Summary: Christmas is a message of liberty!
The Joy Of Christmas
December 15, 2002
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified." Isaiah 61:1-3, RSV
Counting the days (til school ends, til birthday, til Christmas)
Israel’s hope (restoration)
Historical background (situation)
"By the time of Isaiah, the Jewish monarchy was in ruins. After 586 B.C. most of them had been carted off by their captors to live in a foreign land"
[In The Air There’s A Feeling Of Christmas by Matthew Rogers. www.sermoncentral.com.]
This from a nation that in its height controlled, not just Israel as we know it today, but also sections of the Sinai Peninsula, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the entire west bank. A nation that the prophet now sees in ruins.
And the people who saw themselves as the favored people of God now in despair question why? How could God let this happen?
America’s experience September 11, 2001
Compounded = Israel’s experience
Jerry Falwell’s comment
Psalm 127:1 "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." (RSV)
But for Israel the problem was that they were the people of God. So, how could God let this happen?
It is to this that the prophet Amos responds:
Amos 2:4-5 "Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have rejected the law of the LORD, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, after which their fathers walked. So I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem." " (RSV)
And when Isaiah cries, "Here am I. Send me." God says:
Isaiah 6:9-13 "And he said, "Go, and say to this people: ‘Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains standing when it is felled." (RSV)
The chosen people are smitten by sin. Their bondage is not an issue of politics, or military might; it has nothing to do with global economics, or conventional wisdom. It’s about sin, and God hates sin.
Isaiah 59:2 "your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear." (RSV)
Jerusalem lies in ruins, because sin reigns supreme. Isaiah chapter five allegorically describes the situation: the vineyard
-(describe city in ruins)
What are a people who are in utter ruin to do? They don’t even think God hears them anymore.
Isaiah 58:3 "The people ask, "Why should we fast if the Lord never notices? Why should we go without food if he pays no attention?" " (GN)
In response God reminds Israel of the sin which separates them. In chapter 58 He instructs them what to do to find His favor once again.
The problem is the overbearing power of sin.
Isaiah 59:12-13a "For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the LORD, and turning away from following our God." (RSV)
A power which we are unable to break free of our own accord. Peter says:
2 Peter 2:19 "whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved." (RSV)
Like a prisoner chained behind bars we are helpless to free ourselves.
Isaiah 59:15b,17 "The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. . . He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as a mantle." (RSV)