LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

 

Light in the Darkness

Isaiah 9:1-7

1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

 

What is the meaning of Christmas?  I’m sure you have been hearing a lot of options.  Ads and little jingles are saying that Christmas is all about gifts, presents, decorations, food, parties, yada…yada…yada.  Your Spotify or iTunes playlists are singing about reindeer, a fat-bellied, jolly, man in a red jump suit, a snowman, and on and on.   And how about all the Christmas movies?  A few weeks ago, I went with my 5 year-old daughter 3 year-old son to see the new Grinch movie.  It was a fresh take but similar to the one I grew up with.  The Grinch hates Christmas, so he steals everything from the Whos down in Whoville.  But to his surprise, they still wake up on Christmas Day and gather together to sing.  Do you remember the song from the Dr. Seuss version?  “Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze! Christmas Day is in our grasp! So long as we have hands to clasp!”  …and later “Fah who rahmus! Dah who dahmus! Christmas Day will always be! Just as long as we have we!” Seeing and hearing that completely changes the Grinch forever.  His heart grew three sizes that day. The meaning of Christmas is you don’t need presents, decorations, and food; you just need hands to hold.

That pretty much sums up the way our culture talks about the meaning of Christmas.  It’s sappy, sentimental, and tugs at your emotions.  It says as long as we have compassion and kindness with family, friends, and those around us, then the world will be a better, brighter place.   That sounds so warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?  The meaning of Christmas.

And then we hear these classic words of Isaiah 9 that always come up at Christmas time: “For to us a child is born , to us a son is given…” and everything seems right in the world.  But this section of the Bible is so common at Christmas, maybe sometimes we don’t even concentrate on what it’s saying and the meaning of it.  For example, did you notice how Isaiah chapter 9 begins with the word “nevertheless?” That means to understand Isaiah chapter 9, you have to look at what comes before it.

And here’s the situation surrounding Isaiah and his beautiful Christmas prophecy.  Judah is the land where he is living, and it’s an ugly mess.  The people were threatened by a foreign nation that specialized in terrorism.  The Assyrians loved to send a message by chopping off heads of conquered foes and piling them up in pyramids to let everyone know who was in control.  Isaiah tells us that the world was full of racism, mostly against the Jews because there was something different about them, their religion and laws.  Isaiah says there was a problem with elitism.  That means the rich had no mercy and compassion for the poor and destitute, even taking advantage of them.  People didn’t care for one another but were always fighting “neighbor against neighbor.”  Divorce was on the rise.  Immorality was the norm. People struggled with addiction as some were known as “heroes of drinking wine.”

Terrorism, racism, elitism, moral decline, political chaos, addiction – does this sound familiar?  The truth is the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Isaiah described the gloomy scene as he saw it more than 2,700 years ago, and it’s still pretty accurate now.   Turns out God know us really well.  This world doesn’t look much like the one he made.  This is the result of what we have done to it.

And so, Isaiah says that we are people “walking in darkness.”  The word “walking” there means to “walk in the way of;” it can be translated “to follow.”  And the word “darkness” is the common word that refers to something that is not filled with light.  Symbolically, it can mean the parts of my heart and life that aren’t bright, like “distress” or “dread.”  So, Isaiah is saying this is not something that we were forced into, against our will.  Darkness is often something we choose to walk around in, like taking a casual stroll.

Jesus said the same thing in one of our earlier lessons from John 3.  He says, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light…”  And if we examine our own heart, we have to admit it’s true.  When someone wrongs us deeply, we have this urge to hold onto the grudge or seek revenge, rather than forgive them.  When we have a juicy bit of gossip, there’s a part of us that would love to share it a few times.  We say that honesty is the best policy, but if being dishonest will get you ahead – like a free meal at a restaurant, a better grade on a test, a better perk at work – then we prefer the self-serving dishonesty.  My friends, why would you think that humanity can rid the world of darkness, when I can’t even begin to rid my own heart of darkness?

And then, there’s the other word for darkness that Isaiah uses.  He says we are “living in the land of deep darkness.”  This is the Hebrew word, “zalmavet.”  It’s the more poetical word that means “death shadow.”  You might be familiar with this word from another place in Scripture. The Good Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23, is where the psalmist says, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”  Maybe you can look around this world and say, “Yeah, there’s some darkness, but it’s not completely corrupted.”  But the darkness is not just something that we walk around in, it is also coming for us, looming like this death shadow over everything.

