I pray 2018 was a good year for you – even a great year for you – but no matter how good it may have been, was it a perfect year for you? Obviously no year can be a perfect year, but I imagine that some of you might not even use “great” or “good” to describe 2018, because I imagine some of you might just be happy it’s over with and you’re hoping that all the bad stuff of 2018 will not have to be entered on your calendar in the year ahead.
But there is a way that we can have hope for a perfect year in the year ahead, and Isaiah the prophet gives us that promise of God by taking us back to the place where Adam and Eve once lived. He does that in verse 3 of our lesson, which is in the fourth line of the paragraph: “The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” Let’s see how for every single one of us here tonight God will make this coming year “The Year of the Garden of Eden.”
The prophet Isaiah was writing to people whose lives did not look like anything close to the Garden of Eden, any more than it looks like that for you and me today. In the opening verse God refers to his people as those “who pursue righteousness and seek the Lord.” We really are trying, right? We really are trying to live in a way that pleases our Lord, and we really not only ache for how displeasing we so often are to him, but we also get righteously frustrated about how crazy and chaotic the world is all around us, which in general has made 2018 another year of greed and corruption and disrespect and fear and terror and death. You see those recaps and summaries of the year once in a while, right? The headlines this year are not really any different than the headlines of any other year. They can’t be. Ever since Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden, it is painfully clear that we do not live there. 2018 was not the year of the Garden of Eden.
But 2019 will be. At least, it will be in the way God speaks of it being the year of the Garden of Eden. To help us see that, he takes his original readers and us back in time to the father of the Jewish nation, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah. Those original readers were no different from you or me. They were being tempted to not believe God’s promise when he said all would be okay, because all around them certainly did not look okay. At that time they were being attacked by people who were godless and greedy and corrupt and were filled with terror and destruction and death. The people of God who were so sorry for how they had sinned against God to cause all of this and who yearned for the assurance of the forgiveness of God cried out to God, “How can you keep your promises to our father Abraham about the Savior of the world being born in the Promised Land, if the Promised Land right now is being taken over by people who don’t care about your promise one bit?
od answered their concerns about his promise being fulfilled by taking them back to another promise that had already been fulfilled. In the opening verse God told them to “look at the rock from which they were cut and the quarry from which they were hewn.” In other words, look back at your father Abraham, who was just like you. When he received the promise that he would be the father of a countless number of people who would put their faith in the one who was still two thousand years to come, he was only one person – and he and his wife were way, way past the years of being able to have children. But God gave them a miracle child, Isaac, and so began the line of the true miracle Child, Jesus, until the time of his holy birth which we just celebrated. And that’s when God told his people who were crying out to him for help that he would make all their ruins and pieces of destruction like the garden of the Lord, where there will always be joy and gladness and thanksgiving and singing. And when God says he will do something, it is as good as done. It is as if it is reality right now.
So, do you see how 2019 will be the Garden of Eden? In the way that God talks about things, every year is the Garden of Eden for those who aren’t trying to make it into a Garden of Eden according to their own way of looking at things. I would not choose to get sick for even one day in 2019. I would not choose to lose all – or even some of — my money in 2019. I would not choose to be betrayed by my best friend in 2019. I would not choose anything bad, but what I need to remember is that since the Garden of Eden will not happen – and cannot happen – in 2019 on the basis of what I want, I can entrust myself to the one who makes every year a perfect year through the promises of the peace of Jesus, who has come just as God said he would.
Because of Jesus all will be okay. That is the distinction Isaiah is talking about in the last verse of our lesson – verse 6 four lines from the bottom – when he says, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” Don’t look for the Garden of Eden in things and places which cannot provide it. Look for it in the place where God lives – your heart. And when God lives in your heart, all is well with your soul. You are living in the Garden of Eden because in the sight of God you are looked at – and loved – in the very same way that God our Father looks at – and loves – his Son, since Jesus and the Father are one – and because of the love of Jesus, you and I are one with the Father, as well, no matter how it may look to the eyes in our head. Use the eyes of faith in your heart. Those are the eyes which have truly perfect vision. They see the Garden of Eden in everything of life and death.
Obviously we need to keep reminding ourselves and comforting one another with those promises, but there are many people close by and far away who know little or nothing of this at all, and who can only try to be getting by and surviving in the year ahead or who think they have the answers to getting ahead and thriving in the year ahead. And even if they do survive or thrive by some human standard, there will come a time when their surviving and thriving will be just like a worn-out coat that finally has to be thrown out. These are people we pray God will let us help – maybe one person – maybe more – by directing them to the only way Paradise can be restored – by directing them to their eternal, saving Lord. That desire is what God also seeks to instill in us in verses 4-5 in the middle of our lesson, when he says in verse 4, “Listen to me, my people, hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice (that means, his work of the forgiveness of our sins) will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.”
Some of those people from “the nations” that God wants to be a light for are far away. Those of you who were in church last Sunday saw just one example of that in the WELS Connection presentation which spoke of some 100,000 Christians in the nation of Viet Nam looking for spiritual help from our missionaries in order to help them clearly see the true light of Jesus. Others, of course, are very close by. Some may be people you know who are burdened by the guilt of things they have done and don’t know a way out from under it. Some may be people you know who behave in a way as if guilt is something that is just fine to keep piling higher and higher. And some may be people you know who think that guilt is a ridiculous thing to worry about or think about at all. Whatever the case may be, let’s pray that God will use something we say, something we invite people to hear, something we pray about – to help someone somewhere to look someplace other than what their eyes can see for their Garden of Eden – to help someone somewhere join us in looking at life with the eyes of faith – eyes of faith which know God’s perfect peace right now, because God does not and will not treat us as our sins deserve – yes, eyes of faith which will someday see perfectly fulfilled by sight what we already now perfectly possess by faith, when we all see with our own eyes the one who will watch over 2019 in the very same way he has watched over every year which has preceded it — and all because, as God says in those last words: “My salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.”
That’s why you and I see things differently than what we see. No matter what we see happen in 2019, for every child of God by faith in Christ Jesus, it will be The Year of the Garden of Eden. And that is why for Jesus’ sake I wish you a truly Blessed and Happy and Perfect New Year!