Sermon, Christmas Day 2020, St Petri

Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.

There is something eerie about stepping around an abandon town. Towns left abandon are not called ghost towns for nothing. The people of the past have left their mark, but that is all that is left of a vibrant place where people laughed, sung, socialised, worked, went to school and lived life together.

The last ‘ghost town’ I stepped around was the far northern SA town of Tarcoola. It is on the Indian Pacific railway line. It is about 700kms north west of us, right out in the sparse flat country where water is scarce and rain a major event.

It would have been an oasis of safety, relief from isolation; a welcome source of human community for those who live out bush. You can almost hear the kids playing in the abandoned school playground, imagine them sitting at their desks to the hum of the abandoned big air conditioning units now long silent.

You can imagine the busyness in the general store/post office and telephone exchange when the train made its stop every week. For a few years, one of our departed people, Rodney Rosenzweig, and his wife, Judith and the kids were in that store.

Then of course, there is the pub. You can imagine the Friday night happy hour, station workers, railway employees, school teachers, store owners and everyone else carrying on into the hot summer night – now all gone, all silenced by time. The wind blows. The buildings sit in varying states of inevitable destruction as the sun beats down. Life gone.

Isaiah speaks to God’s people existing in a place like Tarcoola. It is a destroyed once-great city. He also speaks to many more who are now living in forced isolation far away from their beloved city and centre of life – Jerusalem.

The isolated ones in Babylon are under foreign rule in a foreign land. They are stuck there. Like a person stuck in a hotel room doing forced self-isolation, they know they are stuck in their isolation because there is nothing to go back to even if they did try and make the trip back.  Their land and city is a wind-swept waste land – a city in ruins, slowly disappearing into the rocks and sand….

Like the few people who would have remained in Tarcoola for a few years more, there a few people eking out an existence in the abandoned city.

Both the isolated and the ruined are wondering if things will ever return to anything like what once was. Bit like us: will the world and the church ever return to anything like we have known it to be after this COVID year; after all the changes of the last 30 years…..

Both the isolated ones and the deserted ones who just want to get back home are waiting. As they go about their days, they wait and wonder and watch for the messenger to come an announce something.

What have you been waiting for? What announcement from God are you longing for?

There is a twist here. The people are not waiting to return to their home but actually, more – the return of the Lord to them. They know they need the Lord to be with them more than any city or building or any ‘old normal’.

They know that if the Lord relents and returns to his people, wherever they are, at home or far away, that will signal that life can return, hope remains, future is possible in any city or town, and joy might come back to them.

Have you been looking for some joy to come back?

Isaiah wants you to know that everything is completely dependent on the Lord. It is all his choice. Either he will return to the people and to the city and the promises land, or he won’t. If he doesn’t, the drudgery of scratching around in lifeless places will continue. If he does choose to return to his people and their heartland, there will be joy in the new morning.

Isaiah, in his wild imagery, sets up a picture for the people. It is a vision of God’s preferred future for his people and his world.

There is a battle going on. It is a battle for hope and life and promise for the now and the future.  God is fighting this battle against all that is attempting to destroy these.

And then, from the battlefield, a messenger emerges far off coming to the city announcing that victory has been won.

The watchmen up on what is left of the watchtowers of the abandon city and in the streets of the cities of Babylon are straining to see the one who is coming to them. They are desperate to see a spark of hope, a glimmer of light, a hint of good news.

The messenger keeps coming. He is yelling out the best news they will ever hear in their lifetime.

Not only is a messenger coming to announce a victory from the battlefield, but God himself is coming in triumph. The Lord returns!

“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.

This is big! As Lenin once said, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen” (Paul Kelly, The Weekend Australian, 19-12-2020)

We hear that the battlefield is not just any confrontation between two armies but the field of history itself in which God is triumphant, for it is not only Jerusalem that is redeemed but also all the nations.

Finally, the watchmen who have been watching and waiting for so long sense the moment. They can’t contain themselves! Even before the messenger arrives they recognize the news and sing it out!

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good news,
who proclaim freedom and peace.

They say to the exile wanting to get home and those doing it tough at home,
“Your God reigns!”

Friends, this is not just peace for a certain people in a certain time and place. This is for now, for us, for all.

The battle for deep peace in the heart and joy in your spirit with which to live in any place and through any thing is now over, once and for all.

So much so that all reasons for battle, all reasons for warfare, all reasons for hatred, pride, self-justification are eliminated. They are no longer necessary because the Lord has chosen to return to us.

And how did he return?

This boy. Those singing messengers of glory, those workers with mouths wide open, those star gazing travellers – all in amazement at God’s return in at this child.

Now can you see what God has done? Now can you hear the messenger bringing good news of this birth in the shed? Now can you feel the weight of it, the scale of it, the hope of it, not just for the people of old but the people of now – you and me?

It is Christmas.

Listen! You watchers, lift up your voices;
together shout for joy.
The Lord returns, you have heard it with your own ears.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you battle worn, weary, ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has saved and restored his city, his people, his world.

The Lord has lay bare his holy arm in Mary laying her arm bare nurse Jesus.


The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Those little baby feet are beautiful! They are stepping around this town.

You are not left abandoned. This town is full of his life. Your heart is full of his life in you.

God is in this town, in this city, in this house, in this heart. He is this boy; this human boy crying in the shed.

It is all God’s choice and all his doing.

Watchers, have you heard?

People have you seen?

He is striking up his cosmic band. It is time to sing his new song.

You are called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you are now called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted. (Isaiah 62:12)