That’s the mother of all dark problems that not one of us can solve.  You can run 5 miles a day, eat healthy, and use products that counteract signs of aging, but the shadow of death is chasing you.  We can cure cancer.    We can crack down on gun violence.  We can stop abuse.  All we’ve done is put off the inevitable. We haven’t really made the world a brighter place.

Like I said, we live 2,700 years after Isaiah.  All these advances in technology, sociology, and in governments – the invention of democracy – s0 now we don’t have terrorism, we don’t have racism, we don’t have political chaos, now we don’t have economic problems, we don’t have people struggling with addictions, or do we?  The world is a dark place, and everything that mankind does to try and rid the world of darkness fails.  Merry Christmas!

It’s a pretty gloomy message, if that’s all that Isaiah tells us.  But he goes on; chapter 9 starts with “nevertheless.”  And Isaiah reveals these two brilliant conclusions to the phrases in verse 2:  people have “seen a great light…a light has dawned.”   I hope you notice that this light is not something the people produced by holding hands and singing around a tree.  This light is not a program or policy. It just appeared; it “dawned.”  What is the light?  It’s a person.  “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.”  The light is a human baby boy, but he’s no ordinary baby boy, because Isaiah continues “the government will be on his shoulders.”  It’s not a government.  His job is not to be a king for just Jews.  The administration of the entire universe is his responsibility.  That is something no human being can handle.  So, Isaiah tells us this human baby boy is also God.  He emphasizes that fact with these four titles.  He is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  We don’t have time to dig into the beauty of these divine titles, but each one can only be applied to God.

Wonderful Counselor – he is the one who gives perfect advice because he knows absolutely everything.  That doesn’t apply to Oprah or Doctor Phil or anyone else.  Only God knows everything.

Mighty God – this little baby will accomplish things only God can do.

Everlasting Father – the author and source of all life, and he has been doing it for all eternity with the love and compassion of the perfect Father.

Prince of Peace – he is able to create perfect harmony, even between the Holy God who hates sin and the people who sin every day.  This Hebrew word for “peace” is “shalom.”  It also has the idea of making everything whole and complete.  He can take any and everything that is broken in your life and put it back together forever.  This is what the angels sang about that first Christmas.  Only God can do this.

The Light of the world is God in human flesh to free us from the darkness of sin.  That is who lies in the manger.  The Light had to be both God and human.  He had to be man to deal with the darkness of the mankind.  If God wanted to tell us how to think about darkness and sin, he could have used a normal person to give us his laws, which show us how to live a bright, beautiful life.  But then again, he did that with all those prophets and we still choose the darkness.  If God wanted to give us an example of how to live a bright life, he could have sent us an angel to show people how compassionate, thoughtful, and selfless we need to be.  An angel would show us how to use our entire existence to give God glory.

No, that wasn’t going to be enough. We needed all the darkness to be snuffed out completely.  Normally, we think of a light being snuffed, but we needed the darkness – sin and that death shadow – to be snuffed out and removed.  That required the Light to be God and man.  The Light needed to be man so that he could be pay for sins.  The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death.”  The Light needed a human heart, so that it could stop beating.  The child needed blood in his veins, because the Bible says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

The Light also needed to be God for the payment to have enough value for the sins of every man, woman, and child who ever lived.  We all understand that a trade needs to be two things of equal value.  You can’t get away with trading a Christian Yelich card (great baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers and MVP of the NL) for a T206 Honus Wagner from 1909.  One is maybe 5 bucks and the other is over 3 million.  If the one who died on the cross was just a man, then an equal trade is one other person.  But if the one who died on the cross is not just a man but the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace that is a sacrifice that is extremely valuable.  It’s so valuable, in fact, that the Apostle John wrote in one of the lessons that we read, “Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

My friends, the only gift that matters for us at Christmas is this Light, God and man to free us from the darkness.  Christmas was not given to us to be sappy and sentimental.  It’s not supposed to be a distraction from the darkness.  It’s not just nostalgia with all the lights, cookies, carols, and parties.  See, here’s the facts. I cannot save myself.  I cannot overcome temptation enough.  I cannot fix the relationships I have fractured, including the one with my Creator.  I cannot outrun the shadow of death, even if I fulfill a New Year’s resolution to get in shape.  There’s too much darkness in here.  And you have it, too.  We are in desperate need of the Savior from all the darkness.  That is what Jesus came to be.  Christmas is Jesus saying to us, “You all are so broken, so utterly incapable of cleaning yourselves up, that I had to come into this world to save you.  The situation was so dire and hopeless, that I not only was born for you but I will die to completely remove all darkness from you forever.” That is what Christmas is about.  The angels said so: “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you.”

