Summary: This sermon examines the expecations surrounding the arrival of the Messiah. It is designed in Antiphonal format with Christmas carols interspersed throughout.
EXPECTATIONS ACROSS THE POND
Christmas Around the World—Part 1
In other parts of the world you might find yourself celebrating Christmas by skiing down a mountain side with a lighted torch in your hand…strewing hay on the floor of your home…knocking on a neighbors door in a symbolic pilgrimage. In some countries gifts are given twice during the Christmas season.
Christmas is Britain’s most popular holiday and is characterized by traditions which date back hundreds of years. Many Christmas customs which originated in Britain have been adopted in the United States.
The first ever Christmas card was posted in England in the 1840s, and the practice soon became an established part of the build-up to Christmas. Over a billion Christmas cards are now sent every year in the United Kingdom, many of them sold in aid of charities.
Children hang a stocking on the fireplace or at the foot of their bed for Santa Claus (also named Father Christmas) to fill. Presents for the family are placed beneath the Christmas tree.
Christmas Day sees the opening of presents and many families attend Christmas services at church. Christmas dinner consists traditionally of a roast turkey, goose or chicken with stuffing and roast potatoes. This is followed by mince pies and Christmas pudding flaming with brandy, which might contain coins or lucky charms for children. (The pudding is usually prepared weeks beforehand and is customarily stirred by each member of the family as a wish is made.) Later in the day, a Christmas cake may be served - a rich baked fruit cake with icing and sugar frosting.
I love this time of year. It’s probably my favorite time of year. One factor that makes it great is all of the anticipation that builds up through the month of December. Think now. What are some of the things that you are expecting—special time with family, days off, beautiful decorations, lighting candles with my family, exchanging gifts, special worship experiences.
We’ll be experiencing these things all through the month of December!! There is a certain fun factor that goes along with expecting and anticipating. Remember as a child the fun of counting down the days. Looking at the wrapped presents day after day under the tree, imagining the thrill of opening those gifts.
God wired us, so he knows that expecting and anticipating are part of the human experience. So he created his own anticipation with the coming of the Messiah.
THE LONG-EXPECTATED MESSIAH
God didn’t just suddenly drop Jesus out of heaven to earth. He prepared humanity for his coming hundreds of years ahead of time. Consider the prophecy offered in Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Consider Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
A child will be born to us. Listen. Be ready. Heaven will give us a son. What will be his name? Well, the government will rest on his shoulders. His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Shalom Prince. There will be no end to the increase of his government or of his peace on the throne of David or over his kingdom to establish it, to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forever more.
God wraps the Messiah in the words of the prophet and places him under the tree. There’s just enough information to create suspense, curiosity and the oh-so-important hope, but not enough information to figure it all out.
Both references in Isaiah clearly refer to the long-promised Messiah. No one fits Isaiah’s description except Jesus. The Jews held on to these prophecies, waiting for the Messiah’s arrival. These messages of hope came out of some of the darkest periods in Jewish history. Israel’s once thriving nation had been divided by a bitter civil war. The northern section had been over run and conquered by the Assyrians.
In the midst of this darkness God places he wrapped gift under this tree.
Don’t forget Isaiah 11, either. A shoot will spring up from the stem of Jesse—just a branch. A branch from its roots will bear fruit, and the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him. He will be distinct. He will be unique. Upon him will be the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and strength—the spirit of knowledge and the fear of Lord.
The Hebrew poetry in this passage is beautiful. It says that God will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips will he slay the wicked. It’s intense! Righteousness will be his belt. Faithfulness will be about his waist. Look at the beauty of that prophecy! Here we have a gift that comes through the womb of the Virgin Mary, but ahead of time, there was a prophet that said, "Righteousness will mark his life—godliness, the fear of Lord. He will with fairness judge the poor and the rich alike. He will be like none other"—though the prophets also point out that we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the wrapping hides something that appears at first to be just a shoot, a stem, a branch.