First Sunday in Advent November 29, 2020
55, 63, 65, 91:1-2
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
Thanksgiving is now behind us, and we are looking toward the celebration of Christmas. As we prepare for Christmas during the season of Advent, our preparation will be that of the heart. We will listen to the preaching of John the Baptist and His call to repentance, for only those who know their sinfulness and need for salvation can rejoice in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior from sin. We will hear what the Scriptures say about Christ, both in prophecy and fulfillment. When our hearts are prepared in this way we will be able to truly celebrate Christmas with a joy that will last.
We aren’t the only ones who are looking forward to Christmas, of course. The world around us is getting ready for the celebration, too. Decorations are up in stores and on the downtown streets. The merchants’ big push for seasonal sales is well under way. Christmas music can be heard. Christmas-themed movies are playing on TV. From now until December 25th, we will be living in a Christmas wonderland filled with beautiful sounds, wonderful colors, and dazzling lights.
But as we pass through the Christmas spectacle again, we need to ask ourselves these questions: “Where are our eyes focused?” “What is it that has our attention?” Our text leads us to ask these questions as it reports the reaction of the people of Nazareth who were in their synagogue on a Sabbath when Jesus was among them: “The eyes of all…were fixed on Him.” The people there were looking at Jesus; they were interested to hear what He was going to say. Yet we would have to say that most of them didn’t really see Him. The same is true of many who celebrate Christmas today.
So during this Advent and Christmas season we want to be sure that our eyes are on Jesus, the true Jesus revealed in the Bible.
The occasion that Luke records here took place evidently near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, probably not long after His forty-day ordeal of fasting and temptation. The evangelist reports that it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness for that confrontation with the devil. After Jesus had emerged victorious from that contest, the Spirit directed Him to Galilee for the beginning of His ministry. He traveled about the region, doing His teaching in the synagogues.
The initial reaction to Jesus was positive: He was “glorified by all.” (Luke 4:15) The reaction was positive, that is, until He came to Nazareth. His visit to Nazareth marked the beginning of what was to characterize much of Jesus’ earthly ministry: not just indifference to Him and His message, but outright rejection and open hostility, and finally violence against Him. There is a direct line connecting this scene in the Nazareth synagogue with the scene in Jerusalem on Good Friday with the mob crying out, “Crucify Him.”
But why was the reaction to Jesus so hostile in Nazareth? We have the answer in the opening sentence: “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.” Nazareth was the village where Mary and Joseph had settled after they returned from Egypt where God Himself had sent them after the visit of the Magi, to keep the infant Jesus safe until the death of Herod. Nazareth was the hometown of Mary and Joseph, and it was part of the divine plan of the life of Jesus that He would be identified with this small, obscure village, a place of no worldly glory. This was part of His humiliation, an example of how Jesus “made Himself of no reputation.” (Philippians 2:7) Nazareth was where Jesus lived during His youth and young manhood, that phase of His earthly life over which Scripture draws a veil of silence. The only information that the gospels provide about that period of Jesus’ life is that He lived in Nazareth and that He learned and practiced Joseph’s trade. The people of Nazareth referred to Him as “the carpenter.” (Mark 6:3)
This, then, was the problem. When Jesus came and preached in their synagogue, they “marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” They were amazed that a carpenter from their village, a man whose family they knew, could speak so well; that He could teach with such authority, and that what He said was so compelling. But the impression didn’t last because they just couldn’t get past His humble origins. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they asked. Their eyes may have been fixed on Him that Sabbath day in their synagogue, but they saw only “Joseph’s son,” a mere man who no matter how much He might be praised elsewhere would still to them be only their neighbor, a man they were determined to think of as no better than they were. They were blinded by prejudice and envy.
People are still blinded by prejudice when it comes to Jesus. Their eyes may be fixed on Jesus at this time of the year: they hear the familiar carols that proclaim Him as the Lord and Savior; they see the nativity displays with shepherds kneeling in worship before the baby Jesus. But then their prejudice begins to assert itself. “How can a man be the Son of God come down from heaven?” they may ask. Or, “How can a man who was crucified save me?”
Thoughts like these can intrude into the minds of any of us, for the devil tries to spread them wherever he can.
What is the antidote to rationalistic prejudice against Jesus? It is to keep our eyes on Jesus, that is, to see Him as He is. It is to look at the portrait of Jesus that is painted for us in the gospels and not be distracted by the preconceived ideas about Jesus that circulate in the world. It is to listen to Him, to what He said, not what others may have said about Him, people who never saw or heard Him.
Here in our text we have the opportunity to see and hear Jesus through the eyes and ears of those who were there that day. Jesus served as one of the readers for the service. He may have done many times before this, but now He had begun His work as the Christ, the Anointed One. This time He read a prophecy of Christ from Isaiah, and when He was finished He sat down and made this astounding statement, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In the passage that Jesus read it is the Christ Himself who speaks in the first person, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach…” So for Jesus to say that His preaching was the fulfillment of that prophecy is to say that He Himself is the Christ.
Of course, Jesus did much more than just to say that He is the Christ. He did all that the Lord had said through Isaiah hundreds of years before this. The prophecy was that the Christ would “preach the gospel to the poor…heal the brokenhearted…proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Jesus did just that, even that very day in Nazareth, as the people here had to admit. They all “bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” By “gracious words” they surely meant more than that Jesus was a good speaker. He spoke words of grace, that is, He told them about the grace of God, the love of God. His message was not one of condemnation for their sins. He preached repentance, surely, but with the pleading of a gracious God who offered them forgiveness for their sins.
Jesus showed Himself as the Christ by proclaiming “the acceptable year of the LORD,” as Isaiah had written of Him. That acceptable year is a season of God’s grace. It is a season, a time that Christ not only proclaimed but inaugurated by His sacrifice for sin. Because of what Christ did there is grace for sinners. There is a season of grace, and we are still living in it today. The gracious words that came from the mouth of Jesus are still sounding in the ears of people who hear them, giving comfort and peace.
As we move through the weeks leading up to Christmas, then, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. Let His word be the thing that especially occupies us during this time. Then we won’t be distracted from Christ by the sounds and sights of the season, but—in the midst of it all—we will see Him as He is, the Christ, 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.