But this Light of Jesus Christ does not just save me from the darkness.  Isaiah says the Light is going to build people into a new nation. “You have enlarged the nation…” he says, which, from the context, is a reference to believers.  In using that terminology, Jesus intends that the relationship we have with him will create relationships with each other.  Do you remember hearing that already tonight?  The Apostle John wrote, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”  God doesn’t want his people walking in his light alone.  If you consider yourself a Christmas and Easter type of person, God’s gift of this Light in the darkness is for you, so that you can walk in his light with others.  Believers need the encouragement of fellow Christians as we roam through a world that is still covered in darkness.  One of the main places that happens is here, in this place of God’s light.

So, are you still looking for the meaning of Christmas?  You’re not going to find it from the pen of Dr. Seuss, from your playlists on Spotify, from a TV special, a movie or a shopping mall. The meaning of Christmas comes from God. It isn’t sappy nor sentimental.  It is his honest truth from the one who loves you more than anyone, because he was willing to do more for you than anyone could.  The world is full of darkness, and we contribute to it without any way of piercing the darkness.  Nevertheless… NEVERTHELESS! A light has dawned.  Christ was born to you.   Walking in his light gives you peace, joy, hope and love this world cannot give. It’s your free gift now and forever.  Merry Christmas!

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Quiet is better than noise

Pentecost B7.22.18 Pentecost 9B

 

Isaiah 32

16 The LORD’s justice will dwell in the desert,
his righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
19 Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,
20 how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

 

A middle-relief pitcher has a relatively quiet existence.  His routine is mostly out of the limelight.  He sits kind of removed from the action out in the bullpen until called upon. Then, his job is to get the outs needed, slap a couple hands on the way to the dugout, and take in the rest of the game from the bench.  After the game, he really shouldn’t see too many reporters clamoring to hear how it went out there on the mound.  His job was to throw 15, 20, maybe 30 pitches and get a few outs.  Not the stuff of intrigue to the common fan.  He was necessary for the win, but not as stout as the pitcher who goes 7 strong innings, not as flashy as the quick-footed shortstop who makes amazing, diving stops and strong throws, not as frenzy-invoking as the big first baseman who hits the winning homer.  And so the relief pitcher gets to shower up and head home with little to no fanfare.  It’s a quiet job, and he’s ok with that.

That was not Josh Hader’s night on Tuesday at the All-Star Game.  He is a Brewers reliever who was selected to be there because he has been almost unhittable this season. Well, at this game he was uncharacteristically lousy, allowing 3 runs while only getting one out.  Still, that would not set off the kind of firestorm that surrounded Josh Hader after the game.

See, during the game some tweets from the teenage Hader came to light.  These social media posts were not good.  Not even a little bit.  Some where racist, using the n-word.  Some were homophobic.  Others were immoral and insensitive.  Even though social media posts are sent pretty silently, these cropped up again caused an uproar that shocked not just a Brewers fan like me but the whole sports world and beyond.  What should have been a quiet place in front of a middle-reliever’s locker on the losing side of the All-Star Game was filled with the clamor and questions of a media frenzy.

We’re getting pretty used to that kind of noise, aren’t we?  Politics this.  Politics that.  Sports this.  Sports that.  Tragedy here.  Tragedy there.  Don’t get me wrong, we should pay attention to the world that we live in.  We need to know about it in order to know how to help people who succumb to the deafening noise tune it out.  But if you aren’t careful and alert I think that the overload of noise starts to clog our ears, too.

That’s the problem in Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah.  The ears of the Israelite people are overloaded with noise.  And the noise comes from two places.  First, it comes from negative outside influences.  Living in this world, you will pick up some of the chatter that originates from other sources, won’t you?   It makes total sense that the people of Israel would experience some of that outside noise from the nations around them.  Whether it was the pagan worship, the immorality, the laziness, the pride, the Israelites heard that noise coming from the surrounding nations loud and clear.

