The 2nd Sunday after Christmas January 3, 2021
Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18
136, 90, 371:1-5, 371:6-7
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; 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 beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment 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.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
What are some thing that come to mind when you hear of an “oak tree?” We think of something strong and sturdy. Something with deep roots that can withstand storms and wind. But do you think of Christmas? Probably not, unless you had seen Bob and Julie Little’s 100 year old “Glowing Oak Tree” in Bloomington, Minnesota that had over 39,000 Christmas lights wrapped around it. That was a grand oak tree brilliantly lit up.
But do you feel like an oak tree? A majestic oak tree with deep roots that can weather any storm? Do you feel like you have been gloriously decorated and beautiful to behold? I know I don’t. More often than not, I feel like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree that can barely hold one ornament.
In our text, Isaiah writes of the Grand and Glorious Oak that resulted from Christ’s coming. It is planted by the LORD, decorated by Christ, and it redounds to the praise of the LORD. And you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, ARE the Grand and Glorious Oaks that resulted from Christ’s birth. Let’s explore our text a little further and see what all we can learn and praise our God for. May the Holy Spirit bless our study of His Word.
If you’ve ever been to or driven by a Christmas tree farm, you soon realize that this farm didn’t pop up over night. No, the owner of the property had to do a lot of advanced planning, planting, and provide years of care for you to have a fir tree big enough to decorate your living room for Christmas.
The oaks Isaiah writes of in our text also required planning and care. He writes of “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD.” This is every single believer in Christ—from father Abraham to the thief on the cross to you! Every believer is an oak which is the planting of the Lord.
But these oaks weren’t always so grand and glorious. Isaiah describes our condition without Christ. It is full of spiritually “poor and brokenhearted” sinners who are “captives and prisoners” of their own sin. Sinners who “mourn” over their lost and hopeless condition. Who have “ashes and a faint spirit” because they know they are condemned sinners.
And that is precisely the reason Christ came into the world. Jesus is the Great Prophet who proclaims, “good news to the poor.” The angels announced the good tidings of great joy that a Savior has been born for poor, miserable sinners. What is it that weighs on you heart tonight/this morning? What guilt burdens you? What is causing you to wilt on the inside? Jesus was born to “bind up the brokenhearted.” Jesus binds us up in His love and grace. We who were captives to sin and death, and prisoners bound for hell, Jesus came to proclaim liberty and freedom. When He rose from the dead on the third day, He burst the bonds of death and hell for us and set us free!
You are the planting of the LORD. At some time in your life, the seed of the Gospel was sown into your heart and the Holy Spirit caused a grand and glorious oak to sprout. Because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17 ESV) The reason you believe Jesus is your Savior today, is because God planned your salvation from eternity, sent His Son into the world, and then planted the seed of the Gospel into your heart and caused you to grow as a oak.
One thing that separated the Little’s glowing oak tree in Bloomington from all the other oak trees in the neighborhood, was the lights. All those lights wrapped around that tree made it stand out. And decorations are what make our Christmas trees so special. From that ornament created by your preschooler with finger paint and love, to the fancy special ornament from Hallmark, those decorations make your tree special. So too with the oaks, planted by the LORD. They too are decorated.
If we think of our lives as being like a tree, what sort of decorations would you find adorning it? Conceived in iniquity and brought forth in sin, we all were an unclean thing—a dirty tree. Try as we might to decorate ourselves with our own righteousness and make ourselves look better, it was useless, even our own righteousness was as filthy rags strung around us.
This is why Jesus came! God became Man to be our Brother and our Substitute. He lived a holy life, decorated with perfect, loving acts and thoughts toward God and His fellow man. He didn’t do this because HE needed to, but because YOU needed Him to, to be your righteousness.
Jesus decorates the Oaks of Christmas with the beauty of His own righteousness! Jesus says He came to give the Church “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
Like the glowing oak tree all lit up, listen to the voice of the Church rejoice over this in verse 10, “He has clothed me with garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Jesus made you beautiful! He has made you as beautiful to the LORD as a bride or groom on their wedding day.
Paul writes of this decorating in Ephesians. “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27) Rather than a dead and barren tree, you are cleansed from your sin and made beautiful in God’s sight. Christ has made you all beautiful with His holy beauty! He made you a grand and glorious oak of righteousness because you have HIS righteousness! We have been decorated by Christ Himself.
I’m sure you’ve enjoyed the Christmas trees decorated in your home, at your church, or in your neighborhood over the past few weeks. Those who decorated those trees should get the praise because they did the hard work of making it look so beautiful that we could enjoy them.
What about the grand and glorious oaks that resulted from Christ’s coming? Who gets the credit for us being beautifully adorned? The praise and glory can only be to the One who planted us and made us beautiful. That was the LORD. It is the LORD who sent Jesus to be our Savior. It is JESUS who lived a holy and perfect life, and never sinned. HE is the one who was righteous. HE is the one in whom the Father said He was well-pleased. HE is the one who bore our sins in HIS body on the cross and took them all away. HE is the one that rose from the dead and freed us from the fear of death. And HE is the one that beautifully decorated us with His righteousness. As Isaiah says, we are “the planting of the LORD, that HE may be glorified.”
We have nothing to brag or boast about with regards to our faith nor our salvation. God is the One who did all the work. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:7-9) Therefore the Church says with Isaiah in verse 10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God.”
I understand that the glowing oak in Bloomington went dark several years ago because of how hard it was to maintain. That doesn’t need to be the case with you, though. Jesus calls on us to abide in His Word and promises that we will be fruitful Christians with strengthened faith. Paul writes, “May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” (1 Thess 5:23-24) The One who planted you as an oak of righteousness is the One who preserves you unto the end!
When we think of oak trees we think of something big, strong and with deep roots. God wants that to be the case with each of you. Psalm 1 talks about the believer who meditates on God’s Word day and night, “He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.” Thanks be to God for making us an oak of righteousness. May He ever strengthen us and help us to be fruitful trees that bring glory to Him, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.