3rd Sunday in Advent December 16, 2018
65, 73, 76, 79
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
So far in our Advent meditations we have pondered two of the miracles of Christmas: the miracle of the moment and the miracle of the message. We were reminded last week that the message is miraculous not just because of what it says, but also because of what it does in the hearts of those who hear it. The text we used for last week’s mediation is that most famous of all Bible passages, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
That’s what we celebrate at this time of year—God’s gift of love to the world. Yet, we must be careful that we do not let sentimentalism replace the true joy of Christmas. Yes, we rejoice at the news of the birth of the baby Jesus, but this birth had a purpose. Jesus didn’t come into the world just to be a baby. He was born to be a sacrifice; God’s own sacrifice for the sins of the world. The sacrifice of Jesus is how God would redeem sinful mankind, how He would forgive our sins, how He would give us eternal life. In this meditation, then, we turn our attention to “the miracle of the method.” The text that we consider is Isaiah 53:4-5:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
Typically, the verses I just read are heard at a different time of the year. We are in Advent, preparing for our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. We are accustomed to hearing those words of Isaiah during Lent, as we prepare for our annual celebration of Jesus’ death on Good Friday and then His resurrection on Easter Sunday. So, this text may seem out of place on this occasion.
However, something we should always be careful about is not allowing the world in which we live to alter the true significance of Christmas. In the world’s celebration of Christmas, there is nothing wrong with the image of the baby Jesus in a manger, but to have the image of a suffering and dying Jesus destroys the world’s shallow sentimentalism. The world loves the idea of little babies because nothing seems so pure, so innocent, so peaceful as a little baby. Jesus, then, gets the focus because He is, unquestionably, the most famous baby ever born in all the world. So the world celebrates vague concepts like peace on earth and goodwill among men, yet the world still continues on in its greed and materialism and idolatry and lusts. If that’s all that Christmas is about then it’s a rather shallow celebration that we just as well let fall into the scrap heap of history.
Yet, I’m not at all in favor of dropping our annual celebration of Christmas. I’m not against gift giving and extra church services and family get-togethers and all the other busy-ness that comes up at this time of year. I’m not against celebrating Christmas because Christmas tells us we have a reason to celebrate. Christmas is a time to respond in joyful songs and carols and yes, even in gift giving. These activities are a reflection of the great gift that was given when God gave His Son. What makes Christmas worth celebrating with such excitement is not just that the Son of God was born, but the reason the Son of God was born. As we said before, He wasn’t born to be a baby, but to become a sacrifice— God’s own sacrifice for the sins of the world. This is what our text from Isaiah describes.
Listen again to how Isaiah speaks of Jesus’ purpose for being born, and remember that these things were to happen to that one who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
Ultimately, this is why it was necessary for the Son of God to be born. God can’t bear grief or carry sorrows. He can’t be stricken, smitten, and afflicted. He can’t be wounded or crushed or chastised or whipped. God is a spirit, and He is holy. He neither has a body that can suffer nor does He have any sin for which He must suffer. Only in becoming man was He able to be afflicted in such a way. This was God’s plan, His method of dealing with our sin.
But, it was our sin, not Jesus’ sin. Jesus never sinned. Why is He the one suffering? Why is He the one wounded and afflicted and crushed? On what basis did it please God to put Jesus to grief? This is the great miracle of the method that is the true cause of our celebration at Christmas. Listen one last time as I read our text, this time with a little different emphasis, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
In school, it is often the case that a teacher has to be out for a day or week or sometimes even longer. When that happens, the school calls in a substitute. What’s the job of the substitute? It’s to take the place of the regular teacher. All of the work—the preparation, the teaching, the correcting of homework— falls on the substitute. That’s what Mary’s first-born baby was for us. He was our substitute. In this case, on Jesus was placed all of our sin and all of God’s anger against our sin.
If we were to take a shallow view of this, it seems most unfair, doesn’t it? Jesus never sinned, but He gets punished by God. We have sinned, but God doesn’t punish us for our sin. What gives? Why did God deal so unfairly with Jesus? That is one of the great miracles of Christmas. Jesus wasn’t just a substitute. He was more than that. In a miracle of grace that goes beyond our ability to comprehend, God actually took all of our sin and put it on Jesus. Jesus didn’t just die as though He committed the sin. He became the sinner, though He Himself never sinned. The Bible tells us that “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This was God’s method of dealing with our sin problem. It gets to the very heart of what Christmas is truly all about. God has never taken pleasure in the death of the sinner, so He permitted death to do its damage to His only-begotten Son, His holy Son, so that through death Jesus might destroy Him who has the power over death and free us from the bondage of sin.
As we get closer and closer to Christmas, don’t let the preparations, the gifts, and the excitement of the season drive from your heart what the true meaning of Christmas is. It’s about miracles, yes, but greater miracles than what so many around us even think about. It’s about the miracle of the moment—God working in our time to bring about His plan of salvation. It’s about the miracle of the message—God working through His Word to bring us to repentance so that we benefit from that promise of salvation. It’s about the miracle of the method that God chose in love to take away our sin by placing it on Jesus who suffered and died for us. It is in these miracles that we have the hope of everlasting life. AMEN!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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