Summary: Christianity is sometimes dismissed because the package isn't attractive enough. That was the problem with the first Christmas as well.
I have a problem with Christmas. Not with the idea of celebrating Jesus’ birth of course. Nor with the idea of giving gifts to our loved ones. That’s good because it helps us remember that God gave us the greatest gift of all. It’s not even the temptation to eat more than I really need, though that is a problem.
No, I have a problem with presents. More particularly I have a problem deciding which present to open first. Should I choose the most interesting shape? Or should I choose the one with the glossy wrapping? Or should it be the one with the plain brown paper wrapping?
Of course you can see the problem can’t you? The quality of the wrapping may have no relationship to what’s inside. Without looking inside it’s almost impossible to see whether the package is worth opening.
That’s the mistake that so many people make when it comes to Christianity. The package doesn’t look particularly exciting so they never look at what’s inside.
But we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all exactly the same thing happened to Jesus when he began his public ministry. People asked how could this uneducated carpenter from Nazareth be worth listening to.
And you can imagine that the same might have been true when his birth was announced to the shepherds.
We just read one of the prophecies of Isaiah that refer to the coming King. Isaiah was perhaps the most loved book in the first century. Those who were looking forward to God’s salvation saw in it a great hope for their nation.
In fact when they unearthed the Dead sea scrolls last century they discovered a collection of old manuscripts dating back to just before the time of Jesus. And among all the scrolls the most complete of them was an entire copy of Isaiah.
Why was Isaiah so important to them? Well, their land was under occupation. They’d declined to the point where they’d become a fairly insignificant nation, yet their faith in God persisted. The prophecy of Isaiah told them that God had great plans for them. He was going to restore them to their former glory. In that passage we just heard read to us, God promises that they’ll never again be taken over by a foreign army - a promise that clearly he hadn’t yet fulfilled. And then they’re told to prepare the way for the people to return from exile; to look, because their salvation is coming. And the passage ends with the promise that they’ll be called “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord.”
It’s no wonder, is it, that people loved to hear Isaiah read. Yet they’d been waiting for 700 years and nothing had happened. They were as far from salvation as they’d ever been. But they never gave up hope. We read at the end of Luke 2 of Simeon and Anna who are waiting faithfully in the Temple in Jerusalem for the day when God’s Messiah will appear there.
Yet it must have seemed like a forlorn hope mustn’t it? We human beings find it so hard to wait for God’s timing. But the fact is, it was God who sent this message by the lips of Isaiah. He’d made a promise and he always keeps his promises.