You’ve probably noticed, there are people surrounding you that resonate with similar sounds.  What else do you expect from people who have the natural, inborn me-first mentality?  What else do you expect from people who think we are descendants of animals, that we are the ones who make rules, that God doesn’t exist and if he does he certainly doesn’t seem to be on your side?  What else do you expect from people in this world of sin and death?  There’s a lot of noise out there.  And like a middle-relief pitcher who just wants to stay away from the clamor and questions, the noise is overwhelming at times.

The second place from which these reverberations come is a little more difficult to hear.  It’s not that the volume or frequency is too low to hear it.  The difficulty is in the realization of the source.  Israel was coming up with a crude and calloused cacophony that was ruining the quiet and peaceful dwelling place God intended their nation to be.  It was bad enough that the surrounding noise was drawing their attention, but the sounds of their own sinful hearts were drowning out God’s promised peace and security.

Brothers and sisters, we hear it, too.    I’m sure Josh Hader knew that there was bigotry, racism, immorality, and hatred in this world.  But then the source was revealed, or maybe reminded, that it was him.  You don’t have listen to the news or to your neighbors to hear the echo of evil.  It’s right there, coming from your own lips, your own heart.

Where there should be the quiet response of repentance, I come up with a flurry of excuses and explanations.  Where there should be peace in God’s promises, I have the havoc of my own pride and self-reliance.  Where there should be sweet sounds of worship and praise, I spew sour and scornful curses and condemnations.  Where there should be compassion and love, my mouth is filled with complaints and carelessness. That’s the noise we hear, that’s the noise we too often produce.

Well, God saw what was going on in Israel and he knew he had some silencing to do.  Kind of like a teacher in a loud classroom, you’ve got some options to bring the noise level down.  You can be really quiet and wait for all the kids to notice how quiet you are.  Speaking from experience, that one takes a while.  Or you can give a loud clap or bang of some kind to snap all those kids out of the thunderous ruckus they are creating.

That’s what God describes here in verse 19, “…hail flattens the forest and the city [Jerusalem] is leveled completely.  A forest can be a pretty noisy place, with birds calling, trees blowing, animals scurrying.  I’m glad I’ve never been in a forest that is being flattened in a hailstorm, but I imagine it’s not a serene scene. It is after the storm, that’s when the quiet comes.

This was God’s way of describing how Israel was going to be silenced.  God used the hailstorm of the Assyrian army to chop down Israel.  He leveled the city of Jerusalem completely to get his people’s attention.  Israel was deaf to God’s warning calls so he carried through with his justice to bring about the peace that they needed.

You notice where you are in this scene, right?  You notice all the noise that surrounds you is not good for you, right?  You notice that all the noise that is coming out of you and adding to the deafening roar, right?  You notice that your ears are clogged up by the nonsense and missing out on the peacefulness and quiet rest, right?

Yes, friends, we are in the group that cannot quiet the noise and get back to the peace and rest of righteousness. God has some silencing to do in these ears, and he doesn’t do it with a hailstorm of Assyrians.  He doesn’t do it with the sounds of smashing our community or our homes or this church.

The sound of destruction was a whip cracking and ripping in the Praetorium of Pilate’s palace, the groans of an unfairly punished man carrying his own cross, a hammer pounding nails, the cries of agony from someone hanging on a cross. Instead of at us, God aims his thunderous blows at his own Son, Jesus.  And through him all the rage God has, all the outburst of his wrath against sin is taken away from us.  It was his justice that demanded payment for sin.  It was his righteousness that he wanted us to have that meant Jesus would have to be cut down, Jesus would have to be leveled completely.

And do you know what?  A great roar or revelry went up in hell when Jesus was silenced by death.  The devil thought that his evil racket would have deafening results in this world and for eternity.  But three days later, he started to hear a different sound.  It was not the sound of evil destruction but the sound of triumph and victory.  It grew louder and louder.  It echoed in the halls of hell for the devil, his evil angels, and all unbelievers to hear.  CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN INDEED.  That was not a sweet sound to them but scorn and defeat.  And the devil has to deal with that for the rest of eternity.

To you and I it is the sweet sound of salvation.  Through Christ we are saved from all that would clog our ears and drown out God’s promises.  Here’s how God puts it through his prophet: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.  My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.”

