Advent 1a

Preached: December 2, 2007

The Christmas Message Shines Out
Isaiah 2:1-5

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That Word today for us to take to heart and put into practice is Isaiah 2.

The word which Isaiah, the son of Amos, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
And it will happen -- in the latter days the mountain of the house of the LORD will have been established on the summit of the mountains and will have been raised up above the hills. All the nations will flow to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about his ways and we will walk in his paths.” For the teaching will go out from Zion; the word of the LORD, from Jerusalem. He will show justice between the nations and decide the case for many peoples. Swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not raise up sword against nation, and they will train for war no more.
O house of Jacob, come and let us go in the light of the LORD. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

This is the Word of our Lord

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints who await the coming of our King:

The third Monday in January celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and his role in American civil rights. The third Monday in February, Presidents Day, celebrates the birthday of our first President, George Washington. The fourth day of July celebrates the birthday of our country. Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrate those who have fought for our country and served in the armed forces. Labor Day celebrates the American worker. And the second Monday of October celebrates Columbus coming to the New World.

So many of our holidays are tied to American history and the American people. Even Thanksgiving Day is closely connected to Pilgrims and Indians. But then there is that holiday that does not celebrate an American at all. It celebrates the birth of Jew, a Jew who was born many, many centuries before America was on a map. Christmas.

As we consider the Word of God before us, let's consider the message that shines out from Christmas, the real Christmas. Look past the trappings that our America and many others have added to it. Look past Santa Claus and gifts, trees and decorations, food and celebrations. Look at the light of the Lord shining from the manager. Hear Isaiah call, “Come . . . let us walk in the light of the LORD (Isaiah 2:5 NIV).

A. A message for you and for others

1)Why is it amazing that Christmas should include Gentiles, like you and me?

Christmas seems so much a part of American culture that we might almost think that Jesus was an American citizen like you and me. But that assumption steals some of the awe and wonder of how great a miracle Christmas is. Christmas celebrates many miracles: the miracle of the Father's love that sent his Son, the miracle of God becoming man, the miracle of the virgin birth. But the ribbon that ties all of these miracles to us is the miracle that Jesus came even for you and me.

Think about it. From Genesis 12 onward God's Word focuses on the Jews. He chose their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to carry the promise. He spoke to the Jews from Mt. Sinai. He gave the Jews the temple. He sent his prophets to the Jews. The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews. And when God the Son became a man, he came as a Jew. He did his preaching and miracles among the Jews. He chose his disciples from the Jews. Meanwhile our ancestor were worshiping wood and stone.

So what a miracle that Jesus came even for non-Jews, Gentiles like you and me! Even the disciples after Pentecost had trouble comprehending this miracle. Shouldn't the Gentiles be expected to follow all the Jewish customs, in essence become Jewish, if they wanted to be God's people? That was their thinking. It took a special vision from God to Peter and a visit to the house of a Gentile named Cornelius, recorded to Acts 10, before the early Christian church realized that Jesus was not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well.

Yet this too was a miracle foretold in the Old Testament. One of those prophesies is the text today from Isaiah 2. “In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2 NIV).

2) What three things do we need to remember as we seek to understand this prophecy from Isaiah?

“In the last days.” That's the way the Old Testament talked about the time of the Messiah, the time between Christ's coming as baby born in Bethlehem and his return in glory at the end of time. So that's the first thing to remember as we seek to understand this prophecy.. We are living in the last days.

Secondly, when you're traveling and you see mountains in the distance, those mountains may seem close together. But as you get closer and pass through the first one, you realize that they were far apart. You can look back and see one mountain and look ahead and see the other still in the distance.

So also as the Lord showed the Old Testament prophets the last days lying in the future, they saw Christ's first and second coming close together and often described them both in the same picture, just like looking at mountains in the distance. What they wrote is God's truth. So even though they may describe one picture, we need to realize that we're in the middle of it. That's a second point to keep in mind as we seek to understand this prophecy. Some of what is described may already have happened, some may be going on right now, some may still be in our future. The rest of Scripture must guide our understanding, since we're in the middle of the picture.

Thirdly, these prophecies were written first of all for God's Old Testament people. How could God communicate truths to them that would not be reality for hundreds of years? He often used things they were familiar with as a picture of the truth that was to become reality in the future. He does the same for us, doesn't he? For example, we can't visualize the reality of heaven, so God uses pictures such as a city with streets of pure gold and whose gates are each of a single pearl (Revelation 21).

3)What New Testament reality is pictured by God's temple in this prophecy?

For the Old Testament believers, the temple was the center of their spiritual life. The Ark of the Covenant was there. The sacrifices were offered there. God's presence filled the Holy of Holies.

In the New Testament God has not tied his people to one place. Rather wherever God's people gather with believing hearts around his Word of truth, there he is with them. Jesus said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23 NIV). And in another place: “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20 NIV). And the Apostle Peter wrote, “As you come to him, the living Stone (referring to Jesus) . . . you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:4, 5 NIV). In the New Testament, God's temple, God's house, are believers gathered around his Word and Sacraments. That's the Holy Christian Church.

