December 10, 2017 Sermon
The Prophets Foretold
(Prior to sermon, play the song, “That’s Christmas to Me”, by Pentatonix.)
Every year, sometime shortly after Halloween, I start listening to Christmas music. Every year, I scour the iTunes store to find new Christmas music. Every year, I make a new Christmas playlist on my phone to play throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons.
For the past few years, the song we just listened to, “That’s Christmas to Me” by Pentatonix, has made it onto my playlist…probably because I think it’s an awesome song and at least partly because I always like to have a few a cappella songs on my list.
And while I enjoy listening to this song, I really do, there’s something about it that bothers me. There’s something about it that brings up alarm sounds in the recesses of my mind. There’s something about these lyrics that remind me of a potential problem with Christmas in our society.
- A fireplace burning bright
- Presents underneath the tree
- Waiting up for Santa
- Children playing in the snow
- Even the joy of family
Y’all, I truly believe that these things represent what Christmas has become – or at least what Christmas has become about – in 21st century American society. And yet, if these things, if THEY are what Christmas is to us, or maybe I should say, if they are ALL Christmas is to us, then something…is…wrong. Not only is something wrong because none of these things really have much to do with what Christmas is really all about, but something is wrong because none of these things is anywhere near as GOOD as what Christmas is all about.
I mean, really, if you had to choose, would you rather have Santa, reindeer, mistletoe, snow, fireplaces, and presents under the tree…or would you rather have Jesus? Really, which would you rather have?
Well, so far, I haven’t done much to make my case…because I’ve just said “Jesus”, a name that applies to a person who was born thousands of years ago and whose identity and purpose mean different things to different people. So…I’ll take some time with you today to explore what God had to say, in advance, about what God was going to be doing through this Jesus.
Listen to God’s words through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1-8):
40 Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Do you ever wonder what kind of comfort God was telling God’s people God was going to bring? What does it mean that “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain”? Sounds pretty good, but what does it really mean? Perhaps it will make more sense if you connect this verse with the next, “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Y’all, when God comes down, when the glory of the Lord is revealed, there is going to be some serious upheaval in the world. If you take God’s words here literally, it will be a geographic upheaval – the earth, the ground, literally shifting to make it completely unrecognizable compared to what it was before. But if you take these words metaphorically, I think you’ll discover these words to have something to do with one of the primary themes God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, the theme of a necessary SOCIAL upheaval, so that true justice may prevail. The ways of the world were then and are still today marked by valleys, mountains, hills, and all manner of uneven ground. There are people who have much more than they could possibly ever need, even while there are people who have so little they might not survive the day. And I’m not just talking about material things, I’m also talking about disparity in power and in relationship. Uneven ground is ubiquitous in the kingdom of people. But on Christmas, the glory of the Lord would be revealed and set in motion the end of the inequalities and injustices of the kingdom of people…to be replaced by God’s kingdom in which EVERYBODY is equal!
So…which would you rather have: snow and fireplaces burning bright…or the beginning of the end of injustice?
Listen to God’s words through the prophet Jeremiah (23:5-6):
5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Through Jeremiah, God revealed two important things about the coming Messiah.
First, God revealed that the king would be from the line of David. Maybe that doesn’t mean much to you – we modern Christians just know it to be true, but for the people of Jeremiah’s time, that meant EVERYTHING! God had promised to David that one of his descendants would reign forever. But by the time of Jeremiah, it looked like that promise had been broken; it looked like no son of David would ever reign upon the throne of God’s kingdom again. So this prophecy told God’s people that God’s word is TRUSTWORTHY, even when God seemingly promises the impossible.
