Isaiah 52:7-10 (Christmas Day—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 25, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is the Old Testament Lesson for Christmas Day, from Isaiah 52:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
“We need a little Christmas Right this very minute. . . . For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, grown a little older. . . . We need a little Christmas now.” Everyone can use a “little Christmas,” especially those of us who feel stuck in a pit of disappointment. Have you ever offered this commentary on your life? “I am deader than a door-nail. I am a lost cause. It is time to throw in the towel. Sayonara baby, the fat lady has sung and mighty Casey has struck out!”
Israel offered this very commentary on her life during the dark days of the Babylonian exile. Our text has 8th-Century B.C. Isaiah positioning himself to speak to this 6th-Century B.C. lost cause. Already before it happened, Isaiah knew that the days were coming when Israel would have no temple, no Jerusalem, no Davidic king, no annual feasts, no commercial or political significance and no hope. Mighty Casey will strike out! Or, to quote Psalm 137:1, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”
Exiled in a foreign land with Israel’s nation and temple destroyed, it looked as if the Babylonian god Marduk was king instead of the Lord. Israel as God’s people seemed lost and without hope. It appeared that Babylon was in total control. Have you ever found yourself in moments where it seems like “Babylon” is in control of your life too? In the Bible, “Babylon” comes to stand in for the enemies of God’s people. Does it ever seem like you are in exile from the Lord and that your life is dominated by and under the control of your enemies of sin, death, and the devil?
How often do we, in life’s most difficult moments, wonder where God is or why He is allowing us to be in this situation? Sometimes things become so difficult in life that we may start to think that God is no longer in control because our life is so out-of-control. So many bad things happen to us, to those we love, and to perfect strangers. In one of Woody Allen’s films titled Love and Death, a cynic named Boris says, “If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think he’s evil. I think that the worst thing you can say about him is that he is an underachiever.” It seems that way, doesn’t it? God’s program for the world doesn’t make a lot of progress; it doesn’t seem as though God is achieving a whole lot. Just look around at the suffering. Why doesn’t God put an end to starvation, poverty, recession, and homelessness? Why doesn’t He alleviate pain, sorrow, tears, and the deep hurt in our hearts?
Like exiles in Babylon, “we need a little Christmas.” Our future seems far from certain. Our present sometimes looks very bleak. We are stuck in our pits of disappointment and exile, pits of our own making as we are unable to control our anger, unable to manage our money, and have problems taming our tongue. Then we wonder where God is in the middle of everything that we go through day to day—health, job, home, family concerns, making ends meet. We sit in our pits and people pass by and offer their help. A sensitive person walks by and says, “I feel for you down there. I’ll get around to sending you some flowers real soon.” A religious person walks by and says, “Only bad people fall into pits. What did you do so wrong to end up so stuck?”
A math teacher walks by and says, “Let me calculate how you fell into the pit.” So he takes out his calculator and crunches some numbers. A news reporter walks by and says, “Let me do an exclusive story on your pit.” An IRS man walks by and says, “Hey, are you paying taxes on your pit?” A friend walks by and says, “Things could be worse.” A pessimist walks by and says, “Things will get worse.”
Oh, do we need a little Christmas and a lot of good news! Where is the herald announcing peace, and salvation? Where is the return of the Lord and the comfort He has promised His people? Where is our God who is the King?
Back in our pit, night falls. It is an ordinary night with an ordinary sky. There are some sheep. But they are ordinary as well. You hear them “baa” from your pit. And you hear some shepherds. Peasants they are, ordinary men. They smell like sheep and probably look just as wooly. It is an ordinary night in the pit of our disappointment with ordinary sheep and shepherds. And were it not for a God who loves to put an “extra” in front of ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed.
God rolled up His sleeves and showed off His muscle. The black sky exploded with the brightness of a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest!” What is going on? God has come! He has come to save His people.
Look there, in the manger lies God-made-flesh. Jesus, true God, became flesh and lived among us. Jesus came into our human hell. He entered our deep darkness. He arrived in our pit, right where we are. And He rolled up His sleeves and showed His muscle. “The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations.” His holy arms felt the burn of the whip as He was beaten for our sins. His holy arms felt the flaming fire of the nails piercing His flesh. His holy arms felt the weight of His body as He hung on the cross. His holy arms felt the warmth of His own holy, precious blood as it ran from His open wounds.
It is the death of Jesus Christ that brings us comfort and joy in the midst of our sins. For His death means our forgiveness and life everlasting! Jesus redeemed us, bought us back from sin, death, and the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Jesus was lifted up on the cross in order to draw all people to Himself. (John 12:32) Therefore, all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God because Jesus has sprinkled all nations with His blood. The world has been saved from eternal condemnation. You and I have salvation through the forgiveness of sins. We are rescued from Satan, sin, and death.
God’s Word continues to herald this gift of peace, good news, and salvation to us. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” (Lk. 2”11) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in His should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17) Jesus has come and saved us from our sins. He had pulled us out of the pit and set us high upon a rock. (Psalm 40:2) We have the guarantee of His promise, “I am with you always.”
Although it might seem like someone else is in control, “Your God reigns.” The Lord Jesus Christ is King of kings. He has everything in control, including your life here and your life with Him in eternity. That’s why we can lift up our voices and sing together for joy because we have been given a little Christmas. No, we have been given a huge Christmas—Christ the Lord Himself as our Savior and Friend!
When all the wrappings and tinsel are in the trash; when the tree comes down; when the wheels come off the bike or the battery goes dead in your new toy; when life returns to “normal” after the holidays, the gift of Jesus will never rust or fall apart or self-destruct. In the midst of our day to day lives, in Jesus Christ, we have the Gift that remains forever. We have forgiveness for all our sins. We have release from our guilt. We have the comfort of His presence in good times and in bad. And we have His Word, unchanged and unchanging, announcing peace, preaching good news, and announcing salvation because your God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—lives and reigns forever. Amen.