Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The readings for this past Sunday could be mined for quite some time and not exhausted. In the Old Testament, Israel is rebuked for their empty worship:
And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden" (Isaiah 29:13-14).
Empty worship is greeted with wonderful things? That doesn't make much sense...unless the preaching of repentance, that is, the law, is a wonderful thing.
It's striking that when describing the empty worship of God's chosen people, they are no longer referred to as chosen people. Typically, Israel is referred to "my people," but here, the anger of God is heard in that he can no longer stand to call them His people. Like a father who hands a defiant child to a mother saying, "this isn't MY child," Israel's empty worship has caused God himself to refer to his beloved children as "this people."
And how was their worship empty?
Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding?" (v. 15-16)
I was taught in worship classes that the Divine Service was primarily about God delivering his gifts through Word and Sacrament. God's is the giver; His people receive. But Israel has turned things upside down (v. 16). Indeed, this is no commandment of God, but the teaching of men--and it continues today.
But God's isn't like us. His anger doesn't keep him from giving steadfast love. He sends a prophet, Isaiah, to preach to "this people" so that their hearts may be turned toward him once again, and they may be restored as "His people."
The wonderful things that God does is the work of repentance as the Holy Spirit plunges His Word into the hearts of "this people." "This people becomes "my people" once again as those who have had their ears closed to the Word of God "hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see" (v. 18).
God does a wonderful work of leading his people to see the error of their ways, so that the even more wonderful work of restoration is accomplished.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel (v. 19).
Finally, His people are receiving and rejoicing once again in the Holy One of Israel, their heavenly Father, the one who won't let his anger keep him from giving good gifts. The one who gives His Son so that "this people" might be "His people," and inherit "His kingdom." Amen.