And the second thing God revealed about the coming Messiah is that this king would be righteous. Righteousness was something that had been missing from God’s people – especially righteousness of their rulers, their kings – for a long time. Every king in the history of the northern kingdom of Israel had been evil, wicked – that’s nineteen kings total – except one…and he wasn’t so much good as he was rather not altogether evil. And in Judah, prior to their being captured by the Babylonians, 6 of the last 7 kings had been wicked…which is WHY God allowed the Babylonians to overtake Judah. So the Judeans in exile – which is who God was speaking to through Jeremiah – they KNEW wickedness is why they lost their homes, their status, all their possessions, and even their identities. They KNEW righteousness was what they needed more than anything else in order to get things back to how they should be, but they likely didn’t believe such a thing as a righteous king could possibly exist ever again.
I know we don’t have kings in this country, but we have rulers and leaders of all kinds, right? And especially in politics, in which we have Representatives and Senators, and a President – and that’s just at the federal level, I’m guessing most of you, regardless of whether you lean to the right or the left on the political spectrum, I’m guessing most of you are starting to wonder whether or not it’s even POSSIBLE to have a righteous leader ever again, a leader who has the heart of God instead of the heart of greed.
Well, guess, what? God has ALREADY given that leader…if only we would choose to follow HIM.
So…which would you rather have: Santa and reindeer…or the assurance that God’s promises will be kept and a righteous leader to whom we can all look for direction about how to best live while on this earth?
Listen to God’s words through the prophet Haggai (2:6-9):
6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
These words were spoken of God’s temple in Jerusalem, which sat in ruins during the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia…when these words were spoken. And so a great many Christians look at these words and suggest they prophesy that the Messiah would visit the second temple. And…ok…I agree…that could be PART of it. And Jesus DID visit the second temple…so, why not? But I hope you see that this prophesy is also SO…MUCH…MORE.
Is it possible that the Messiah could be the treasure of all nations? Is it possible that the Messiah would usher in an era in which people from everywhere – not just the Promised Land – would recognize that everything, all materials things, really belong to God and so use them in accordance with God’s desires and plans? Is it possible that once all people recognize God as ruler over all – thanks to what God’s Messiah did and said – is it possible that THEN true prosperity on earth will be realized? That’s what I read in this prophecy: the Messiah will ultimately lead all people of the earth to become citizens of God’s kingdom, which will lead to prosperity unlike any that has been known to the kingdom of people.
So…which would you rather have: presents under the tree (fewer presents than most people wish they could give while a few have an overabundance that they don’t enjoy)…or prosperity for ALL people beyond our wildest imagination?
And listen to a little more of God’s word through the prophet Isaiah (35:1-6):
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
Can you imagine a greater symbol of abundance, especially in places where abundance is unknown, than streams suddenly running through the desert? Perhaps you can relate better healings like “the eyes of the blind” being opened and “the ears of the deaf unstopped.” Or maybe even the strengthening of feeble hands and the steadying of knees that give way. The message here is that, through the Messiah, EVERYTHING that is wrong will be made better. Whatever is troubling you, from that you will be saved.
But everything being made better is just an effect, not the cause. The CAUSE is God-with-us. “Your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
So…which would you rather have: mistletoe and stockings…or the one true God coming down to earth to right all wrongs and to save you?
I listen for the thud of reindeer walking on the roof
As I fall asleep to lullabies, the morning’s coming soon
The only gift I’ll ever need is the joy of family
Oh, why? ‘Cause that’s Christmas to me
I love this song, I really do. But I’ve got to tell you, every time I hear it, I wonder if by liking it so much I’m shortchanging Christmas. And I start to wonder: “Have we, even in the modern Church of Jesus whose birth we anticipate during Advent and celebrate at Christmas Time, forgotten what the prophets foretold? Have we allowed the word of God spoken through the prophets to be replaced by the desires of people and even corporations?”
In other words, when we say that Santa and reindeer and mistletoe and snow are Christmas to us….are we settling for TOO LITTLE?
After hearing God’s words through the prophets anew this year, I really think we are. Because, while fireplaces and the joy of family are nice, they don’t even BEGIN to compare to what Christmas really should be to us….what God promised Christmas would be. Amen.