Third Sunday in Advent December 12, 2021
70, 56, 65:1-4, 65:5-6
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it.” (NKJV)
In the name of the promised Messiah the Lord Jesus Christ, dear fellow redeemed.
During the Christmas season, there is one decoration that stands out from the rest. It is a Christmas tree. Leading up to Christmas Day, many folks across our country will set up a tree in their homes and adorn it with lights and various kinds of ornaments.
The Christmas tree has a special significance in the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Customarily the kind of tree that is cut down and put up for this purpose is an evergreen. The evergreen tree was originally chosen, because it symbolically pictures the gift of everlasting life that Jesus blesses us with as our Savior.
In today’s Scripture text, we read of another kind of tree that pictures the promised Messiah whom we know as Jesus Christ. It is a cedar tree. The cedar is a majestic tree that stands tall in regal form. Like the Christmas tree, the cedar is an evergreen tree. Since God the Father chose this evergreen tree to symbolically picture His Son, one very likely reason for its choice is that it points to Jesus’ eternal existence as the everlasting Son of God. The evergreen cedar tree is quite fittingly linked together with the evergreen Christmas tree, since it is the eternal Son of God Jesus Christ who gives us eternal life in heaven.
The use of this sort of tree is very similar to other Messianic prophecies. In Jeremiah chapter 23, we find the LORD declaring concerning the promised Messiah, “I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness.” (v.5) In still another Old Testament prophecy, Isaiah foretold concerning the promised One, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” (11:1)
While this Messianic cedar would start out as a little twig, yet it would grow to be a majestic tree. Its branches would spread out and produce fruit. Birds of every kind would dwell in it, finding shade, shelter, and protection.
When we read of God cropping off a young, tender twig from the topmost of a cedar and planting it on a high and prominent mountain, we are reminded of Jesus’ lowly entrance into this world. The creche or manger scene that is set up in the Christmas season points to this. It tells the story of Jesus’ humble birthplace of an animal shelter and of Him being born to a lowly virgin named Mary.
This, of course, was just the beginning of Jesus’ lowly life. His entire life and finally His death on the cross was that of a humble Servant. He served His Father in heaven by carrying out God’s plan of our eternal salvation. In doing so, He lived and died as the Servant of every sinful human. He humbled Himself by placing Himself under God’s commandments and keeping them perfectly for us in our place in order to be our Righteousness. Finally, Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death on the accursed tree at Calvary to atone for all the sins of the world.
Yes, Jesus started out as a lowly twig. But He grew to be a tall and majestic cedar. Listen to these words of the apostle Paul in Philippians that tells of this transformation: “though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:6-11—ESV) This same Jesus who started His earthly life in an animal shelter, after He successfully finished His redemptive work of all mankind was lifted up and exalted above all others. He is the Lord of lords and King of kings who is worthy and deserving of everyone confessing Him to be our Lord and Savior.
When we hear of this messianic cedar bringing forth boughs or branches, we might think of how Jesus has caused His kingdom of believers to branch out and grow in number. Jesus spoke of this in one of His parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32) As the Holy Spirit works Christian faith in human hearts, believers are joined together with Christ just as a branch is grafted into a tree trunk. This Bible imagery is very much like another Jesus used concerning Himself and believers when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5)
How amazingly large this messianic cedar has become over the many centuries in the New Testament era as more and more branch-like believers have been added to the tree. The cedar interestingly is a fruit bearing tree. It produces a dark blue or black berry that is eaten by birds and squirrels. The messianic cedar produces abundant fruit that nourishes our souls. As we feed upon the Word of God through the hearing of it, our souls are spiritually enlivened with ever increasing Christian faith and love. With the gospel continually reaching our ears, reminding us of God’s full and free gift of pardon for all our transgressions through Christ’s redemptive work, our faith is strengthened. And when we repeatedly hear of God’s unconditional love for us in Christ Jesus, our hearts cannot help but respond to it with a spirit of love which is shown toward our heavenly Father and those around us.
Trees that are found out in nature are well known for providing a place for birds to perch and rest from their vigorous flying. In the tree branches, they can find shade, shelter, and protection from the harsh elements of their environment. The LORD uses this picture from nature in a symbolic way when He says, “Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell.” (v.23)
When speaking of “birds of every sort” flocking to the majestic messianic cedar tree, we can see in this a reference to all the many kinds of folks of different races, genders, nationalities, and social standing. Through the Spirit’s working, people from all over the world are drawn to the Lord Jesus in order to find a spiritual dwelling place where they experience peace and rest for their souls, as well as protection, safety, and security.
There are indeed many and various kinds of harsh and detrimental elements in this sin-cursed world. There are very powerful enemies both in the physical and spiritual realm poised to inflict great harm to our bodies and souls. In the physical area of life, we can point to violent lawbreakers, as well as avowed enemies that want to attack and kill us. In nature, there are all manner of dangerous elements like snowstorms, floods, tornadoes, and the like. There are also a multitude of dangers that come in the form of physical injuries, sicknesses, and diseases, and the ravages of old age.
As to the enemies that assault our souls, there is our ever-present sinful nature that tempts us from within, and hostile unbelievers who like nothing better than to turn us against God and forsake His righteous ways, and the leading enemy the devil who entices us to rebel against God and wants us to stop believing in and following the Lord.
In the face of all these many kinds of enemies, we can fly to our Lord and find safety and protection. He is our shade from the harsh and oppressive elements, giving us a sense of relief. While many in our society get all stressed out and depressed, our gracious Lord is there for us to offload on Him all that weighs heavily upon our minds and know that He will help us handle everything that comes our way. We can lean on the Lord and find the necessary strength to meet all kinds of challenges in life. And He will not allow anything to come our way that is above what we are able to endure. Yes, we are completely safe and secure while dwelling in and under the Lord’s protective care.
In the final verse of our text, we hear the LORD saying to us, “And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it.” In gospel reading in Luke, we read of the virgin Mary echoing this message from God when in her Magnificat she said of the LORD, “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
The divine message that comes across in both of these quotes is quite different from what you might hear from the unbelieving world. They most likely would tell you that it is the proud, the high and mighty, and the rich who are the real winners in life. However, this is not necessarily the case in the kingdom of God. All those who are so full of themselves, thinking they have power in and of themselves to win God’s favor and who in sinful pride are unwilling to confess and repent of their sin or acknowledge their need for a Savior they are brought low by God, as He sends them away empty. This emptiness consists of not receiving God’s favor, His acceptance, and His forgiveness or entrance into heaven. Whereas all those who humble themselves before the LORD by acknowledging their sinful, lost, and condemned condition, and that they are powerless to save themselves, they are spiritually filled by God and exalted on high. This divine filling and lifting up involves the LORD blessing penitent sinners with His favor, pouring out upon them His saving grace wherein they receive God’s pardon and eternal salvation through our Savior Jesus Christ.
This humble spirit of heart is so very important if we are to be and remain branches who are joined together with the messianic cedar tree Jesus Christ, enjoy the blessings that come from feeding upon the spiritual fruit of God’s Word, and be like birds who dwell within this special cedar and find safety, security, and protection.
When you look at the evergreen Christmas tree, may it serve to remind you of the everlasting life our Savior Jesus Christ gives to us. And you might also want to think of the symbolic messianic cedar tree that points us to the promised Christ whom we are joined together with and are wonderfully blessed by through faith in Him as our Lord and Savior. 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.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) 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.