Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we approach Your manger look upon us with mercy and love. View us through Your eyes of compassion and peace. Yes, give us the one Christmas gift that truly does keep on giving: forgiveness for all our sins and the inner peace and joy that stems from it. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING
TEXT: Isaiah 40: 1-11
Dearly Beloved in the Coming Christ-Child:
For the first few years of our married life, I wrote the Christmas letter to family and friends. Then a few years ago, Debra Ann took that task away from me. Her rationale was two-fold: one, she didn’t want me burdened with it during a very busy season of my year; and two: she also felt I was getting a bit “heavy” in the content. That is, I was not being as gentle as I should be when it came to describing the ups and downs of our year. This year she’s going to let me resume my Christmas epistle as long as I try to be funny instead of blunt! And I’ve promised that I’ll try.
I’ve always enjoyed reading people’s Christmas letters. Some are comprised of interesting personal information. Others are weighed down by glossy half-truths about how everything and everyone is peachy-keen when it’s obvious that they are not. Still others accentuate the superficial. And one retired pastor I know writes in a very comical vein.—His are great! Basically, however, they all come down to two types: the ones you can read at face value and the ones in which you must read between the lines.
Today’s lesson could well be called: God’s Christmas letter to His people. It was written via the pen of Isaiah about 700 years before Christ was born. It was read by countless generations before His birth and even more after Jesus’ birth. And even though it uses some flowery and poetic language, the message is still blunt and to the point. God doesn’t gloss over the bad or ugly and doesn’t neglect the glorious either! If I were to put a title to this Christmas/Advent letter it would be this:
TRUER WORDS WERE NEVER SPOKEN
This entire section is all about the coming of God’s Messiah along with the signs and signals that would accompany His coming into this world. The opening words capture the reason behind His coming and what it all means: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem (the home of God’s people, the Christian Church), and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
Picture yourself a slave. Each day you labor for 16 hours in a muddy mine moving dirt and rock and looking for diamonds. You’re expected to find at least one and must give it up in order to eat at day’s end. No diamond, no food. Then you hit a dry patch. You go a week, two weeks, a month, and don’t find any diamond. No food. You’re starving and desperate. Life is slipping away. And then one day the mine owner comes by, discovers your situation and hands you a lifetime supply of diamonds and more! In complete compassion he sets you free and gives you doubly more than your wildest expectations. This, in spite of you cursing him each day of each year you labored in his mine. Well, all illustrations limp along when it comes to God’s riches given to us at Christ’s expense. But, double blessing in place of our sins is a deal beyond description.
Next Isaiah describes a herald, a messenger, a forerunner who will come to prepare hearts to meet God’s Son. In retrospect, we know all about that messenger. It was John the Baptist. He was the most humble man to walk the earth and yet the most blessed, too. Christ says that of all born of woman: “no one is greater than John the Baptist.” His message wasn’t flowery clap-trap or euphemistic language, either. No, John laid everything on the line. He called: sin, sin. He reminded the people of their mortality and God’s judgment against human evil. He reminds us that we need to smooth out our own hearts by recognizing our inner evils, repenting of our hidden sins, and not harboring the stones of greed within us any more. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God…the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed…A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”
I have yet to receive a Christmas letter that says: “Well, we had a pretty tough year. Grandma got cancer because she smoked too much. Johnny flunked school because he got addicted to the internet. Mary shoplifted and was put on probation. We’re in foreclosure because husband Ed gambled away our savings in Las Vegas. And I’m a nervous wreck who has gained 50 lbs thanks to Ben and Jerry’s! We don’t want to air our dirty linen in public. We don’t want to be reminded of how tough life can be. So, we usually put a glossy cover on a Christmas epistle, don’t we? God doesn’t. He just tells the truth. All will die. All will fall short of God’s expectations no matter how rich, how handsome, or how smart they may be. All human achievements will be wiped away by the passage of time and lie forgotten as a fleeting dream.—Maybe that’s not very cheery, but it is true….
If God’s Advent epistle ended there, we’d be the most pitiful creatures on this earth. We’d be without hope or help. In this case, the truth would hurt more than we can even describe. But, but, God has more truth to share with us that helps, that uplifts, that comforts, and that washes away our mortal pain. Our job this Advent season is to comfort hurting souls with the message of Christ. To point them to the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. And here is a description of His labors in doing that: “Here is your God! See the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
Reduce them all down, and you’re left with only two religions in this world. The first is where “god” does all the demanding, the taking, the expecting, and the receiving from his subjects. Kind of like a greedy diamond mine owner who could care less about his slaves in the mine. The other religion, Christianity, is all about a God Who has high standards for us, but does all the giving to us, meeting those standards in Jesus Christ and handing over diamond-like blessings out of pure love for us in Christ. My friends, never, ever forget these final words: “He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” In describing our God, Truer Words Were Never Spoken. Amen