have always enjoyed the First Sunday after Christmas. The Sundays in Advent are
such a busy time as all the preparations are made for Christmas. There are presents to buy and events to
attend. There are travel plans to make
and trips to take as we gather with family.
time builds to a crescendo on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus
Christ. The nave is decorated with the
Christmas tree and poinsettias. We have
the Christmas Eve candlelight service as the light of the candles pierces the
darkness and we sing “Silent Night.” The
gifts that have been the object of so much attention are then opened that
evening or the next morning.
First Sunday after Christmas is very different.
The hoopla of Christmas is over.
The guests have probably left, or we have returned home. The world is
done with Christmas, but that is not so in the church. Instead, our Christmas celebration
continues. This is a quiet time that
focuses our attention on the baby Jesus and what he means to us.
The First Sunday after Christmas was a
quiet time for Mary. The previous nine
months had certainly been a whirlwind for her.
The angel Gabriel had announced to her that she would give birth to the
Christ – the descendant of David promised by God. He told her, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and
bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will
be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him
the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of
Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary would give birth to the descendant
promised to David. She also learned that
this child would be more than just a king.
Although she was a virgin, she would conceive and give birth because the
Holy Spirit would come upon her. For
this reason, the child to be born would be called holy – the Son of God.
Mary had learned that her relative
Elizabeth had become pregnant as well.
Though barren and too old to have a child, Elizabeth had conceived. When Mary visited, Elizabeth had been filled
with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among
women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted
to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
The Roman registration had forced Mary
and Joseph to go south to Bethlehem at the worst possible time – just as Mary
was due. There she had to give birth to
Jesus in a stable as she placed her newborn child in a manger. Then as if the circumstances were not
eventful enough, shepherds arrived who reported that an angel had announced to
them that Jesus was the Savior. He was
Christ the Lord.
All of that was now in the past. It was not yet time for sacrifices to be
offered for Mary’s purification after giving birth. This was a quiet time after the birth of
Jesus. Her child had been acclaimed as
the Son of God, the Savior and the Christ.
But Mary and Joseph remained nobodies.
Jesus was merely a helpless infant who depended on his mother. There was nothing about him that was
He certainly does not seem to be the
fulfillment of our Old Testament lesson.
Isaiah speaks of what God is going to do in the future. Writing in the eighth century B.C., the prophet
addressed a time when Judah was threatened by Syria and the northern kingdom of
Israel. They wanted Judah to join them
in an alliance against the threatening power of the Assyrians. But Judah had
refused and so the two nations were going to attack it.
Isaiah had told King Ahaz that Yahweh
would protect Judah. He called him to trust in God as he said, “If you are not firm in faith, you
will not be firm at all.” But Ahaz, who
descended from King David, would not trust in God. Instead he set in motion his
own plan as he asked the Assyrians for help.
It was a disastrous move as the Assyrians kept rolling south and
conquered much of Judah – laying siege to Jerusalem itself.
The line of David had been
unfaithful. It was powerless. But in our text God promises a future
descendant of David. He says, “There
shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his
roots shall bear fruit.” God promised
that the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon this One. He would delight in the fear of the Lord and
judge his people righteously. God promised that he would rule in might as he
said, “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 baby with Mary does not seem to be
the fulfillment of these words. There is
nothing mighty about him. He does not
seem to be God powerfully at work. Certainly,
he is not God at work the way we want him to do so. He is a disappointment. And in this he seems to fit with the way we
sometimes feel about God. We look at the
difficulties in our life and wonder where God is at. We want God to do
something now. We want God to act in
might and power. We want victory and
However, the appearances of the baby
are deceiving. What we need is patience as God works through him. What we need is faith in this One.
Because Joseph has taken him as his son, Jesus is
the shoot from the stump of Jesse. Next
Sunday we will celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. At that event the Holy Spirit descended on
Jesus – he was anointed with the Spirit.
Because of this event, Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words: “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
Jesus’ baptism will be the moment when he begins
his ministry. Endowed by the Spirit he
will delight in the fear of the Lord.
His desire will be to carry out the work that God the Father has given
him. That work will seem surprising.
This powerful figure who has received the Spirit did not come to judge.
Instead, he came to be numbered with the transgressors. He came as Paul says in our text “to redeem
those who were under the Law.”
The child held by Mary is the Christ. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him,
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
Because he does, he will offer himself on the cross. He will be the sacrifice that frees us from
sin. He will win us forgiveness and
peace with God.
Good Friday did not look that
way. Christ died on the cross cursed by
God. It seemed that Jesus had failed in
his work and that he had been completely rejected by the Father. But then, through the work of the Spirit God
raised Jesus from the dead. God
vindicated Christ as the One through whom he defeated death and began the
resurrection of the Last Day.
Because Jesus has risen from the
dead, we can now see that his suffering and death was the saving work of God
for us. As the risen Lord said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the
third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of
sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning
has ascended into heaven and been exalted to the right had of the Father. But the One who came in humility will return
in might and power. He is the One who
will judge righteously as he declares the meek - all those who believe in him -
to be justified. On the Last Day he will
“strike the earth with the rod of his
mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” He will destroy everyone and everything that
has been opposed to him as he gives victory to his people.
give us a share in his resurrection as we live in the new creation. Isaiah says immediately after our text, “The
wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young
goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little
child shall lead them.”
It would have
been easy to be disappointed by the baby Jesus as we read Isaiah’s words. However, we live as those who have seen how
God worked through Jesus to fulfill them.
The One who was anointed by the Spirit died on the cross for us and then
was raised by the Spirit. He is the
risen Lord who will return as he judges and gives us resurrection life.
When we feel
that God is doing nothing – that he is not caring for us – Jesus Christ reminds
us that appearances are deceiving. What we need is patience as God works
through him. What we need is faith in
revealed his love for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The One who was anointed by the Spirit and
raised by the Spirit, has now poured forth the Spirit. The Spirit always points us to Christ and
sustains us in faith. The Spirit
strengthens our trust in God because of what we have seen him do in Jesus. The Spirit helps us to have patience as we
believe in Jesus Christ. We know what
God has done in Christ for us, and we know what he will yet do.
This First Sunday after Christmas is a quiet time. It is a time that sets our attention upon the baby Jesus. The child held by Mary does not look like the fulfillment of our text from Isaiah. But God poured out his Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism, and acted through his death and resurrection to show that he is. God will act yet once more when Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge and bring the final peace.
of Christ we can trust that God is at work in the present. We have seen in
Jesus that appearances don’t tell the true story. The God who has acted to give us forgiveness
in Christ continues to give us his love in the present. The Holy Spirit strengthens us in faith as we
wait patiently on the Lord.