Sunday, December 31, 2023

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


Christmas 1

                                                                                      Isa 11:1-5



          I 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.

          That 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.

          The 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 impressive.

          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 vindication now.

          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 LORD.”

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 from Jerusalem.”

Jesus Christ 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.

He will 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 this One.

God has 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.  

Because 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.      























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