Do you hear that?  …no noise… no destruction…no wrath…no punishment…no enemies… Do you hear it?  The angels sang about it on Christmas.  Jesus said it to the disciples on the day he rose from the dead.  That’s called peace with God.  Through Christ, we have peace with God.  We have rest from all of our enemies.  We have the tranquility of triumph.  We have the confidence that God’s kingdom is our home.  We have quiet rest and security for eternity.

Through Christ, we also have the quiet life of rest from sin as we live here on this earth.  “How blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.”  Do you hear that? …no fear…no excuses… no complaints…no self-reliance… We can have this kind of quiet life even in a world that is filled with noise, even with a sinful heart that cries out against us.  It is all silenced by a God who loves us and took all the sounds of sin away from us.  We get to live with his blessings, with the quiet trust that knows everything will be taken care of for us.  We get to live with freedom from all the negative noise.  We get to live with the words of worship on our lips.  This is the life as a Christian in the world.  God’s blessings of peace and security will not fail us.

Do you notice how God describes that his righteousness is as a fertile field?  Yeah, right there in verse 16.  He says that his righteousness produces fruit.  Sounds like growth to me.  That’s a great reminder as we conclude our summer growth series today.  God doesn’t put you in this world to add to the noise.  He puts you in the world to produce more peace and quietness.  He puts you in this world to promote the security of his righteousness and the undisturbed place of eternal rest.

But if you have been in Josh Hader’s position before, where you just hear a bunch of noise, where it’s all your fault and you can’t turn it off, then I am so glad I get to tell you God’s promises of peace and rest.  All the sins that blare in your ears have been silenced.  And in their place, Jesus has put his righteousness.  That’s the peace, the security, the confidence you have in Christ Jesus.  That’s the peace, the security and confidence that is yours to share.  That’s the peace and quietness that is always and eternally better than the noise.  Amen.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

12.3.17

Capture

Isaiah 64

1Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

 

This past week I was flipping through Netflix as I often do when it’s getting late and I’m giving Jet his bottle, and I saw the movie based on the book, The Case for Christ.  So, over a couple nights I watched it.  It’s the story of Lee Strobel’s quest to prove Christianity false.  He read the Bible.  He read books about the Bible.  He went to presentations.  He held interviews with professionals in all sorts of fields: psychiatry, medicine, theology, linguistics, archaeology, and on.  He was a raging atheist who was expecting to prove his wife’s new-found faith wrong.  Do you know what happened to Lee?  All his investigating, his interviews, his reading, and research led him to a very surprising, unexpected conclusion: it’s all real.  Christ, his death and resurrection, the Bible, the faith, the church, all of it is real.  He went from a man on a mission to bring down Christianity, to a man with a mission to bring Christianity to all.

Now, I’m not going to say you have to queue it up on Netflix tonight.  I’m not going to say you have to look up Lee Strobel and all his books.  In fact, the doctrine he preaches and writes, isn’t always what you will read in the Bible.  But I will say this, God does not operate according to our expectations.  Lee Strobel expected to prove Jesus and the Bible wrong, but what really happened was so much different.

That is also something Isaiah noticed during his years as a prophet in Judah.  The people of Judah and Israel thought they knew what would happen.  They were God’s people, descendants of Abraham, chosen as heirs of God’s kingdom.  They took that as a license to do whatever they wanted to do, because God would always be on their side.  If you told them that God would allow the Assyrian empire to ransack the north and carry Israel away form their homeland as exiles of war, they would have laughed it off.  “Never!  We are God’s people.  He would never do something like that.”

Well, during Isaiah’s 60 years as prophet that is exactly what happened.  Israel in the north was leveled, never to return as a nation.  The people living in the south, in Judah, were supposed to get the hint that God takes his Word and his people seriously.  He loves like the gracious and all-powerful Father he is, but even a loving father has to discipline and rebuke and train his child.

Isaiah had the job of warning the people of Judah that they too would suffer God’s discipline if they did not take God’s message and his grace seriously. If Judah did not listen, the nation of Babylon would rise up and do the same things that happened in the north.  Judah would be carried off into Babylonian captivity.  But that would not last forever.  God would get his message across to the people and continue to keep his promise of the coming Savior.  In fact, the Savior would come and rescue people from sin and hell.  He would set up a kingdom that never ends.  God’s people, all true believers, would enjoy this promised deliverance for eternity in heaven.  It’s as if God was telling all the people in Judah, through the prophet Isaiah’s message, to expect the unexpected. And then, everything happened exactly the way God had said.  The people in Judah didn’t expect it at all, and yet it was the stunning reality for them.

