December 14, 2011
TEXT: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
WAITING WITH JOY
Vicar Alex Post

Merry Christmas! Christmas is only a week and a half away, but you can already sense the joyous anticipation building. In spite of the secularization of our culture, there is something about Christmas that remains deeply embedded in our consciousness – something that defines us and life itself, because it involves that which is true and beautiful, that which is eternal, holy, and divine. It is difficult to imagine this time of the year without Christmas. This might explain the reaction to the removal of Christmas trees and nativity scenes and references to Jesus Christ in our towns and schools. Many Christians are distressed and upset that even the word “Christmas” is being removed from our public discourse in exchange for “Happy Holidays.”

December 14, 2011
TEXT: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
WAITING WITH JOY
Vicar Alex Post

Merry Christmas! Christmas is only a week and a half away, but you can already sense the joyous anticipation building. In spite of the secularization of our culture, there is something about Christmas that remains deeply embedded in our consciousness – something that defines us and life itself, because it involves that which is true and beautiful, that which is eternal, holy, and divine. It is difficult to imagine this time of the year without Christmas. This might explain the reaction to the removal of Christmas trees and nativity scenes and references to Jesus Christ in our towns and schools. Many Christians are distressed and upset that even the word “Christmas” is being removed from our public discourse in exchange for “Happy Holidays.”

“Merry Christmas!” We say “merry” because it is a joyous time for Christians. This merriness does not come only from family, friends, festive food, gifts, and decorations. The “merry” in “Merry Christmas” is like the “feliz” in “feliz Navidad,” which is translated “joyous nativity.” It reflects the inexplicable joy following a long pregnancy as mother and father hold their infant for the first time. Words cannot express the joy and wonder when one comes face-to-face with the mystery of life at the birth of a child. Christmas is about the nativity of Christ, for whose birth Mary and Joseph waited nine months and for whose birth God’s people Israel had waited for centuries. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity! Please as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel!” (LSB 380:2).

No one can wake up on Christmas morning and avoid the question that Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ? To answer this question is to answer the question, “What is Christmas?” The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew word Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves,” that is, “The Lord saves.” The word Christ, on the other hand, is a title that comes from the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anointed by Yahweh/the Lord.” We hear the Christ, the Anointed One himself, speaking in the opening verses of Isaiah 61.

“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.” Jesus made it clear that these words were about Him when He stood up in front of the synagogue in Nazareth, read these words from the scroll, and began to say to the people: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:18-21)

What was the reaction of the people in the synagogue? They drove Jesus out of town and would have thrown him off a cliff to his death if they had their way with him. This would not be the last time they rejected the Lord’s Anointed One. The Savior of the world was killed on the cross and rejected by all for whom He came. That is who Jesus Christ is. The cross is the destination of the baby, Jesus, who was born on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, the controversy comes down to this question: “Who do men say that I am?” “What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” (LSB 370:1). The answer to this question is given by the Messiah himself. It is Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Son, who is speaking to the Old Testament Church in Isaiah 61:1. Jesus was not placed into the office of the Savior of the world by men, but was sent and anointed by the Lord God himself.

Jesus was anointed with the Spirit to preach the Word – the Word of God’s favor, or grace, and the Word of vengeance and judgment. There is a lot of Law and judgment preached in the Old Testament, as well as in the New Testament. But here in Isaiah 61, the focus is on the fact that the Anointed One is being sent to preach the Gospel, the Good News, to the poor. To bind up the brokenhearted – to proclaim freedom of captivity from sin and death – to comfort those who mourn over the wages of sin. In one sense, the “year of the LORD’s favor” refers to the first advent of Christ, when he came to bring salvation through his atoning life and death. The “day of vengeance” refers to the Last Day, when our Lord will return to judge the living and the dead. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn. 3:17)

Our greetings to each other this season are happy and merry because we are confessing what Isaiah and Jesus proclaimed, namely, that we are living in the “year of the LORD’s favor.” That is why our calendars still reflect these days as anno Domini, “the year of our Lord 2011.” These are the days and years that he proclaims to us the Good News and binds up our sick and wounded hearts and frees us from the depressing captivity and darkness of sin and death. We are living in “the year of the LORD’s favor” because we have been baptized into Jesus, the Christ. When we were baptized, we were released from captivity and clothed with his robe of righteousness. One can easily picture a wretched prisoner emerging from the darkness and stench of a dungeon after years of hopelessness and utter despair. His ragged and smelly clothes are removed. He is washed, covered with sweet-smelling and soothing oil, and then dressed in the finest apparel – the kind worn at a wedding celebration.

What was said about Jesus in Isaiah 61:10 is now said about us: “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.” Thus St. Paul tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27)

Isaiah used the imagery of a wedding feast to express the intimate and joyous relationship that the Messiah will bring about between God and his people. This has been fulfilled with the coming of Christ and the creation of his Bridge, the Church, whom Christ Himself has sanctified, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle…holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:26-27) The Church is none other than the Messiah’s holy Bride, and our worship is a joyous wedding celebration that, like Christmas, includes good food, beautiful decorations, and glorious music all wrapped in joy and gladness.

A pastor tells the story of visiting a woman who refused to come to worship. “Oh, I love Jesus,” she insisted, “it’s just those people in church that I can’t stand.” The pastor thoughtfully replied, “Well, that’s sort of like telling Jesus, ‘I love you. I just don’t like your ugly Bride.’”

Granted, the Church retains the dual nature of being washed and cleansed saint, yet sinner. But in our Lord’s eyes, the eyes of the Bridegroom, the eyes of the One who really matters, she is beautiful, holy, and blameless. Thus, even now, she joyfully sings the heavenly wedding song recorded in Revelation 19:6-8: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.”

He who was conceived by the Holy Spirit was also anointed by the Spirit to preach the Word and give his perfect life as a ransom for all. He who was anointed by the Spirit gives the same Spirit to his apostles and pastors in order to absolve sins and to make disciples through teaching and Holy Baptism, where the same Holy Spirit cleansed you from all your sins and made you a member of His holy and beautiful Bride – His Church. In place of the sin and despair, captivity and desolation brought upon by Adam’s tragic fall in the Garden of Eden, the Anointed One’s life and Word restores creation, and a new garden sprouts forth to bloom and grow the world over.

“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.” (Is. 61:11) And that is exactly what will happen again next week, when all over the world faithful Christians gather in joy to praise the Savior of the world.

Our Joy at this Merry Christmas is in Jesus, who is the Christ. So, in the words of the popular Spanish song “Feliz Navidad:” …I want to wish you joyous nativity and a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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