So as this prophecy speaks of the Lord's temple established as chief among the nations, don't think of geopolitical power or some building in Jerusalem being rebuilt. Isaiah is picturing the New Testament church, the believers gathered around God's Word and Sacraments.

4) For whom does the Christmas message shine?

And notice! This New Testament church, this temple, is not just for the Jews. “all nations will stream to it.” It's for you and me. When God's Son was born a Jew, he was born not just as a Savior for the Jews, but for all people, for you and for me as well. How true what Simeon said as he held the baby Jesus in his arms forty days after his birth, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles” (Luke 2:30-32 KJV, modified). The Christmas message shines for you. What a miracle Jesus came even for you and me. That's the ribbon that ties all the miracles and blessings of Christmas to us. Jesus came even for us.

And not just for you and me. The words shines out for others to see. Isaiah writes, “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob’” (Isaiah 2:3 NIV). As we've seen, this mountain, this house of God, this temple, pictures the New Testament church, God's people gathered around his Word and Sacraments. But notice, this is not an exclusive club where we turn up our nose to others. Isaiah pictures us inviting, encouraging others, “Come, let us go . . to the house of . . . God.”

5) To whom can you shine out as a Christmas light?

Keep that in mind this Christmas season, so that you shine out as a light. Invite them to come and worship with you. Invite them to come with you each Sunday morning, to come with you both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Invite them to come and celebrate the miracle that Jesus was born to be the Savior even for them. So much of the American trappings of Christmas from Santa to shopping and even so much of the talk about brotherly love and peace on earth, darkens and clouds the light. But you, you shine out with the Christmas message, that message that shines for you and for others.

B. A message of justice and peace

1) What brings the Christmas message of justice and peace?

What is that Christmas message all about? It's a message of justice and peace. It's not the kind of justice and peace that you will see broadcasted across America. It's not the justice that brings civil rights or the peace that hopes for an end to wars in our lifetime. It's the justice and peace that only God's Word brings.

Isaiah pictures that word going out. “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3 NIV). Zion was the part of Jerusalem where the temple was. Zion and Jerusalem, like the temple, are used as Old Testament pictures to refer to the New Testament church, God's people gathered around his Word and Sacraments with believing hearts. God's Word goes out from his Church, from God's people, from you and me. We've already talked about that, shining out with the Christmas message.

What does that word say? “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4 NIV). That word proclaims God's justice and peace.

2) What verdict would God's justice give us if there were no Christmas?

Now God's justice, if there were no Christmas, would damn each of us. How easily we lose focus at this time of the year and become stressed out! Our spiritual life takes second place behind family or friends, behind baking or decorating. behind presents or shopping, or behind just wanting some time for myself. That's sin. Anything that places God second is sin. God's justice, if there were no Christmas, condemns sinners to death, condemns you and me to the unquenchable fire of hell.

3) Because of Christmas, what does God's justice say to you?

But because of Christmas, God's justice says to you and me through the words of Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together . . . Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV).

How can that be! Because that Jewish baby lying in a manger is your God, who came to redeem you. He came to wash you clean, yes you. He came to wash you clean in his holy blood shed on the cross for you. He washes you whiter than snow, no matter how stained by sin you are.

4) What kind of peace does God's Christmas justice bring?

That Christmas justice brings peace, peace with God. Isaiah pictures this peace in earthly terms, just as the other pictures in this prophecy are drawn from earthly life. Weapons of war like the sword and spear are pictured as remade into tools of peace, plows and pruning hooks. As the Christmas message shines into your heart, you and I, who were born as weapons of Satan to fight against God become tools to live in peace serving our Savior.

The angels proclaimed this peace to the Shepherd. Peace on earth, for the peace-bringer was born. He would end our warfare against God by paying for our sins, all of our sins, all of your sins, by his death on the cross.

Isaiah saw this peace in all its perfection as looked on the picture of the last days. Since we live in those days, between the mountains of Christ's two comings, we certainly have this peace with God, but we also still experience the warfare of sin in this world. We feel it in our own bodies as our old, sinful self wages war against the new self.

But that does not mean this prophecy isn't true. We look forward to that time of perfect peace, when our Lord takes us from the world of war to himself in heaven. We look forward to when Jesus returns in glory to raise us from the dead to live in his peace forever and ever. Isaiah saw that all -- both the spiritual peace we now have and the heavenly that is yet to come -- he saw it all in one picture. We see it in two pictures. But it is the same peace. Peace with God through Jesus and his blood, the peace of forgiveness. That's the peace of Christmas. That's the peace God's Word brings to you. The Christmas message shine out with this peace.

So in the wonder of the season, don't forget the miracle that ties all these gifts of God to you. Jesus was born even for you. Yes, believe it with all your heart and mind. Jesus was born for you. That's the ribbon that ties Christmas peace to you.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313