12/26/2019 4:05:48 PM
Christmas Day - Promise Kept: Good News
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” 8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.
“How beautiful… are the feet of those who bring good news.” Feet aren’t usually at the top of the list of things we call beautiful, are they? But if feet are carrying good news, it doesn’t matter what they look like, they’re beautiful. The sweaty, stinky, stepped-on feet of these football players from Newtown High School in Connecticut are so very beautiful – at least to the people and families of their community. On December 14th, just 11 days ago, the Newtown Nighthawks won the Connecticut State football championship. That’s a pretty neat thing for a community. We would all be very excited if the Hortonville Polar Bears or the Fox Valley Lutheran Foxes won a state football championship. Yet, this particular championship for this particular community on this particular date, was extra meaningful. It was the little bit of good news that this community had been waiting for a long time, actually for seven years, exactly. See, December 14th marks a horrific day for this community – a day that is nothing but a reminder of the hurt and pain that still haunts so many. Newtown High School is in the same community as Sandy Hook Elementary. This football championship came seven years to the day of the mass shooting that claimed 26 lives – 20 first graders and 6 educators and staff. In fact, one of the first grade boys who was killed that day was the younger brother of a player on the state championship team. Though this may have just been another football game, it was a chance for this community to come together for something positive on a day that has only been marked by tragedy. It was much needed good news.
It’s Christmas Day. You’re with family, or you were last night or will be later today. There are presents and Christmas goodies, Holiday movies and Christmas music. The kids can’t get enough of their new toys. What else could we possibly want?! Yet perhaps, like the Sandy Hook/Newtown community, you find yourself in need of good news. You walked into church today wearing your Christmas best and a smile to go with it. You even said “Good!” when I asked how you were. But underneath there’s a hurt. It’s the funeral of a loved one that took place 5 days ago, or the shocking, unexpected death 3 days ago, or the more expected death 2 days ago. Or Christmas is just too close to such an anniversary. It’s the addiction that’s really beginning to affect the family. It’s the personal hurt that now isn’t so personal any more but public. And rather than receiving the support and encouragement you and your family so badly need, you get nothing but judgment and ridicule. We’re all little like the Christmas presents under the tree before they’re ripped open: Beautiful, sparkling wrapping paper, ribbons and bows but nobody really knows the hurt and pain that’s underneath.
Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah was a lot like that too. It looked great. Everything seemed to be going really well. There was prosperity and wealth and a general lack of enemies and threats from the outside world. So much so, that even the people of Jerusalem weren’t aware of how bad it really was underneath the wrapping paper, ribbons and bows. In their prosperity, the people of Jerusalem had walked away from God. They rejected him and his Word.
Here in these four verses at the end of chapter 52, it’s all good news - peace, salvation, joy, comfort, redemption. News doesn’t get any better than that! Yet, God didn’t send the prophet Isaiah to the people of Jerusalem with only good news. First, Isaiah shared God’s judgment on their spiritual apathy and rebellion. He said, “This prosperity, wealth, and earthly peace isn’t going to last forever. In fact, God himself is going to end it. He is going to give you over to the heathen nations. They will conquer and destroy your city and take you into captivity. The walls are going to fall; the wealth will disappear. The peace and prosperity you have made your god is coming to an end.” God takes sin seriously. He is holy and just. He takes spiritually apathy, and rebellion, and rejection seriously.
Maybe it’s a bit surprising, but it’s in the context of God’s judgment that we hear of peace, salvation, joy, comfort, redemption. It’s here that God gives good news! We have seen this before. It was mentioned, ever so briefly, in a sermon a few weeks ago. Consider Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve blatantly disobeyed God. They doubted his goodness, believed Satan’s lies and ate from the tree God commanded them not to eat from. And with that act of disobedience came God’s judgment. Death would now be part of our world. (As I alluded to earlier, that specific consequence of sin has hit this family of believers here at Immanuel really hard in the past week and a half.) Yet, just nine verses after Adam and Eve’s sin, in the midst of the shame, blame, fear, and judgment that was now their new normal, God provides the solution to sin and death: a Savior who would crush Satan’s head. That first promise of a Savior is highlighted, it’s all the more special in the context in which it is given. Adam and Eve sin – Death enters our world – God provides a solution.
So it is here in Isaiah. God’s people have turned away from him and have depended on the temporary things of this world, so God turns them over to the nations of this world. Yet, while they are at their lowest, when all they see is God’s impending judgment, he gives good news – which makes the good news he gives even better. Did you notice the language and even the tenses of the verbs God has Isaiah use here? Keep in mind that they have not yet been taken into captivity, yet he talks as if their deliverance is already certain and complete. The messengers are running down the mountain proclaiming that God has delivered his people from the captivity of their enemies. That’s true of everything God says. It is certain and good as done as soon as he says it.
That’s amazing. God’s promises, his timing of those promises along with the completion of those promises are amazing. But why is God’s judgment on Jerusalem, their impending captivity, and then their deliverance from said captivity a chosen reading for Christmas day? What does this have to with the hurt that I am trying to cover up with the glitz and glam of Christmas?
Let’s look again. This time please read it out loud along with me. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” 8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. Isaiah isn’t only proclaiming release and deliverance from a physical, earthly captivity, is he? He proclaims deliverance from a spiritual captivity.
The hurt you walked into church with this morning – the death of a loved one, the addiction, the family pain – they’re all symptoms of a far greater problem, a greater hurt. They’re evidence of sin’s attack on this world. When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, it took the human race captive. We see proof of sin’s affect everywhere. This world and the people of this world are broken. In my three and a half years at Immanuel never have I seen or heard as many people cry as I did this past week – whether it was in a funeral visitation line, a room at an assisted living, my own office, in our conference room with our staff, on the phone, in a member’s home. The hurt of this world really hit me this week. In fact, I commented to the other pastors when we met Monday morning, while fighting back tears of my own, that the hurt of this world is overwhelming sometimes.
And that’s what makes the peace, salvation, joy, comfort, redemption proclaimed here by Isaiah so meaningful. That’s what makes Christmas so meaningful. From the beginning, the solution and answer to sin was the flesh and blood of God. We heard it in our Christmas gospel: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” It’s the incarnation. God became man in order to save mankind. He entered this world as a helpless baby. He lived among us and our brokenness. He went to cross carrying our sin and our shame. And he rose again showing that we are no longer captives to sin. Sin has no power over us. It’s God’s promise of good news kept.
The football championship won by the Newtown Nighthawks 11 days ago was far more meaningful due to the hurt and pain carried by their community. And that’s my prayer for you this Christmas. May your hurt this Christmas draw you ever closer to the Christ-child’s manger. May it cause you to cling all the more to your Savior’s cross. It’s for that very reason the Word became flesh. Amen.