Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas - Isa 11:1-5

                                                                                                Christmas 1
                                                                                                Isa 11:1-5

            C'Mon Man!  If you have ever watched the ESPN Monday Night Countdown show that precedes Monday night football, you will recognize this expression and what it means.  First introduced in 2008, each of the hosts shows a video segment from a football game that week.  In all of them, players, coaches, and even fans, are making dumb mistakes and doing things that just make no sense.  At the end of each segment after the host has described the error, he adds, “C'Mon Man!” This is, I should add, one of Michael’s favorites.
            On this First Sunday after Christmas we hear the prophet Isaiah provide a description of the Messiah.  He speaks about a figure endowed with the Spirit of Yahweh who knows what is right.  He judges in righteousness and fairness for all – including the poor and weak.  And he executes mighty judgment against the wicked.
            Yet when you consider this description and compare it to the One whose birth we are celebrating during this season of Christmas, it makes you want to say, “C'Mon Man!” Jesus is a helpless baby in manger.  He is not at his parents’ home because the real world ruler, Caesar Augustus, has ordered a census and they had to obey.  Jesus lives in the world that Caesar runs.  And speaking of running, very soon his parents will flee to Egypt with Jesus in order to save his life from a petty king under Augustus’ thumb, Herod the Great. The words of Isaiah 11 applied to this? “C'Mon Man!”
            I have always had a deep appreciation for this First Sunday after Christmas.  The season of Advent is filled with so much activity and anticipation as we get ready for Christmas.  Then, there is the Christmas Eve service.  The chancel area is decked out with poinsettias and the lit Christmas tree.  We sing the joyous hymns of Christmas that are so dear to us.  We hear the reading of the Christmas Gospel, adorned with a Gospel processional.  And then at the conclusion of the service there is the singing of Silent Night as the darkened church is lit by candles.  Before we return to church the next day, the presents that have attracted so much attention under the Christmas tree, have been opened that evening or in the morning.  And then the Christmas Day service follows with its own warm reverence.
            We do all of this, and then the next Sunday rolls around.  The First Sunday after Christmas arrives.  All of the hoopla, and nothing has really changed.  And if that is true for us, we are reminded that it was all the more true for Mary and Joseph.  The birth of Jesus was a great event.  That is true of the birth of any baby.  Then the shepherds visited at the prompting of an angel on that first Christmas Eve.  But on the Sunday after his birth, there was just a baby for whom they now needed to care. There was just the work of providing for a tiny, helpless infant who was unable to do anything for himself.
            When we hear the words of our text, and consider the infant in Bethlehem there appears to be a great disconnect.  A shoot from the stump of Jesse?  Well, ok, this is a descendant of David through Joseph, and he was born in Bethlehem the city of David.  But what about Isaiah’s words?: “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”
            The last part of that text – about striking the earth with the rod of his mouth and killing the wicked with the breath of his lips – was one of the most quoted statements about the Messiah when Jews spoke about him in the second temple period.  It’s not hard to understand why this is so.  Isn’t that what we want out of Jesus?  We want him to act in might and power to defeat the enemies of his people – to vindicate those who believe in him in the midst of this increasingly hostile world.
            If Jesus doesn’t seem like the fulfillment of our text from Isaiah a week after Christmas, then he certainly doesn’t at the end of his life some three decades later.  The only thing that rested upon him was a crown of thorns. He was the One who was judged by a Roman governor who knew he was not deciding righteously or equitably as he condemned an innocent man to death.  He was the One who was killed by the wicked as the last breath left his lips.
            There are times when Jesus is not the Christ we want. We think that we don’t want a Christ who allows suffering and hardships to enter our lives.  We don’t want a Christ who seems to be either unable or unwilling to solve right now the problems that are troubling me.  After all, if he were really the Christ – the kind of Christ I want – then that’s what he would do.
            But Isaiah’s words teach us that God works in ways that we don’t expect.  He works in ways that are really the opposite of what they appear.  The prophet begins by saying, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”  Isaiah wrote in the eighth century B.C.  The Assyrian had swept down on Palestine. They had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, destroyed its capital of Samaria, and take the people into exile.  But they hadn’t stopped there, they had continued south as they took one fortified position in Judah after another.  Inevitably, they would set their sights on Jerusalem as they planned on doing the same thing to the southern kingdom.
            The kingdom that arisen under David’s rule had been chopped down.  But when it appeared that there was no hope, Isaiah said, There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”  God was not done with David’s line.  In chapter nine Isaiah had already talked about this One.  As we heard on Christmas Eve, he said: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
            By all appearances, in the first century A.D. these words could not have sounded more hollow.  But then, God sent the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary to tell her that she would conceive a baby in her womb through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He ordered Joseph, a descendant of David, that he was to take this divinely conceived child to be his own, and to make him part of the line of King David.
            Born in the city of David, Jesus did not appear to be anything special – just another Jewish baby born into subjugation to Rome. His parents had to take him out of Israel into Egypt in order to rescue him from death.  Yet no matter how things appeared, God was at work in all of this to fulfill his word – in the conception by a virgin; in the birth in Bethlehem; in the flight to Egypt. 
            In two weeks we will celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  When Jesus had grown to be a man, he went to receive the baptism administered by John the Baptist.  There as he emerged from the water he was anointed with the Holy Spirit.  The words of our text were fulfilled: “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”
            Anointed with the Spirit, Jesus went forth as the One whose delight was the fear of the Lord.  It was his will to do the Father’s will. And so he made his way to the cross.  He did not look to his own interests, but instead he died on the cross to redeem you from sin.  Good Friday appeared to be weakness and failure, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
For by that death in our place, he won the forgiveness of sins. And by his resurrection on the third day he defeated death itself.
            After fulfilling the Father’s will, our risen Lord ascended into heaven.  He has been enthroned at the right hand of God, and on Pentecost he poured forth the Spirit upon his Church. The Holy Spirit caused you to be born again in Holy Baptism.  Now through the Spirit’s work you have wisdom and understanding.  As new man in Christ, you have knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
            The old Adam in you doesn’t want to see what I have just described. He looks at the baby Jesus, at Jesus on the cross and at your life and says, “C'Mon Man!”  But as we listen to God’s Word the Spirit leads us to tell the old Adam to shut up, for instead we understand that with God the reality is far more than the appearance.  And because this was true in Jesus Christ, we can trust that God’s love and care for us continues in the present no matter what things look like.
            The reality of God’s work is far greater than its appearance. The final confirmation of this fact will take place on the Last Day. For the ascended Lord who defeated death in his resurrection will return in glory.  And when he does we will all rejoice to see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words as Jesus Christ pronounces the final judgment righteously and with all power.  He will declare us to be righteous because of his saving work.  He will vindicate us before all and demonstrate that the reality of God’s work in Christ has always been far, far more than it appeared to be. 

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