The Sunday after Christmas December 26, 1999
102, 139, 375, 94
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee. So far the Holy Word.
In the name of Jesus, Who came to bring us life eternal, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
The Christmas season seems to be a time of incredible offers. As usual, people jammed the stores yesterday, in hopes of snapping up those post-Christmas bargains. Some retailers count on this holiday period for as much as 30-40% of their yearly profits, so they’ll try anything to grab the shopper’s attention. Popular gift items are advertised at incredibly low prices. Big ticket items like furniture and appliances are offered with “no payments until May of ’99.” Last week I received a “special holiday offer” in the mail: “because of my excellent credit rating,” it said “I was eligible to receive a fabulous Hawaiian vacation,” supposedly free of charge!
But a word of warning. As a representative of the Better Business Bureau once told me, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!” These amazing holiday offers are seldom as good as they sound. A store that offers a few items marked way down has probably jacked all their other prices way up. An offer to defer your first payment on a Christmas purchase isn’t really a gift, but a loan—and usually a very high interest loan, at that. And my free Hawaiian vacation?—Turns out I was supposed to pay my own air fare, at full airline rates!
Are all special Christmas offers bogus? No, not all of them! Today, as We meditate on the spiritual aspects of Christmas, We turn our attention to Isaiah. Our theme on this Sunday after Christmas is:
Isaiah begins with a dramatic summons. He sounds almost like those men at the state fair who stand shouting, trying to grab your attention and get your business. Isaiah cries out: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters! Isaiah is reaching out to people who are spiritually hungry and thirsty. People who have not been able to satisfy their souls’ desires with the pleasures and successes of this world. These people are everywhere. In every culture, in every society of every age, men and women find themselves with a spiritual need that nothing on this earth can fulfill. Wise king Solomon once remarked: “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!” Eccl 1:2. Pleasures hold our attention for the moment, they satisfy for the instant, but are swept away like a wind. Everything in this world leaves man thirsty and hungry—for salvation. And God’s incredible offer is what everyone needs!
No matter whether you are rich or poor, the Baby born at Bethlehem is a Child born for you. He was born to be your salvation; born to forgive your sins! Right there in the dusty surroundings of a stable we see God’s answer to this world of chaos and confusion and emptiness. Jesus came to put joy into our days and meaning into our lives. When that Child is born into your own heart by faith, then life is suddenly worth living. Life has meaning and direction because of the God who loves you.
Of course, we know of a few people in our own world that could use God’s incredible offer, don’t we? What do we see surrounding us this and every other Christmas season? Gimmicks and gadgetry—things supposedly designed to bring us the “joy and peace of the holiday season.” TV bombards us with the vague idea that Christmas is a time to show your goodwill toward men, as though a few acts of charity can put full meaning into this holy season. Rather than it being a time when God shows His great good will to human beings, it’s more a matter of, “Christmas is what you make of it.”
And try as they might, the world can still find the Christmas season a tremendous letdown. The fact is that, for many people, it’s a time of severe emotional depression. Suicide rates soar at this time of year. Why? Because if all a person has are the superficials of Christmas, if all he has are the glitz and glitter, the tinsel and trappings that are here today and gone tomorrow, then he’s still left with a spiritual hunger that’s just not being satisfied. To that person the prophet urges, “COME!”
God makes an incredible offer in the Christmas message, because His salvation is available to us at an unbelievable price. The prophet says, he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. This isn’t a buy now, pay later scheme. No, it is a bona fide offer. It comes from the Lord of heaven, and it reaches out to the wealthy suburbanite as well as to the impoverished slum-dweller. Imagine if a major department store would make an offer like this! Only the finest merchandise, the most beautiful gifts—and everything free. Well, I know where most of us would shop! The only problem is that the crowds would be incredibly large. People would swarm from all over. They would push and shove like at no other Christmas season. Shoppers would be on the attack until the final item had been removed from the shelves. Here the Lord says come and buy…without money and without price. Everyone is welcome. Salvation is free. It’s on the house, because God has given His Son to redeem this fallen world.
The one great need that all men have—the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ—is offered free of charge. And it’s been available ever since man first fell into sin. But how many people are actually interested in the offer? How many of them will leap for joy at the prospect of having a personal Savior born into their hearts over this holiday season? Surprisingly few.