Expectation vs. Reality is the new worship series for Advent.  As I was looking through the assigned Scriptures lessons for the next few weeks, I kept thinking of the expectations we have and how reality is often such a striking contrast.  It’s kind of like the people of Israel and Judah during Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet.  What are the expectations and then what really happens can be so far apart.

This week in our Scripture readings, the topic is Christ’s coming.  It’s not his coming as a baby in Bethlehem but his coming at the End of Time.  If you think about that is not an odd place to start our preparation for Christmas.  To enjoy why Jesus came the first time, you have to see where it leads.

Jesus came from heaven once before so that God’s promise would be fulfilled and heaven would be opened.  God did what no one expected.  He actually took on human flesh for us so that people could have heavenly bodies forever with him.  That’s the final goal.  That’s where Christmas leads.

So, is that where your focus is right now?  Is that where your eager expectations are aiming?  I don’t know if that is how we operate at this time of year.  There is so much going on, so much to get ready for the next 21 days.  (Yes!  That’s all you have.)  And look how much we do to get ready for that?  People expect so much out of Christmas every year, and the reality is it can never provide what people really need.  We can try and try and try as much as we want, but even a really great Christmas celebration this year can’t fix what’s wrong.

Isaiah writes, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  All our best efforts can’t change the facts of what is going on in my heart and yours.  When the focus is on the present, or all the presents, then we aren’t ready for what’s coming, for who’s coming.

And we fall into this trap all the time.  We get wrapped up with all the earthly stuff, because we expect that the End is far off.  Instead of alert, ready, and watchful for Christ to come back, we are alert, ready, and watchful for the next big deal, for the next party invitation, for the family members to arrive.

It’s like the people of Israel and the people of Judah.  We focus on ourselves. That kind of preparation leads away from our God.  And that kind of self-centered life that leaves Jesus on the back burner leads Isaiah to ask for us, Why, Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?  When you think that our Lord is not vital in your life every day, every hour, every breath, then is it a surprise that he seems distant?  When you put him second or third or 15 down the priority list, what do you expect the relationship will be like?  Not the best.

That should make us expect something terrible at the End of time.  For people who do not put God first, can we really expect God to come for us?  It would make a whole lot more sense for Jesus to come against us, for him to destroy us.

Brothers and sisters listen to what Isaiah says.  When you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.  God did not do what we expect.  Yes, there was trembling, but it was the enemies of God.  Satan didn’t stand a chance.  Sin, death, and hell were not a match for Christ when he came down the first time.  He is the Redeemer, the rescuer, the deliverer.  He did not crush us, but the serpent’s head.  That is the reality that exists for you.  Your sins are gone from your record.  Every time you have let the earthy stuff distract you, every time our Lord has been pushed to the back burner, every time we have not lived up to God’s holy expectations, every time has been washed away.  We are cleansed.  We are children of the Most High God.  Isaiah puts it this way. You, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

God’s reality for us is better than anything we could ever expect.  Heaven is our home.  Christ made the full payment for us when he came down the first time.  Now, he is preparing the places in paradise for you and me and all believers.  He’s getting ready for his return.

So, we should, too.  Getting ready for that is a little different than the all the stuff you’re seeing lately.  It’s not filling up on all sorts of treats, it’s filling up on God’s Word. It’s not putting up strings of lights, it’s putting up your light of faith.  It’s not giving presents, it’s giving the gospel of Jesus.  It’s not sending invitations for parties, it’s sending invitations to worship.  The Christmas stuff is not sinful, but it can be if it doesn’t leave you any room to prepare for Christ.

All that stuff is very easy to understand.  We see it.  We hear it.  It comes.  It goes.  We expect it every year. But the reality that God has provided for us goes way beyond expectations.  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

This time of year, it’s good to talk about the End.  It’s where Christmas always leads us.  Through Christ, God tells us to expect the unexpected.  Sinners are forgiven.  Heaven is open.  Our place in paradise is purchased and ready.  Christ is coming to take us there.  Be ready.  Be alert.  As Jesus says, “Watch!”  And as you prepare, use these ancient words from Isaiah as your prayer: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.   Amen.