Summary: Christmas 1985: In our tumultuous world and in our troubled lives, those negatives are not the last word, for God has sent Immanuel to work a work that is not yet finished, but will be eventually.
The morning sports pages brought forth a pearl of wisdom from one Ron Jaworski, quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. Mr. Jaworski, as it turned out, is something of a prophet. He referred to his team's irritating habit of getting off to a good start in their games, leading right up to the last quarter, and then suddenly managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Said Jaworski, "When you come to see the Eagles play, don't leave early!" At the time he was referring to a prior week's game, in which the Vikings had scored four touchdowns in less than nine minutes in the fourth quarter and taken the Eagles from victor to vanquished in a few terrible strokes.
And you know, of course – I know this congregation -- you know that it happened again that very afternoon, as our beloved Redskins permitted the Eagles a few stray points early in the game, toyed with them for a couple of quarters, and then struck in the last quarter and made Mr. Jaworski a prophet. The Eagle has landed!
The game's not over, just because a team gets off to a decent beginning. The game's not finished just because one team gets out in front. What matters is who's on top when the clock ticks off the last second. Just because one team gets off to an early lead does not mean that the game’s over yet. In the immortal words of Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, "It's not over ‘til it's over."
Now I would be reluctant in some Baptist congregations to admit that these hands had ever so much as touched a playing card, but I suppose among you the truth can come out. I have had a brief but traumatic career as a card player. Brief but traumatic. Let me tell you why it was brief and traumatic. A few years ago my wife decided to teach our family the game of Canasta. Canasta was around way back in the late middle ages when she and I were teenagers but had sort of disappeared for awhile; but she decided it would be fun for the four of us to play it as a family. And play we did, until that son of mine learned the tricks of the trade. I would be playing merrily along, melding here and playing there and thinking I was doing quite well, when all of a sudden, out of the clear blue sky, he would lay down about 50 cards in sudden terrible strokes, would declare himself out, and would leave me with all my fantasies crumbling. I had thought, you see, that my hand was full, the game was over, that because I had made a good start it was going to be won. But he had a way of wiping me out, as the hymn-writer puts it, "with a terrible swift sword," and I learned again that it's not over ‘til it's over. The game's not over just because you think you have a wonderful game plan and can get off to a fine proud start.
Now speaking of prophets, there was once one called Isaiah. Isaiah's task it was to offer the people of Judah some words of hope and comfort amid the turmoil of their political and military situation. The little nation of Judah had reason to fear, for they appeared to be on the losing end of the game, the deadly game, of international politics. Word had come that two of Judah's enemies, the Syrians and the Israelites, had formed an alliance and were out to destroy Judah.
The prospects looked dim indeed; the future looked bleak, and it seemed as though the game was over here at the very beginning. How could this one small kingdom hope to defend itself against these two powers leagued together against her?
But Isaiah's message, as I see it, is another way of saying, Ah, but the games not over yet. It's not over ‘til it's over. The game's not over yet, for we have a star player, you see, and the game plan does not call for him to enter the game just yet. We have a star player, and in due time he will enter the fray, and then you'll see. It's not over yet, this game.
Well, then, who is this star player? Who is this surprise entry? Isaiah begins to talk about one who will be born and who will carry the strange and wonderful title, Immanuel, God with us. And as that child begins to grow up, says Isaiah, before he even knows the difference between right and wrong, "the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted". Pretty good, right? I'm sending in the star player, and he will barely have to get started when the enemy you thought had defeated you will just vanish - poof - gone.