Preparing for Christmas (Part 2)…
Loved ones, last week we continued preparing for Christmas (please click HERE) by looking at Isaiah chapter 8. We will continue to prepare for Christmas through this post by looking at the last few verses of Isaiah 8 and the first few verses of chapter 9 because they specifically are about Christmas and because they reveal to us the situation and culture and sinfulness of God’s people when Isaiah originally made these inspired prophecies about the Messiah, about Christmas, about God’s plan to save us!
The Darkness Turns to Light
19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.
[In our suffering, let’s not reach out to any “port in the storm,” let’s not latch onto to anyone or anything that will take our minds off our problems for a while—reach out to GOD, His Word, and yes even His warnings!!!! Loved ones, we are distressed and hungry not because Christmas and Jesus aren’t delicious but because we treat them like last night’s Hamburger Helper—we leave it in the fridge and don’t eat it! We don’t take Him in!
We roam through the land looking for entertainment not because Christmas and Jesus and the Cross are re-runs but because we have only watched the 6 second trailer on Vine; it loops every year, we glance and then we move on to the egg-nog! But Christmas and Jesus and the Cross are a four hour extended edition (with Director’s Commentary!)—indeed, a TRILOGY!—that Jesus invites us to remember, reflect on, rejoice over, and even repent during, no matter how long we have been a Christian, no matter how well we think we know about Christmas. Truly enjoying Christmas takes time, takes quiet, takes reflection, and isn’t it ironic that this is the time of year when it is MOST difficult to find time, be quiet and reflect? That’s no coincidence…the devil wants to keep us moving like sharks in our hunger and distress while Jesus wants to lead us beside quiet waters to nourish us and give us peace (Psalm 23)…
If this Christmas you find yourselves starved from the empty calories of sin and this world, if this Christmas you find yourselves HUNGERING for that which only Jesus can satisfy, if this Christmas you find yourselves in distress and darkness and fearful gloom for one reason or another, then my heart breaks that you are suffering but my heart REJOICES that you are READY for Christmas and for Jesus, to appreciate Him and receive Him and feast on Him, even His warnings, even His Word, JUST as God’s people and the world were in utter darkness and gloom and hunger over 2,000 years ago! Come to Jesus not to have all your problems magically swept away but to have His presence majestically in the midst of your problems…]
Isaiah 9:1-7 (NIV)
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
[We should receive encouragement and comfort from verse 2, but sometimes light is hard to take in the short run, it doesn’t always feel encouraging and comforting initially.
For some of us, we have been walking in deep darkness for so long (thoughts, beliefs, actions) that the light of Jesus Christ is blinding—we squint at the light, it even kind of hurts a bit as the brightness of the light reminds us just how dark we really are, we recoil from the light and our first instinct is to run away, to scurry BACK to the darkness that we are so used to, the darkness that we think we need, that we think is home & our identity, that we think is true reality…just like when your bedroom light is turned on early on a winter’s morning, we just want to crawl back under the covers!
But Jesus has come to truly wake us up, not from sleep but from spiritual death! He shines to make us alive, to make us new, to restore what we had in the Garden of Eden: face-to-face relationship with Him! The light hurts at first but when we receive Jesus as our Savior our old eyes will die and our new eyes will adjust. He did not come to merely correct us but to completely resurrect us. That is His offer at Christmas and every day of the year—not better manners but a new man, not improved behavior but new life!
Ephesians 5:8-14 (NIV)
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Jesus’ offer at Christmas—wake up and rise from the dead!!!
For some of us, we have been walking in deep darkness for so long (thoughts, beliefs, actions) that the light of Jesus Christ is threatening—like a police officer that pulls you over at night and shines the spotlight right into your car. You freak out from the flashing lights and the bright light—what will they find, what did I do, how much trouble am I in right now, why can’t they leave me alone? That’s what we often think initially about Jesus’ light…
But Jesus has come not to throw us in jail but to set us free from the prison we are already in! THAT is why He has pulled us over as we joyride, speed and DUI (under the influence of selfishness and sin) through life in a stolen vehicle (spiritually speaking)(even WE don’t belong to ourselves)! THAT is His offer at Christmas and throughout the year—not jail but JOY, not prison but FREEDOM, not a penitentiary but PARDON, not a life-sentence but LIFE!
Isaiah 61:1-2 NIV:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”
But our captivity, our prison of sin & selfishness, is so complete and locked-down without Jesus—it is IMPOSSIBLE for us to escape without faith in Him—that we no longer try to break out of prison but rather we barricade ourselves in! We don’t mourn over our cell we celebrate it, we decorate the walls and think this is freedom (making lemonaid out of lemons!), we think this is life, we treat it like HOME! We don’t seek clemency from Christ but community with other convicts, we don’t want pardon or parole but another party to pass the time…but here is Jesus’ offer at Christmas and throughout the year—true freedom, full life, both grace and justice: grace because we get released from prison though we don’t deserve it, and justice because Jesus strapped Himself into our electric chair and was killed in our place though He didn’t deserve it. CHRISTMAS!
