Let us pray: Dear Savior, in this current age we’re told that everyone is a winner, that everything we do is exemplary, and that mistakes and failures are just momentary blips on the fast highway to success. This holiday season especially highlights that attitude as people strive for the best Thanksgiving, the most elaborate Christmas gifts, and try to out-do each other when it comes to decorations. Into this stew of human hubris comes Advent. And it’s a lot like a bucket of cold water being poured upon people’s big heads. Searching the heart and seeing the dirt of our own arrogance is never a pleasant occupation. But from it comes true humility, thankfulness, and a distillation of joy over what’s truly important. Give us that today. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: Isaiah 63: 16b-17; 64: 1-8
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
“And behold there went out a decree from the Washington elites that Christmas would be canceled.” Black Friday would not take place. 60% of retail business income would cease. Christmas trees would remain uncut at all tree farms. The high-end groceries would see their incomes drop dramatically. All the holiday lights and fancy decorations would never see the light of day as they gathered dust in the attic. Christmas parties would cease. Restaurant owners would lay off staff. There would be weeping and gnashing of teeth in the land. Holy hell, if there is such a thing, would break out across America. The only thing left of this formerly glorious holiday would be: religious church services on the Sundays before the “formerly ‘big day,'” along with Christmas Eve and Day worship.
In this imaginary world, if that actually occurred, America would weep and morn. If the only way people could celebrate Christmas was by going to church, how many would actually show up? And as to the Sundays before, this season of Advent, how many would get over their inner rage to actually contemplate sweeping their hearts clean of the fluff to concentrate on the profound: God’s Infinite Son being born in a manger to save them?
Today I feel a little like that Dutch boy sticking his finger in the dike to hold back the sea. That’s what Advent is all about. It’s about you and me not getting a big head over our great accomplishments in life, stripping away all that “stuff” that chews up our time of grace before Christmas, and concentrating upon what it means to be repentant, to empty our souls so that Christ, God’s grace in human form, can fill us to the brim.
I’m not in favor of an austere Christmas. But I am in favor of using this time of preparation to do just that: prepare my heart to meet the Christ Child. So was the prophet Isaiah. And our lesson greatly assists us in this.
I always cringe a bit when someone defines a “good Christmas” by mere externals: “I had a really good Christmas—the family was all there, we got a lot of gifts, Mom got a new car, the tree was just perfect, even the fruit cake turned out! And to top it off, we got our brag-filled Christmas letter out on time!” I cringe because if none of the above had taken place, would they still have had a “good Christmas?” Christ will come in spite of our preparations. His love will come whether we get a boat-load of presents, or none at all. His compassion and healing will come even if no one is present to make small talk around the tree. Yes, how often does the fluff get in the way of the aching needs of the heart?
As Christians, you know all this. You enjoy the preparations and celebrations for the right reason, to show God the joy that is in your hearts. But how many don’t? And how much does their defining of Christmas joy influence us? Isaiah begins by saying: “You, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. Why, Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your inheritance.”
Question: has the heathen world’s defining of Christmas influenced us? How much has it rubbed off on us? And has God gotten disgusted at us over this and allowed this to go on so that even we don’t revere Him as we should? If you think that is fanciful preacher talk, why isn’t every single member present at service on Christmas Eve and Day? No one misses the family Christmas dinner, do they? But how many willingly miss honoring the baby Jesus?
Maybe, just maybe, if God didn’t come in such a humble manner, but parted the skies and sent massive earthquakes to our land, maybe that would give people pause? Isaiah speaks of this: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when a fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down and make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!” Yes, the lackadaisical human worship of God has always been a problem, even in the prophet’s time.
Of course, God has operated in a forceful manner during various moments in history. Here Isaiah reminds God’s people of Israel in Sinai during those Wilderness Years. “For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. 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. 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?”
The unbridled power of God Almighty is a scary thing. When He comes with that power we all tremble in our boots. We all want to hide from Him. Even Christians who try to do His will fail at it by continuing to engage in sins that we know are wrong. How can we stand up before God? How then can even we be saved?
Advent is not a season of fluff. It is a season to look at your own life with a jaundiced eye, to repent of your failings, and to get ready to meet Christ, the King of this world! We can do no better in this than to take to heart Isaiah’s next words: “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 the wind sweeps us away. 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.”
Folks, that is tough stuff. Yet, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, it is true! And if the coming Christ came as our perfect Judge without His grace to temper that judgment, we’d all be as lost as those clueless souls who think Christmas is about buying and/or receiving a lot of gifts.
But, you all know better. You know that God doesn’t come is raw power but instead came as a humble, helpless Baby lying in a manger, to give us His love-filled heart. He came to buy back our souls from the crass materialistic age in which we live. He came to cleanse us with His life-blood. Isaiah knew that, too. And that’s why he swept the fluff out of his own life to receive that blessed gift from God! It’s also why in humility, he now concludes by saying: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
One final thought: everything God ever created was blessed by those words: “And behold it was very good!” So, Christmas 2014 and our celebration of it will be, too, only and solely because of the Baby Jesus Who gives life and gracefulness to our humble clay. Amen