Christmas Day – December 25, 2017
The Beauty of Good News Isaiah 52:7-10
The life of a watchman on the wall is one of solitude. While everyone else lives in peace, he is on the wall – patiently waiting & watching. If there was ever a job where the man was to be seen and not heard, it was the watchman. Their presence on the walls alone would be enough to comfort the fearful. But to hear the cry of a watchman meant danger lurked just outside, and death might follow soon after.
The watchmen of Jerusalem were like ancient tornado sirens. It was comforting to know that they were there, but you never wanted to hear them. If you did, the end might be near.
In our first reading from Isaiah, the Lord has a new message for those beleaguered watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem. It comes as a breath of fresh air to the breathless; a sigh of relief to the sad.
“Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout…[wait for it]…for joy.” And what could possibly make the watchmen shout for joy? “When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.” So who is approaching the walls of Jerusalem? An army? An enemy? Like Old Testament Israel, that is the message we deserve to hear. Because we are sinful, we deserve a punishing message. But that isn’t this message from the wall. Not today.
Today the message is good news! “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” In the days before nikes, when everyone wore sandals; in the days before cars, when everyone walked everywhere, a person’s feet were just about the ugliest thing you could see. They had to be washed before entering a house.
Yet these feet are beautiful! Why? Because of the news they bring. The message is a glorious one. It is a proclamation of peace, of good tidings, of salvation. It is also a reminder: “Your God reigns!”
You can almost see it as if you were there. The messenger is running, he’s out of breath, yet he’s so excited about the good news that he can’t wait until he gets to the city to tell it. He wants to shout it even as he runs. But to save breath, the messages he shouts have to be short. So as he runs, he shouts, “Good news!” Then he runs a little farther, catches a quick breath and shouts again, “Peace!” Then he runs a little farther, catches a quick breath and shouts again, “Good tidings!” Then he runs a little farther, catches a quick breath and shouts, “Salvation!” And finally as he gets closer to the city, he shouts again, “Your God reigns!”
We can’t help but to respond as Isaiah does. “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” Finally, when those watchmen yell that someone is coming, the news is good. At last, God’s people are saved.
In fact, not just God’s people of Israel are saved, but…“All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” The hymn writer, Paul Gerhardt understood that by faith. Looking at that good news, Christ himself, the Savior of the world, he puts it better than anyone:
“O Jesus Christ, Your manger is My paradise where my soul is reclining.
For there, O Lord, We find the Word, Made flesh for us — your grace is brightly shining.”
Jesus Shares His Good News Hebrews 1:1-9
It is a phenomenon particular to God’s Word, and it could come at any time. There were periods were it was numerous, and there were long periods when it didn’t take place at all. The phenomenon itself wasn’t picky. It came through old men and young children alike. It came to men and women. It came through angels, dreams, visions, and at one point it even came from a talking donkey. It was pronounced by patriarchs, prophets, priests, judges and kings.
The phenomenon is called “inspiration”, and it was how God chose to speak his message to his people. Already in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, God made this pronouncement to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” It would be the first of many prophecies given to mankind.
Years later, Abraham entertained three visitors who appeared to be real men. But these were no ordinary men. One was the Lord himself who proclaimed: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
In the ages that followed the Lord also spoke his word through Joshua, through Judges such as Gideon and Samson, through prophets such as Samuel, Elijah, Elisha and Isaiah, and through kings such as David and Solomon. And then in the end, God’s final prophecy of the Old Testament came through the prophet Malachi. Through his final Old Testament prophet, God promised, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant.”
And then there was silence. Not another recorded word was spoken from the Lord. There were no more messages of the Lord through kings or prophets or priests or judges. For over 400 years nothing came. The Old Testament, as a collection of books, was completed, leaving God’s people waiting and hoping for a fulfillment.
Then come the words of the book of Hebrews for this Christmas morning: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” Indeed he had. Through countless visions, dreams, and angels the Lord had given his Old Testament word to his people. The writer now continues, “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Indeed he has.
And this news from the Lord is indeed good news. “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law to redeem those under law.” As true God, Jesus came to be a man, just like us, in order to be our perfect substitute. And now he himself speaks to you, “Because I live, you also will live.”
By faith this Christmas morning we join with the hymnist, Paul Gerhardt in praising God for his grace and mercy, which are from of old, from ancient times.
“Dear Christian friend, On him depend; Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move you.
For God’s own child In mercy mild, Joins you to him – how greatly God must love you!”
Jesus Fulfills His Good News John 1:1-14
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
Is this world really as dark as we think? After all, here in the season of Christmas we see people giving to charity, helping one another out, and living their lives with a spirit of happiness. I see those people dressed up as Santa ringing bells outside of stores. And even though I don’t always put money in the can, I see others that do. How dark can things really be?
Of course, we know how dark our world can get. All we need to do is look back on the past few weeks, and months. Shootings and storms and fires, war and famine and hatred and vitriol. Darkness fills our world and our country. It floods our community and our homes. And worst of all, that darkness fills our hearts.
Where can a person turn when blackness impedes sight? Who can a person find when he can’t see anything? The light has to come from somewhere else. King David knew that as well as anyone. He knew how black his sins were. And he knew where his salvation came from.
“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.”
On that very first Christmas, when the blackness of dark and night threatened to reign forever, a light in Bethlehem sparked and began to shine. The shadows dashed away as “The light shines in the darkness.” And even in the midst of this great sin there our Savior stands as our perfect replacement, as the sacrifice we needed on our behalf, and as our power over death and the devil.
The Word, Jesus, actually became flesh – one of us. He gave up his power. He took upon himself the darkness of the cross and our sins and the sins of the entire world. The Light of the world allowed himself to be snuffed out. But then shone even more brightly when he rose again.
Darkness still seems to reign over this world you live in. It can be overwhelming – when the walls of shadow collapse all around you.
But here comes the light on that very first Christmas morning. The very Savior who would come and seek out tax collectors, prostitutes, pharisees, soldiers and fishermen in order to remind them of his mission promised of old. “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
The light shines, even in the darkness. It causes watchmen on the towers to proclaim the good news. Christ has come! He has redeemed his people!
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And now it points us to the light of heaven Christ has won for us. Once again, this Christmas morning, we are blessed to put our peace and joy and hope to song:
“The world may hold Her wealth and gold; But you, my heart, keep Christ as your true treasure.
To him hold fast Until at last A crown is yours and honor in full measure.” Amen.