Doom and hope, judgment and grace, suffering and glory are the movements and rhythm of the Old Testament prophets. The sins of Israel were not only that they trampled on the poor and needy, but that they saw nothing wrong with their way of life. Thus, the time was imminent when God would deal with the situation by destroying that way of life and sending the people away to a place where they would have no chance to oppress others. Death would come to many: “All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’”
But God would not completely destroy forever. Restoration, renewal, and fruitful times will come as a result of God’s free grace toward his people. “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them.” God acts and demonstrates grace because that is what God does. We often get the notion in our heads that God executes judgment to teach people a lesson or to make a point. But God acts out of his holiness and his grace. He maintains his righteous decrees while showing mercy to the undeserving out of his storehouse of grace.
Israel deserved only judgment, not grace. God would have been completely justified to destroy them and never restore or renew them. Yet, God’s grace overwhelms human sin. Try and understand grace and you will be befuddled because grace is wildly illogical, nonsensical, and unconditionally free. Grace shows radical acceptance where there ought to be only hell.
The height of grace, the pinnacle of restoring the fortunes of Israel, came through a baby and a humble birth in the small village of Bethlehem. Jesus came to save the people from their sins. God acted by entering humanity of his own free love so that there could be new life and fresh hope. Let grace wash you clean. Allow mercy to renew your life. Let worship of the newborn king shape your season and the New Year.
Gracious God, although you are careful to uphold your great holiness, your mercy extends from everlasting to everlasting. May the gospel of grace form all of my words and actions so that true righteousness reigns in my life through Jesus, my Lord. Amen.