Of course, it wasn't Christmas when Isaiah wrote the words we begin with today for Jesus was some 600 years away, which raises the question: “Who was wearing the garment of salvation – wearing a robe of righteousness and taking delight in God’ and as we move on, we have to ask ourselves what righteousness appearing like shoots in a field (i.e. 'sprouting') before ALL nations was all about too. Add to the imagery of bridegroom and bride and we can see so many parallels for the ‘then’, the Bethlehem bit and the ‘now’.
It should come as no surprise that the first part is the closing hymn of praise for God comes from self-same passage that speaks of Jubilee – the year of the LORD’s favour – the ‘good news’ that sets captives free, gives sight to the blind and all that good stuff.
The second part turns from self to many as Zion and Jerusalem feature in the voicing of the need to speak out until salvation and vindication are apparent to ALL nations and glory will be their realities and become a sign of God’s power and glory. One voice for a collection of voices that are one corporate body – just like Church is the bride of Christ and and yet is full of individuals.
Isaiah speaks of the hope that is found, and made real, in the promises of God for His people - and that hope comes together, and is made real, in the person of Jesus - so Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises of God (cool or what?).
There’s a lot here and as we ponder it, Christmas and the second coming, collide with the ‘then’ of Isaiah in an amazingly special way: And there’s Jesus in amongst all the noise picking up the scroll and reading it in the synagogue (someone turn the oven off – its going to be a long service!) to a people who have been waiting for six hundred odd years. But why the wait and how do we make sense of the promises and the love of God that creates this recuse plan?
The Galatians reading comes in handy here for it tells us that after all the waiting, when the right time had come - God sent his Son - born of a woman, an exceptionally unexceptional (none of this immaculate conception stuff for her please) woman – to save an equally unexceptional humanity; the very people God had made exceptional before sin removed that truth and exchanged it for separation from God and a life that was a lie!
Paul puts it straight for those under the law could only be redeemed by one also under the same law – and this law of sin and death translates as ‘fully human’ (cool isn’t it, so lets get back to the sermon).
And through His death on a cross and the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit all humanity had before it the ability to see God as someone they could have a personal relationship with – and this is the power of the ‘ABBA’ word – for it’s not a childish ‘dada or daddy’ utterance but one that acknowledges, confers and accepts relationship with God. This is the most amazingly wonderful affirming life-changing good news that (outside of the words, “You are forgiven!”) you will ever hear! We are one with God and have become His heirs. The fact that we can celebrate a relationship, and I mean Family, that recognises the Fatherhood of God makes ABBA something marvellous - how can you not be excited about that?
And that's the thing - the promise and the design and the sacrifice and lives that were forfeit being returned to the owners so that they can become God family and heirs of all He is and has. That has to be the most wonderful Christmas gift of all and realising that we need to ask what else there can be to say on the subject, especially when all we have left is the Gospel reading with some angels, Shepherds and a Christmas past?
And yet these Extraordinary, extraordinarily smelly shepherds are exactly what Jesus is coming to the world to reconcile to the Godhead. The excitement of the angels and the shepherds on that first Christmas – the excitement of our early Christmases as children, the excitement of Christmas as believers: Do we still have that? The added dimension that Christmas took on when we realised that this was the beginning of the Easter story - the joy, gratitude and the humbling awareness that Jesus comes to do it all for us, individually, so we might be reconciles and redeems and set fe to be exceptionally exceptional heirs of God. How can we not be 'clamourously foolish' ('hallel') as our we sing our 'hallelujahs'? Our OTT loves songs to God fr all we have been shown, given and promised?
A clergy colleague recently told me how they wished they could preach something else at Christmas because it had, "All become so ‘samey’ and ‘hackneyed’, " is this the reason for the lack of passion and commitment I see these days? Too many people have stopped following Jesus, the Christ, and instead merely go to church - a place where all is safe and nothing ever changes (aside from the candles on the birthday cake perhaps).
Perhaps our inability to be passionate and excited about following Jesus and making Him known if the root cause of the intermittent attendance and low numbers when events are put on in our towns, our churches and elsewhere?
Have we forgotten our first love and the joy we had in Christ and not only stopped living with Him but also stopped working with Him too?
What do we see when we encounter Jesus I wonder - perhaps this is a question we all need to asking ourselves as we enter a new year and decide whether we're part of the mission of Church or the miserable state it seems to be in so many places?
Perhaps we need to be like the Shepherds and 'rise up and follow' Jesus, the Christ!
God in Trinity, eternal unity of perfect love: gather the nations to be one family, and draw us into your holy life through the birth of Emmanuel, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Isaiah 61.10 - 62.3
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the young plant come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Post Communion Prayer
Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home: help your Church to live as one family, united in love and obedience, and bring us all at last to our home in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.