I showed such restraint this year. I waited two days after Thanksgiving to cut down a Christmas tree! It is all trimmed and accessorized with snow globes, stockings and lots of lights in our living room that now has morphed into the “Christmas Room.” Scatter the darkness!
My yule celebration is an annual race to the manger, the birth of Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of the world. So, I reject the mediocre message of “Happy Holidays” and wish you all a Merry Christmas!
Now, whether or not you share my passion for Christmas, I am going to ask you to do something impossible: Forget everything you know about Christmas. Imagine yourself back to a time…
Before there was cyber-Monday, Black Friday, online shopping, big box stores…
Before there was Walmart, Sears or BJ’s
Before there was JJ Newberry’s or Woolworths (I’m losing some of you now!)
Before there were Christmas trees or Christmas carols or Christmas cookies
Before there was a Star in Bethlehem or Wise Men or shepherds keeping watch
Before there was a baby born in a manger
Before there were the gospels of Matthew and Luke or a New Testament
To a time when there was only hope
To a time of great darkness and fear in Israel…
If you can do that, you’ve come to Isaiah 9.
These were dark days in Israel.
Two chapters earlier, the prophet describes the situation. Two nations, Syria and Ephraim, conspire to topple the nation of Israel. But God reassures the wicked king, Ahaz, that they will not prevail. Instead a boy will be born, a sign of God’s presence and deliverance:
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (7.14)
Don’t do it! Forget that you’ve heard those words related to the Christmas child, Jesus. Saint Augustine correctly observed, “The New Testament is, in the Old, concealed…” The message of the Cross is there from Genesis 3 on, but it’s hidden and only revealed in Jesus and the New Testament. To the Jews of Isaiah’s day, these words were hopeful, but hidden.
Who was this child? Who was his mother? Isaiah clearly was speaking of a real child who would be born in those days and rise up as a sign of deliverance in Israel, but he also was speaking of a future deliverer, the Christ, the Messiah.
In theology this is referred to as “double fulfillment,” a prophecy that has both a present and future meaning.
Anyway, the child was born but nothing seemed to change. Syria and Ephraim rose up against Israel and things got worse before they got better. It was a time of deep darkness (8.22), “And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”
Sounds a lot like our times, doesn’t it?
Israel, like you and me, grew impatient and discouraged waiting. It’s a very human thing. But then chapter 9 opens with these encouraging words,
“…there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish… the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone.”
So, God, through his prophet, fast forwards to a time in the future when God will shine a light on the world…
Our church’s theme all year has been, “Shine!” The band some of us wear around our wrists quotes the words of Jesus, “YOU are the light of the world.” But this morning, you don’t know that, do you? You have forgotten everything you know about Christmas. The only name you know is the name of this promised child, Immanuel – God with us.
The next words of this prophecy are remarkable! They describe a time that you could only hope for, like light at the end of a long tunnel. Here they are:
“You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
“they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
“For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
“For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.”
Too good to be true? The Jews of the day must have thought so. The present was dark with Israel’s enemies and Israeli blood but through Isaiah, God sent hope.
This morning, just forget what you know about Christmas. Instead, be encouraged in the midst of the darkness in your life with these words of hope. Take your fears, your aches and pains, your worries, your problems – and look to the light, promised by a good and faithful God, of a deliverer named, “God with us.”
Christmas is like a treasure that’s been hidden for years in a storage locker.
Have you heard the story? A man purchased a storage unit from Dan Dotson, a celebrity auctioneer and star of Storage Wars. Inside was a safe and when the new owner cracked it open, he found $7 ½ million in cash. In a storage locker!
God stored away Christmas for centuries. It was hidden away in the Old Testament for generations, concealed in prophecy and symbol. Then, “When the fullness of time had come,” (as the Apostle Paul puts it), “God sent forth his son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the law.” (Galatians 4.4,5)
Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah explodes in verses 6 and 7 as he speaks of that very time in the future when the treasure would be revealed:
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Next Monday we will travel in time to a field in Bethlehem where God made good on His promise. But until we appreciate the darkness in Israel and the darkness in our own lives, it’s hard to fully appreciate the light of Christmas.