Preached: December 11, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which Jesus speaks to us to prepare our hearts is Isaiah 61.
The Spirit of the Lord God is on me. For the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the Lord’s year of grace and our God’s day of retribution, to comfort all who mourn, to place on the mourners of Zion -- to give to them -- a crown instead of ashes joyful oil instead of mourning a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit, so that they are called oaks of righteousness, the Lord’s garden to bring him glory. (Isaiah 61:1-3).
This is the word of our Lord.
“Keep Christ in Christmas.” We hear that slogan at this time of the year. But what does it mean? Does it mean we should never abbreviate Christmas as Xmas or never substitute “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas”? Does it mean to lobby for nativity scenes on public property and to downplay Santa Claus in our homes? Does it mean to get rid of materialism, commercialism, and greed and rather to focus on the togetherness of family and reaching out to the less fortunate? What does it mean to keep Christ in Christmas?
Rather than taking opinion polls or consulting the experts, let’s listen to what Christ himself has to say. Seven hundreds years before his birth, Christ Jesus speaks and has Isaiah record his words. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me …” (Isaiah 61:1 NIV1984). If you know what the word Christ means, you see how pertinent this passage is for showing what it means to keep Christ in Christmas. Christ means “Anointed One.” Here Jesus says that the Lord has anointed him. We could paraphrase his word like this: “The Lord God has appointed and sent me to do the work of the Christ, the Anointed One.”
To keep Christ in Christmas means to know what that work is that the Lord God appointed and sent Jesus to do as the Christ, and it means to believe that he did this work for you. He was anointed and sent for you. So the theme today is. Christ Jesus declares: “I’m anointed for you.” He’s anointed for you, who are the poor, brokenhearted that mourn. This is the first part.
“The Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1, 2 NIV1984), Christ Jesus says.
Now when Christ Jesus talks about the poor, he’s not talking about the 99%. He’s not talking about those who live below the poverty line or the bottom 1% even. That kind of poorness doesn’t go away when good news is preached. That kind of poorness needs food, clothing, and shelter, maybe also job skills, training, and opportunity. To simply promise good things and not deliver adds insult to injury. Christ Jesus is talking about a different kind of poorness, which the rest of the text makes clear.
These poor are brokenhearted. The secular world often speaks about broken hearts when a close relationship is damaged, ruined, or destroyed -- a parent’s heart broken by the lose of a child, a wife’s heart broken by the infidelity of her husband. But what deeper relationship can exist than that between our God and us? He created us, fashioning us from our mother’s womb, caring and providing for us, protecting us. He redeemed us, ransoming us with his lifeblood. What a price he paid! He wants to sanctify us to be his holy temple. He wants to dwell in us.
But what has sin done to that relationship? Our sin made us disobedient, rebellious, and hostile against God, anything but a loving child. Every sin is infidelity toward God, cheating on him, prostituting ourselves. Yes, any sin, especially those we want to excuse, pull us away from our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. They pollute and desecrate the Holy Spirit’s temple. We have broken God’s heart, so to speak.
And when we have come to see that horror of our sin, that my sin, my own sin, drives me away from the Lord, then my heart breaks too. Look at what I’ve done!
Examine your heart, dear friend. See the horror of your sin, no matter how small we want to pretend it is. That sin and everyone of your sins attack God and betray him. Does not your heart break with grief, sorrow, and sadness, with such horror and terror at what you’ve done!
And so we mourn. How great our sin! How dark the death we’ve earned for ourselves! How deep the pit of hell we’ve dug! How strong the bars of our prison and the chains of our captivity! How grim and dismal our grief and mourning!
Keep Christ in Christmas because you need him -- how desperately we all need him! Call out with David of old, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17 NIV1984). For Christ Jesus was anointed for you. He came for you whose heart is broken. He came for you who confess your spiritual poverty. Like beggars, we have nothing of our own to offer God, nothing to appease his anger, nothing to merit his favor. That’s how poor we are apart from Christ. But it’s for you, the poor, the brokenhearted, those who mourn over your sin -- it’s for you that Christ was anointed. It’s to you that he proclaims his good news of liberty and joy, which brings us to part two.
Christ Jesus declares, “I’m anointed for you -- for you, to whom I bring the good news of liberty and joy.”
