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3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-1

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, perhaps one of the most common customs that is associated with Christmas is exchanging gifts, giving gifts. Have you bought all your Christmas gifts yet? Or are you going to do some last minute shopping? The stores will help you capitalize on getting your last-minute Christmas gifts bought. Perhaps its children who are most interested in the presents of Christmas. This last week at our chapel service here at school I asked if the children were excited about Christmas and what they were excited about most for Christmas and some of them immediately said, “Presents!” Presents bring children excitement and happiness. But what about you, what’s the best Christmas gift someone has given you? There’s a few things that make a present a good present, right? First, it has to be from someone who cares about you. Second, it has to be something that you really want. And third, there’s perhaps a bit of surprise to the gift, you weren’t expecting it. I still remember when I was 9 years old I was into playing with legos and mostly all we had were the random legos that you had to be pretty creative with, we didn’t have the fancy sets. My mom bought a set of three lego sets that I would have never dreamed they would have spent the 20-30 dollars on. Apparently, she had asked my brother what I would like and he told her. I was so surprised, excited, and happy I had a hard time falling asleep that night. But isn’t that true? In order for something to be a good present it has to come from someone who cares, be something you really want, and have a certain surprise to it. I don’t know what gifts you’re giving or receiving this Christmas, but what we’re going to focus on today are some gifts that are far more wonderful, far more surprising, far more exciting, far more lasting and incredible than any other gifts you could possible get. And they are right before us in our text this morning.

The prophet Isaiah originally wrote these words 700 years before Jesus’ birth. And His words were to serve to give comfort to the people living after him, first the people of God who would spend decades in exile in Babylon, but also for God’s people throughout the ages. And what is the comfort that he gives? He tells about the work of God’s Servant. In the New Testament Jesus directly tells us that these verses are talking about Him and what He came to do and the presents He came to give us. So, first, who are these presents from? God, the Lord.

And who are these presents for? We have a long list here: the poor- those who are so broken by life that they have no more heart to try, who feel like their lives hold nothing more than ashes,  the broken hearted – those whose hearts have been crushed, broken, wounded, the captives and the prisoners – those who are shackled and unable to release themselves and any release seems hopeless, the people who mourn and grieve and wear ashes on their heads – those who have no hope in themselves, and those who have a spirit of despair- who think that the future is only grim and bleak and depressing.

Is that you? Is that me? Yes. It’s all of us. You see, life in this sinful world has a way of reminding us again and again and again of sin and it’s horrid consequences. We are all poor and afflicted. Oh, we may have varying degrees of material wealth, but in what really matters, spiritually, we’re all paupers. God’s demand for entering heaven is a staggering price of which every single person falls short, God’s price in order to go to heaven is perfection and we all fall short of that. We’re poor. We’re also prisoners and captives. There’s a great hymn that says, “Enslaved by sin and bound in chains, beneath its dreadful tyrant sway, and doomed to ever lasting pains we wretched, guilty captives lay.” We lay captive to sin, Satan, and death. And broken-hearted. Who here hasn’t felt the pain of sin or the effects of sin in life? Who here hasn’t shed tears at pain, sickness, loss, and death?  This is us, isn’t it?

But then there’s Christmas presents like none other! “Good news!” To the poor, the lost, the helpless, God’s Messiah comes not only to announce good news but to accomplish the good news. He’s going to “bind up the broken hearted.” Those whose hearts are wounded, crushed, and bleeding – He’s going to bandage and restore. Those who are in bondage to their sin and addictions and sorrow – the Messiah comes with more power than the oppressor to bring freedom and release. He comes to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In the OT the year of Jubilee happened every 50 years where all debts were forgiven and all property had to be returned to the original owner. But here we see not “a” year of God’s favor, but “the” year of God’s favor. In other words, this “year” is going to be a continual, never ending period of God’s favor where debts are forgiven. “A day of vengeance of our God” – all of our enemies, all of the evil that has harassed us will be dealt with by God Himself. And in place of grieving, ashes, mourning, and a spirit of despair, God will give a crown of beauty, the oil of joy, a garment of praise. He clothes us with the garments of salvation and arrays us in the robe of his righteousness so that we delight greatly in the Lord, rejoice in our God, and display His splendor.

Sin and death will be defeated and all mourning one day will end forever. Why? Because God’s Servant will come. That’s exactly what we’re looking forward to at Christmas. You see, we go through life and we don’t have all the answers, we’re often confused, we’re often frustrated, we’re often devastated by our sin, crushed by the effects of sin in the world, we’re mourning and grieving. But then comes Christmas. Remember what the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David and Savior has been born for you. He is Christ the Lord.” And there it is. In the midst of our pain, in the midst of our sadness, in the midst of our slavery to sin and its effects…good news! A Savior has been born for you!

Jesus has come to crush the serpent’s head with vengeance. Jesus has come to bind up the broken hearted with the good news of sins forgiven and eternal life. Jesus has come to release us from the prison and captivity of our sins. Jesus has come to give us comfort in the midst of sadness, to put on our heads a crown of beauty instead of ashes, to clothe us with robe of His perfect righteousness and open eternal paradise in heaven for us. Those are the real gifts of Christmas.

I don’t know what gifts you are giving or receiving this year. I don’t know what the best gifts that you have received are. Many in our world are captivated by the temporary tinsel of this world and they want us to be too. But the gifts the Lord comes to bring you are not tinsel, they are gold. In Jesus you have these precious gifts. Treasure them above all! Cherish them in your heart! And share them with all! Those are the best gifts you can give and receive at Christmas. Amen.