Christmas Through the Eyes of the Prophets (11am)
Topic: The true meaning of Christmas Scripture: Isaiah 9:2–9:7, Isaiah 11:1–11:10
I think everyone loves Christmas when they’re a kid. Cookies, presents, time off school…it’s about the best you can get. But I feel like for me my love of Christmas hit a stride when I was in high school and into college. As a kid, I loved Christmas for all the reasons I just mentioned. But as I got older the magic of Christmas became less about flying reindeer and more about the transformation of the human heart.
I would hear songs on the radio that described incredible acts of kindness and generosity…like Christmas Shoes. If you’re one of those people who for some reason doesn’t like the song Christmas Shoes, meet me after the service and we’ll pray that your frozen heart would be thawed. But I’d hear songs like that and ones that share stories of community and family, that highlight the importance of giving and loving one another. I’d watch movies that would hit me right in the heart. Seeing characters like Scrooge and the Grinch become the champions of generosity and selflessness. All of that Christmas magic was then mixed with the truth of Christmas that I held to more than any other…the birth of my Savior. It was around high school where I could process Christmas in a way that, for me, made it more than a holiday.
But you know what? That energy and glow began to fade. Don’t get me wrong, I still tear up every time Christmas Shoes comes on the radio and I still love the Christmas season. But something began to dim in my excitement. I think, really, it was just life happening. College became a full-time job coupled with getting married. Buying a house, having a child, dealing with all the day-in and day-out stuff that didn’t take a break, just because the music on the radio station changed. Until I kind of realize, that while Christmas was still important to me, it had lost some of that magic and luster. At least, until Isaac came into my life.
Isaac is only two and a half and yet he loves Christmas. He gets excited to wear Santa socks. He loves decorations. Many of the purple bows you see around the windows were placed there by him last week because he really wanted to decorate. He’s written probably 20-30 different letters to Santa…all asking for the same fishy game. He knows that Christmas means a time to see Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. And he knows he gets presents.
Sharing all of that with Isaac…well, it renewed the magic of Christmas for me. What had become a familiar and somewhat ho-hum season of the year became a brand new celebration and experience for me. And all it took was seeing Christmas through someone else’s eyes. In this case, a toddler. But it’s that kind of experience we want to afford in our Advent series this year. We want to look at Christmas through the eyes of some familiar and some unfamiliar characters. And maybe, by taking a look at Christmas through a different set of eyes, we can recapture some of the magic and meaning behind the truth of Christmas that might have been lost somewhere along the way.
And we start off the series by looking through the eyes of some people who rarely, if ever, get included in the Christmas story of Christ’s birth. The prophets. One of the things we always have to keep in mind is that God is all about the long game. As much he can be anyway being above and outside of time itself. I guess a good way to think of it is that God never gets stuck. He’s not reactionary in that He ever encounters a situation that can’t be redeemed, transformed, or overcome by His love and power. And so it is with the birth of Christ. The redemption of humanity through the cross was not a backup plan or a knee-jerk reaction by the triune God. It was destined before time itself. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul is talking to the church of Corinth about the crucifixion of Christ and its power. He says in verses 6-7: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
God’s plan to come to this place in the form of His very creation and take up a cross to offer us true life has been in the works from the beginning. And while this truth remained a mystery until the resurrection of Christ, God did not keep it from His people. It was revealed through the compelling but also perplexing work of prophecy. And while the allusion to Christ’s birth can be found in multiple places, this morning we’re going to look into Isaiah. You already heard Isaiah 9 which declares a child will be born. Now we go to chapter 11.
Read Isaiah 11:1-10.
This is passage that most of us have probably heard in church around Christmas at some point or, at least, a part of this passage. And just like how experiencing Christmas through Isaac changed my experienced of Christmas, I believe our understanding of Christ can change when we read about Him through the voice of Isaiah. And that, in turn, changes how we see Christmas.
Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ’s birth is a story of literally coming from nothing. When he talks about a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse, he’s referencing a very real and painful reality about the people of God at the time this prophecy was written. The people of God had been cut off from their home and sent into exile. In every sense of their identity, they had become a tree hacked down by the axe of their enemy. They were nothing more than a remnant, a stump, of what they once were. And that, my friends, is a place of hopelessness and desolation. But it is from that barren soil completely devoid of hope and life where this shoot will grow from. A shoot that will grow deep roots and produce fruit that changes the world. The Messiah and Savior would be born from the cast-aside, written-off, relegated, and persecuted remains of God’s once great people. It’s funny, because our Savior would be physically born in the most forgettable of towns, Bethlehem, away from the actual home of Joseph and Mary as they fled and hid from a vicious and evil king. And in that forgettable town, in the lowliest of places – a stable – Christ was born. In the midst of great fear, pain, and confusion…Christ was born – both in prophecy and in reality. Consider that the next time you’re taken by the novelty of a manger scene.
The prophet goes on to describe how the Spirit of God would rest on this shoot, this child. A Spirit of wisdom and strength and knowledge. This is a proclamation of everything the people of God need, then and now. One who comes in the name and power of the Lord. One with wisdom and empathy. One who hears the cries of God’s people and has the strength to right those wrongs and heal those wounds. One who will remind the people of God’s strength and power. And this proclamation is made about the very One whom God would call His son. The One who captivated and baffled religious leaders when he was only a child and would go on to offer profound teachings and stories. One who had the power to cancel and banish disease, hunger, and death and who could control the elements themselves. One who would speak of the Father and urge the people back to Him.
And the thing that just floors me is the language here. The prophet says the Spirit of God would rest on this person. And at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, we witness his baptism where…the Spirit of God came down and rested upon Him.
And the final portion of our prophetic text speaks of this coming Savior who will come into the place of the people, who will bring goodness and justice, who will come beside and fight for the poor, who will oppose the wicked, who will be clothed in righteousness and faithfulness. And he will usher in a time where fighting is ceased. Where natural enemies find peace and relationship. Where that which once brought fear and pain now brings joy. Where boundaries once determined are torn down.
For many of us Christmas is a fun time. Family, time off school and work, good food, gifts. But just like with me, I think Christmas becomes something we expect and really expect little of. When we consider Christmas through the eyes of the prophets we don’t see the annual ho-hum change of pace that we’ve come to expect. Instead, we see the crescendo and culmination of all the dreams and hopes of a hurting but faithful generation of God’s people. A people who held to the hope that all this would come to pass even if they may never witness it first-hand.
What if this Christmas we considered our vantage point in this story? Instead of being centuries ahead of the arrival of this game-changing Savior…what if we realized that we exist in a time where not only has our Savior been born but that He has also gone to the grave for us and conquered death and evil itself. And it doesn’t stop there because this Savior, this shoot of Jesse, actually calls us to join him in his mission of peace, justice, unity, and grace. When we see Christmas through the eyes of the prophets we can’t simply see Christ as a gift given to us but instead He also ushers to us a call to action and the command to live a life that declares His truth and life. With every act of kindness: every coin dropped in the Salvation Army bucket, every gift purchased off the Kremmerer tree, every meal we serve the hungry, every moment we give to engage one who is hurting, every financial gift we make to the ministry of this church, every phone call we make to the friend or relative who feels alone this holiday.
Every time we stand up for and in the place of those who suffer injustice. Every moment we take in heartfelt prayer for those on our hearts. Even the moments of endurance we suffer through with difficult family members over the next few weeks. Every single one of those moments and actions become a fulfillment of the prophecy of what Christ’s presence would, has, and will continue to do to the human heart. So this Advent season, this Christmas, don’t fall into the ho-hum holiday rhythm. Instead, consider how your voice and time and life could be an answer to someone’s need. When we do that, we truly see Christmas through the eyes of the prophets.