What does he say to you and me? What is his good news? Here’s the good news of Christ Jesus our Lord. He says to you, “I bind up your broken heart. For I have reconciled you to God through my death on the cross. That’s why I was anointed and sent. That’s why I was born and laid in a manger. My death in your place reconciles you to God. It repairs the relationship your sins had ruined and destroyed. For my death has paid for your sins. My cross has taken away your guilt. Be reconciled to the Father through me. Let your broken heart be healed by my good news.”
Christ says to you, “I’m anointed for you, to free you from Satan’s captivity, to release you from death’s prison. For look, I came not only to die for you but also to rise from the dead. I came back to life, and as the Champion I marched through hell itself. Satan could not stop me. I broke death’s chains. They could not hold me in the tomb. Many witnesses testify that I have risen so that you may believe this good news of liberty. Why be ruled by sin anymore? I have set you free. Why live in fear of death and hell. I have set you free. Believe my good news of liberty.”
Christ says to you, “I’m anointed for you, to proclaim to you the year of the Lord’s favor, his time of grace. Do not doubt that I have freely done all this for you, because it depends on God’s grace alone, not on you. If even a small part depended on you, then there would always be doubt. But my good news depends entirely on God’s grace, and his grace will not fail. So don’t doubt, but believe. That’s why I proclaim his grace to you. God’s love is his free gift flowing from his good will -- unearned, unmerited, undeserved by you. Your faith and certainty are built on his grace alone, not in any way on your own effort or intentions. So don’t be led astray by those who malign and abuse my grace by adding works to it. For the day of vengeance is coming on all who have opposed me -- Judgment Day. But for you who believe, that too will be a day of grace.”
Christ says to you, “I’m anointed for you, to comfort you who mourn over your sin. Remember the waters of your baptism. I washed away your sin. Be comforted. Taste the bread and wine in my Supper. You’re eating my body and drinking my blood. Remember that my body carried your sins to the cross in your place. Remember that my blood paid the ransom to redeem you. Be comforted. Your sins are forgiven. Your debt, paid in full.”
Christ says to you, “I’m anointed for you. Here is what I give to you who grieve over your sin. Here is the crown of victory I won for you. Wear it instead of the ashes of hopelessness. Here is the oil of gladness instead of mourning; it relieves your pain and brightens your heart. Here is the garment of praise instead of despair to lift up your spirit in joy, a joy that you wear in your life to bring praise to your God as others see the great things he has done.”
Yes, dear friends, Christ’s good news of liberty and joy binds up our broken hearts and frees us from death’s prison. Christ’s good news of liberty and joy comforts us with forgiveness so that joy and praise well up from our souls and overflow in our lives. Keeping Christ in Christmas keeps his good news reigning in our hearts and lives.
And that brings us to the final point here. What is the result of Christ coming and doing the work of the Anointed One? The result is not only our salvation but also God’s glory. He's glorified not only through Christ but through you as well. Christ was anointed for you, whom the Lord has planted for his glory. Here’s part three.
Jesus speaks about you, the poor in spirit who believe his good news. He says of you, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3 NIV1984).
When people have a good garden, they bring their produce to the county fair. What they’ve planted brings them recognition and honor as the ribbons are awarded. The Lord’s planting, his garden, isn’t beans or corn or squash. It’s you, dear Christian. It’s you and me. We are the planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor, his glory.
Maybe our first reaction is: “But I’m nothing special.” That reaction already focuses on the wrong subject. We’re not talking about what we’ve made of ourselves, as if this were about our glory. When a squash gets a purple ribbon, grand champion, at the fair, who gets the glory? The gardener who grew it, of course, not the squash itself.
The good that is in you and me all comes from the Lord. He is the gardener. He calls you and me oaks of righteousness not because of our goodness, but because Jesus’ righteousness makes us strong, sturdy, and steadfast to stand before the judge. It’s because of the good he has worked in us that we display his splendor and show his glory, like a beautiful garden.
Let others see the good God has done for you and works in you. Let others see it not so that they praise you, but so that they praise Christ, the Anointed One. Make it clear that the right things you do are because Christ was anointed for you, to bring you his righteousness, to comfort you with his good news. That, dear Christians, is why we keep Christ in Christmas, so that he is glorified through us. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.