our strength ends. The song goes on. But there is one who enters into the ancient story. There is one who comes right into the song and stands in your place to bear your sin. In taking up your trespasses, he is judged as guilty in your place. In becoming sin for you, he is cursed upon the tree. In him all the wrath of God is poured out. It is upon his lips that the song begins to change, right at the very moment he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And so here comes the refrain we know and love. It is the joyous song that gives comfort and hope and is filled with the promises of a loving God. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” Did you hear that? His anger did not end; it did not just cease to be. His anger was turned away. It was turned away from you and focused upon his only begotten Son. God’s wrath is turned to Christ so that you might be comforted. Oh, now see what glorious news this is! What a joy! What a splendor to live in the grace of our God. No longer do we run. No longer do we need to hide or barter or seek diversion. The Lord God is our strength and our song. He has become our salvation.
Your sin has already been judged. Your guilt has already been paid for. The ancient song is now one of promise and hope for you. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,” says Isaiah. In the waters of Holy Baptism we are given to know this song for there you have died and now live in Christ, your Lord. In him you have life and joy and the promise of a life beyond this vale of tears. A life of hope and blessing for all eternity is now yours.
This, then, is the song we are to take up on our lips today and every day. It is a song of hope in the midst of a world in despair, a song of freedom in the midst of a life of slavery, a song of joy in the face of suffering. It is the song that we sing to each other, the song we sing to our children and our parents and our brothers and sisters. It is a song that we carry out these doors and into this world. We sing of the great deeds of our God who came and died and rose so that we might sing on.
For any reason, if this song grows dim in your hearts, come back to the house of your Lord. Return to the fellowship of the saints. Come and hear it sung again and again, and again.