For some of us Christians who have by faith received the light of Jesus Christ—His forgiveness, new birth, and transformation—we often place shades and dimmers on His light, we drive around with tinted windows of our soul because it looks cool but it blocks out Jesus’ light! Many of us don’t want it TOO bright…just enough to not slam our shins into the coffee table (spiritually speaking) or cut our fingers off in the kitchen but not so bright that we see what’s hiding in the corners or deep in the closets…just enough so we can comb our hair but not so bright that we see our skin’s blemishes and complexion (spiritually speaking). We agree to Jesus’ light in our lives only to “set a mood” as in a restaurant—to get a feeling, to experience some spiritual goose bumps, to take our minds off our problems for a while, to calm our guilt, but it isn’t lighting that we use for day to day living. For us, Jesus’ light is like a once-in-a-while date that doesn’t become a marriage, something we flirt with but don’t commit our entire lives to.
But Jesus has come not to set a mood for a date with Him but to lead us to maturity through daily life with Him! His light for us isn’t just to impress us every once in a while like Fourth of July fireworks, His light is to instruct us every moment by transforming our thoughts, beliefs, words, actions and plans to match up with HIM!
Psalm 119:105 NIV: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
That is Jesus’ offer to Christians at Christmas and throughout the year—to teach us to live as He lives every moment of our lives as we allow ourselves to be guided completely by His Word. To use His G.P.S.—God Provides Scripture for every mile of our earthly journey. Don’t dim Christ or His Word in your daily life—turn Him on full-blast through reading, agreeing with, and living out His Word!
This is part of what is meant below in verse 6 where Isaiah says that the government will be on His shoulders—Jesus is meant not only to save us and forgive us but also to GOVERN our daily lives. He is not only our Savior but He is also our KING, our GOVERNOR! The government will be on His shoulders in heaven—but if you are a Christian, the government of our lives should be on His shoulders right now! If you have asked Jesus to forgive you of your sins, do you also follow Him as your Lord? Is He your King or just your elected official who you can impeach or vote out of office? Do we treat Jesus and the Bible like spiritual C-SPAN: we know the channel and that important laws have been passed but we rarely if ever tune in? Do you ask Him to help you follow His laws or do we jay-walk across His commands in the Bible, thinking it’s “no big deal”?
Romans 12:1-3 (NIV)
A Living Sacrifice
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Offering our bodies—words and actions—as a sacrifice to God of obedience!
Offering our minds—thoughts and beliefs—as a sacrifice to God of obedience!
Acting and thinking and believing like Jesus, not the world/culture!
Loved ones, do we realize that for Christians, our obedience to God is a spiritual act of worship?, More important than the music of our lips—merely singing songs—is the melody of our lives—faithfully obeying Jesus! Do we LIVE as if Jesus is our King and Master, our Governer? Is the government of our daily lives truly on HIS shoulders?
Let’s jump back to Isaiah 9…
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest [FEASTING for us who have known terrible hunger!],
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder [VICTORY for us who have known terrible defeat!].
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor [GUILT AND FEAR AND SHAME—GONE through receiving JESUS!].
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given [not EARNED but GIVEN!],
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
[There is so much more to be said about this passage, but I want to close this post by focusing on the last line above–the zeal of the Lord Almighty. Now, human zeal, enthusiasm, energy, inspiration, passion, etc. burns brightly but shortly, like a child who rips open a Christmas present, plays with the toy enthusiastically for two days and then leaves it at the bottom of the toy box for years. Like a person who truly intends to start exercising on January 1st and does so for a couple of weeks but eventually stops…
On the other hand, God’s zeal, enthusiasm, energy, inspiration, passion, etc. burns brightly AND forever, it never runs out, like Niagara Falls flowing spectacularly AND consistently for thousands and thousands of years! The faucet of God’s zeal can never be turned off…
And so it is GOD’s zeal that will accomplish His purposes, NOT the zeal and energy and strategies and plans of humans. HE alone will carry His purposes and promises to completion (though of course He offers us various roles and duties in the unfolding of His will). The Holy Spirit can transform & teach us to faithfully fulfill our roles as we rest in the Truth that God’s promises don’t REST/DEPEND on us faithfully fulfilling our roles.
- Think about it like this: An athlete in a championship game often tightens up and plays worse when he/she believes that the championship depends on them! Pressure comes from thinking something is all up to us! We were never meant to carry that pressure, especially in the spiritual sense! Rather, athletes play more naturally and calmly and focused (and better—they play BETTER!) if they realize that while they are to try their best, the final outcome has already been decided and won by the team Captain.
