2nd Sunday of Advent
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ! In the name of Jesus, who came once to redeem us and will come again to take us home, dear friends in Christ, Holidays have a way of bringing about a mix of emotions in people. Some people have even began to dread the holidays, some already now are waiting for the holidays to be over. Why? Stress. Health.com, Webmd, even the Mayo clinic all offer articles on how to fight Holiday stress. The mayo clinic’s article begins like this, “The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests – stress and depression. And it’s no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands – parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining just to name a few.” And maybe you’re starting to feel it, maybe you know someone who’s starting to feel the crunch of deadlines, the anxiety of whether or not I got the right gift for so-and-so, will they like it or not, then there’s all the preparations, then there’s the financial stress, then there’s the emotional stress of loved ones who are gone and not able to celebrate the holidays with us. How do you deal with the stress? How do you deal with other people who are stressed?
Well, first we have to understand that all the holidays themselves really are made up. Thanksgiving itself didn’t become an official holiday until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln decided that the fourth Thursday of November would be a Federal holiday. Then, unlike Easter, we have no idea when the first Christmas occurred. We don’t know what day Jesus was born on. You could really celebrate Christmas in July if you wanted to. And, there’s even nothing in Scripture that says that we have to celebrate Christmas (It’s certainly a good idea, but there’s nothing that says we HAVE to do it.) Advent is also a church season that comes from the church, no where is Scripture does it say we have to celebrate Advent. And we all know that our year follows the earth’s cycle around the Sun and since it’s a circle, it really has no beginning or end. If I wanted, I could say the new year begins tomorrow because that’s my birthday J.
But that really probably doesn’t help because that’s not going to change the fact that you’re probably going to still celebrate the holidays. So how do you deal with them? Well, God’s Word for us this morning helps us as we prepare our hearts in the midst of a world full of frenzied stress for our coming Savior.
Now, we remember that Isaiah first wrote to the Israelites at a time when they had strayed from God. Part of Isaiah’s job was to announce God’s judgment on the sinful and rebellious nation. Assyria would be God’s ax that would chop down the nation of Israel. How? By invading it, crushing it, killing men, women, and children, exiling the rest, destroying homes and lives. And later Babylon would be God’s ax to cut down the royal line of kings descended from great King David- particularly the family through whom God promised the Savior would come. Talk about stress! Talk about anxiety! Talk about dealing with people who were depressed!
But here through the prophet Isaiah we have words of light, of hope and comfort. From that dead, ugly, gnarly stump of Israel would come… a “grand and glorious mega tree?” No, out of this dead stump life will burst forth… a shoot, a twig, a branch- not something seemingly grand and glorious at first. And we also notice it’s not David who’s mentioned, but his father, Jesse. The same God who created a royal ruling house from a peasant family would also bring salvation into the world not in a glorious and pompous way, but discreetly, simply and humbly- just like a baby born to a poor virgin in a stable and laid in a lowly manger. Why? Because the coming King wasn’t coming to terrify us or stir us into more stress or fear, but in humble grace to win our hearts, to calm us with his gentle love.
And who would this coming Branch be? Someone perfectly fit for the job because the Spirit of the Lord would rest on Him. The sevenfold, complete Spirit of God. The Spirit of wisdom and understanding – He would know the essence of things and insight into all things, the Spirit of counsel and of power – He would know not only when people were struggling or in need or need His counsel but He’d also have the power of God to do something about it, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – He would know God and His ways through and through and impart that knowledge to others. Why? So we wouldn’t have to worry if the King was going to understand our situation, He not only knows what we need, He knows when we need it and has the power to do it!
And what kind of a rule would this coming King have? He won’t judge based on appearances. His eyes pierce right down to the underlying reality. Earthly rulers and judges can only decide by what they see and hear, this King looks right down to the heart and therefore since nothing is hidden from Him He will always judge justly. And He has a particular concern for the poor and the needy, the meek and the lowly. He has a special concern for those who humble themselves, admit their guilt and sin, admit their unworthiness and spiritual poverty, and believe in someone outside of themselves, the Savior. He rules in absolute righteousness and faithfulness to protect His people. He owes no allegiances to political groups, He doesn’t listen to lobbyists, He makes His decisions without being concerned about the “political ramifications.” The coming Messiah will rule all things for the good of His kingdom, His people, the Church.
And the result? Complete security and safety. Pictured in an amazing way: wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions- natural enemies, living together without harming each other! And who’s going to be leading them? A little child! Someone most unlikely for the job! Cows and bears are eating together, lions eating straw! And then to top it off, we have an infant playing next to a cobra’s hole and a young child sticking his hand into the nest of a poisonous snake. Now, if you were watching that, what would you do? You’d immediately want to grab that child. Why? Because there’s danger there, that child would most certainly get attacked and die a tragic death! But not here. In the Messiah’s kingdom death itself will be conquered! What a beautiful way to picture it! In God’s kingdom there will be no more harming and no more destroying- just peace!
This text is picturing not just the eternal peace that is yours in heaven, but the peace that is yours right now as a member of Christ’s kingdom. So, this holiday season, are you enjoying that peace? The peace knowing God kept His promise to send the Root of Jesse to defeat sin for you? The peace knowing Jesus as the King is looking out for you constantly, the peace that Jesus makes decisions based solely on His love and grace?
Or are we anxious and stressed? Are we distracted by the frenzy of trying to have the “best Christmas,” do we get upset when things don’t turn out just right, when a family member suddenly can’t make it. Or, are we stressed by other people, maybe it’s getting together with family that rekindles an old grudge or resentment or jealousy. With so much going on do we lose our temper with those at home or at work? Do we live in peace? Are we prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior? Are we ready for the righteous Judge to come again?
The devil loves to get us distracted, frenzied, stressed, depressed, resentful, because he knows all those things are barriers that get in the way of us soaking in God’s message during the holiday season. Yet, we can’t even imagine what disaster our world would be in if the devil had free course, if he could do whatever he wanted. But he’s not. The Branch who came as a child in Bethlehem remains in control. Just think, although the devil hates it, once again the message of a Savior born in Bethlehem is spread across the world. Although the devil hated it, he wasn’t able to distract you so much as to keep you from coming here and hearing God’s Word of peace again, true peace, peace having your sins forgiven and standing right with your God. And although the devil hates it, God’s love still moves you to live at peace with others by forgiving, by taking words and actions in the kindest possible way, by being content – even if things aren’t quite just right.
This holiday season lay aside the frenzy, the stress, the distractions and ponder anew the glorious miracle of God’s grace in fulfilling His promise and bringing the ultimate Peace-Giver into this earth. Marvel at the Father’s love to send His Son to people so often stressed and distracted in order to give us glorious peace, glorious rest for our souls both here in this life and for forever in the next! Amen.