It was right around this time of year when a certain pastor was trying to illustrate the gift of salvation to his Sunday morning congregation. He pointed to a lovely flower that was standing on the altar. “Whoever wants this beautiful Christmas poinsettia may have it,” he said. “All you have to do is take it.” No one spoke for a long time. Finally a mother timidly raised her hand and said, “I’ll take it.” “Great! It’s yours,” said the pastor. But then the woman nudged her son and said, “Go get it for me.” “No,” the pastor said, “whoever wants this gift must come and take it personally. No one can get it for you.” The gorgeous flower just stood there. “So what’s the catch?” someone asked. “No catch. It’s free.” “Well,” asked a high school girl, “can I take it after the service?” “No, you have to take it now,” the pastor said. He was thinking of II Corinthians: NOW is the day of salvation. He was beginning to wish he’d never tried this little stunt, when a woman from the back finally strode up to the altar and picked up the plant. “I’ll take it,” she said. The pastor was quite relieved, and he went on to talk about Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is etemal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He thought he had made his point. But after the service, the same woman came up to him and shoved something in his hand. “Here!” she said. “This flower is too pretty to just take home for free. I insist on paying you something for it.” The pastor looked down at the crumpled paper in his hand. It was a ten dollar bill.
Salvation is a gift. It can’t be earned or merited. It can only be received by faith, without money or price. The tragedy is that so sinners simply refuse to take it. Ever since man fell, there is a monster living inside of each person’s heart called pride. There’s this innate thing that refuses help from someone else. By nature, people would rather try and save themselves and fail and go to hell—than to accept God’s incredible offer of salvation. Otherwise, you see, they would have to humbly admit that they are unable to do it themselves.
Some religions teach that salvation couldn’t be free—if it were, they say, there’d be no reason to do good! Society would collapse. So they say, “Let people try to do good works and earn their own way up.” But at Christmas God has done what none of us can do for ourselves. He has given us salvation, as a gift, by sending His Son to be our Redeemer from sin.
It is His incredible offer; a greater bargain will never be found. “For,” Paul says, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” II Cor 8:9.
Maybe that’s why the angels brought the message of Christmas to poor shepherds, and not the church leaders of the day. The shepherds didn’t plunge into a deep theological debate wondering how this could be. They took the angel’s word for it, and went with haste to find the Savior. They knew a bargain when they saw one! They gladly accepted God’s Gift to mankind.
Finally, this offer is truly incredible because it comes with an eternal guarantee. The prophet asks, Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
There aren’t many products in this world that come with an unconditional guarantee. There are a few, though—Craftsman tools, Federal Express overnight deliveries, and Midas mufflers, for instance. Those companies want to assure us of quality and prompt service so they promise to stand behind them, no matter what. When Isaiah says that God’s offer comes with an everlasting guarantee, the message is staggering. He uses the term covenant, which means “a legal contract.” God entered into a oontract with His people back on Mt. Sinai. There, He claimed the Jewish nation as His own people. He gave them laws and regulations for living, all of which pointed them ahead to the day when Christ the Savior would arrive. On the first Christmas, God entered a new Covenant. This covenant assures us that all our sins are wiped from the slate. This covenant goes out, not just to one nation, but to the whole wide world. And it carries a guarantee of salvation that is everlasting. It doesn’t expire after five years or 50,000 miles. It’s an eternal guarantee, and one which is signed in the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. As the Writer to the Hebrews says: “By so much more Jesus has become a surety (or, ‘a living guarantee’) of a better covenant.” Heb 7:22.
As the Holiday season rapidly winds to a close, we remember that the true meaning Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. God loves us and came here to save us. He invites us all to accept His incredible offer, an offer that everyone needs, that is an unbelievable bargain, and that comes with His eternal guarantee. The Psalmist once asked himself, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” Then he answers, “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” Ps 116:12. How will you respond to the Lord’s offer? At this season, God would merely have us accept his tremendous Christmas offer with joy, and without question. May God grant each of us the faith to do that this holiday season, and then I know we’ll have a peaceful and joyous new year! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.