- In the football game of life, Jesus (because He is God!) scored 1 billion points through His death on the Cross and return to life three days later. 1 BILLION points! No matter how many points the devil scores—and yes he does score points when we give in to temptation and sin and we soil the name of Jesus—he will never come CLOSE to scoring 1 billion! The game is still currently going on, but a look at the scoreboard gives us encouragement to keep playing our best because we realize that Team Jesus has an INSURMOUNTABLE lead that WE cannot lose no matter how badly we play! The clock is ticking down the final seconds to Jesus’ inevitable return and so we can keep playing and filling the roles that Coach Holy Spirit has designed for us—the pressure is off! Jesus—and all of us His teammates—is the Champion! The zeal of the LORD ALMIGHTY accomplishes all this…
- The devil knows this and so tries on the one hand to get us to think that it all rests on us—this often causes us either to try SO HARD that we neglect our relationship with God and our relationships with our spouses and children (we only DO for God and neglect BEING with God!), or it causes us to STOP TRYING and give up & quit and succumb to the pressure and the stress of playing this game on the universe’s stage where both angels and demons watch us (“all creation waits for the sons of God to be revealed” and “angels watch”).
- Or the devil tries to discourage us—“what have YOU done since Jesus handed you the ball, since you became a Christian? NOTHING! All you’ve done is fumble, trip over yourself, yell at your teammates, change the Coach’s play by calling your own audible (look where THAT got you! Another touchdown for me!), you’ve run in the wrong direction and scored points for me, you’ve even run off the field to sit in the stands…YOU’RE A COMPLETE FAILURE and NOT WORTHY TO BE ON JESUS’ TEAM!!!!”
The devil whispers comments like that to us…and unfortunately, they are often true…maybe we have done all or some of those terrible things…
But because the zeal of the LORD will accomplish all this—because it is GOD HIMSELF (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!) Who will accomplish Isaiah chapter 9 and ALL of His promises in Scripture—we can reply to the devil and say
- “I have failed in all (or some) of those ways and I may fail in them again. But LOOK AT THE SCOREBOARD! (for more on this, please click HERE) 1 BILLION points! Jesus, not me, has won the championship! I am not worthy to be on His Team but I never have been worthy and that didn’t stop Him from inviting me as a walk on and giving me a full ride scholarship! My talent didn’t get me on His Team and my talent doesn’t keep me on His Team. Because of His unconditional invitation I will get back on His Team and play the positions He has designed for me, by His grace I will put the jersey and pads back on and get back on the field as HE cheers me on and guides me and coaches me and energizes me! No matter how hard you tackle me and horsecollar me and chop block me and facemask me I will KEEP playing for Jesus my Captain, I will keep getting back up with His help every time you knock me down. I will block for my teammates and be happy when Jesus helps them score and will no longer demand the ball and the glory for myself; I will play my part in these final seconds of the game no matter how sore, tired, discouraged, hurt and incompetent I am because the end of the game is near and I want to be on the field for the eternal Championship celebration!!!!”
THAT is what it looks like to rely on GOD’s zeal and not our own. Relying on God doesn’t mean that we do NOTHING, but it means that we follow Jesus with our eyes on Him and not our circumstances, it means we follow Jesus with our eyes on the Scoreboard—1 Billion to 42!—and try our best (with His help) knowing that we cannot lose the game for Team Jesus.
So what does this mean for us as we prepare for Christmas?
For the Christians, may the Holy Spirit use Isaiah 9 to help us get back in the game of truly following Jesus in any ways that we have walked away from Him, His Truth, His presence, His commands. That can be our focus this December (and beyond!) as we prepare for and celebrate Christmas—getting back in the game, reflecting on Jesus and His work on the Cross and learning to rely on HIS zeal and not our own talents, feelings, mood, etc. Bible study that changes our belief to match up with God’s, prayer that lasts longer than seconds, serving that costs us much, going deep with a few other Christians that makes us vulnerable, and looking for ways to share Jesus with others using our words—those are ways that we get back in the game…
For the non-Christians, may the Holy Spirit use Isaiah chapter 9 to help you to receive Jesus’ invitation on His Team and into His Family…there is a place for you at His table (He wants your heart before He wants your hands, He wants you to know Him relationally even more than He wants you to serve Him practically), a role for you on His team, a full-ride scholarship (He knows you’re spiritually bankrupt and can’t afford to pay for tuition—all of us on His Team are in that same situation!!!! J), and He will teach you how to play the game according to HIS rules while being FULLY PATIENT as you will fumble and trip and fall, especially early on. Let that be your focus this December (and beyond!) as you prepare for and celebrate Christmas—agreeing with Jesus that you are bankrupt to pay the tuition to attend His school, that you are not talented enough to deserve to play on His team, that you are orphaned and in need of being adopted into His family…agree with Jesus on all that and then simply cry out to Him and receive His forgiveness, adoption, election, invitation, His full-ride scholarship and spot on the roster…