December 26, 1999 - Boxing Day
Home for Christmas - Isaiah 52,7-9
CHRISTMAS LEGENDS Helen Keller wrote that there is a legend that tells that when Jesus was born the sun danced in the sky, the aged trees straightened themselves and put on leaves and sent forth the fragrance of blossoms once more. These are the symbols of what takes place in our hearts when the Christ Child is born anew each year. Blessed by the Christmas sunshine, our natures, perhaps long leafless, bring forth new love, new kindness, new mercy, new compassion. As the birth of Jesus was the beginning of the Christian life, so the unselfish joy at Christmas shall start the spirit that is to rule the new year. The Miracle of Christmas, Hallmark.+'
GIFT EXCHANGE It was the day after Christmas at a church in San Francisco. The pastor of the church was looking over the creche when he noticed that the baby Jesus was missing from among the figures. Immediately he turned and went outside and saw a little boy with a red wagon, and in the wagon was the figure of the little infant, Jesus. So he walked up to the boy and said, "Well, where did you get Him, my fine friend?" The little boy replied, "I got him from the church." "And why did you take him?" The boy said, "Well, about a week before Christmas I prayed to the little Lord Jesus and I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas I would give him a ride around the block in it."+'
Name my feelings and congregation's feelings about our past actions.
As I was asking the kids what they all received for Christmas this year, one sparkling little kid exclaimed, “This is the best Christmas ever!” For many people Christmas is a favorite time of year. A time to come home. … to reconnect with family and friends. …to visit an old familiar Christmas Eve service in their home congregation. …to unwrap presents around the Christmas tree with our loved ones and see the sparkle in the eyes of the children.
Introduce major concern of text or major concern of sermon. (Use transposition to help communicate the thrust. Stating the good news early helps them to listen).
But, the year end holiday season is not a happy time for everyone. And yet, Christmas is the gift of salvation and freedom from sin, fear, loneliness, and lost days. Christmas is God’s invitation to return home.
Issue for today. Point of Contact (where does the text touch our personal concerns?)
For many people the month of December is a nightmare. It is a brutal reminder of what might have been. For many, it awakens memories of loved ones who are no longer alive and a part of the family celebrations. For them it represents the prison of loneliness and tears… A glimmer of hope snuffed out with the sound of music and laughter coming from the next apartment, and knowing that her husband is not coming back..
In our home, the month of December is often not a happy time. We try our best to be of good cheer, but, still it always seems to find a way to sneak up on us and hit us blindsided. Although it has been thirteen years this December, we remember as if it was yesterday, the day when the angel of death visited our home. Our first child was born on December 15th. She was fighting an infection for three days before she died. On December 22nd (two days before Christmas Eve) we had her funeral. I can still see the little coffin representing the crude reality of death that is the consequence of human sin and evil in the world. I also remember the evergreen standing off to the side of sanctuary, which to me is a powerful symbol of God’s eternal presence with us in our suffering. And there was also the community of faith that wept with us and helped us carry our burden. I remember our first Christmas at my aunt’s house – their well-intentioned presents and attempts to cheer us up didn’t do much for us. And I remember how much we longed to be home with our families that Christmas.
These memories come back to a greater or lesser extent every year. And, I’m sure that for those of you who have lost a loved one, or a home, or an income, or health, or whatever loss you may have experienced… the joy of Christ’s birth is also tarnished with the memories of sadness and pain. It is as if our experiences of sin and suffering take us farther away from home, and yet we have a profound yearning to be home – to be at peace with ourselves and with God.
The story of God’s people in the Bible is a story of being lost and finding their way home again by the grace of God. That is what the story of Christmas is all about: realizing that we are lost in our sin and accepting God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ – his life, ministry, death and resurrection. I want to turn to a story in the Old Testament book of Isaiah to help us gain new hope as we search for that place in our heart that we can call home.
Entry of the biblical text. (Background of text).
Isaiah is the great prophet of Christmas. Today's text is the joyful announcement of homecoming. Israel has been languishing in exile. Now the prophet gets up on a high mountain so all can hear and joyfully shouts the call to return home. Because God in Christ has come to us in the babe at Bethlehem, we can come home.
Homelessness, exile, are fitting metaphors for what many people in our time feel deep in their souls. Sometimes church becomes a reminder of all our shortcomings and sins, all of our problems and despair. Today, let us follow the example of Isaiah and joyfully proclaim the good news of home.
The people of Israel had spent many years in captivity in Babylon when the prophet proclaimed the joy of Israel’s salvation:
7 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 …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.
Context of the Passage (historical, biblical)
The context of this joyful announcement of the prophet Isaiah is the return home of God’s people from Babylonian exile. A large part of the population of Israel and Judah was deported from their homeland to Babylon at various times from 722 BC to (701 BC, 597 BC, 587 BC,) 582 BC and a large group returned home in 539 BC. The period in captivity was a time of intense prophetic activity. Many great promises of the coming Messiah stem from this period when God’s people was experiencing the wrath of God for their disobedience. In the midst of despair the prophet Isaiah announces God’s salvation… the return to their homeland. And he tells them how this will all take place: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”(Isa 7:14).
"Beginning with the story of Adam and Eve, the scriptures remind us that the human condition is one of exile. It is only the voluntary humility of God, joining us in our slavery, exile and loss, that breaks the curse and sets us free. We have been cast out, but God seeks us in our exile, pursues us, calls us, suffers pain for us and, at last, finds us and, rejoicing, brings us home.
"Christmas is about much more than a baby in a stable. It is about being found in a stable. It is about being found by God. In the baby Jesus God has chosen to be with us, wherever we are, whatever we have done; and in God's good time we will be fully restored to our lost home. We will climb back into the lap of the One who loves us, and be held, embraced and fed.
There is no dread so terrible as the fear that everyone we know, love or depend on will go away and leave us all alone. The images of exile from Eden and of the return to Jerusalem bracket the Hebrew scriptures, and the story that those images enclose is one of repeated variations on the same theme: Abraham's call to go out from his people and pursue in faith the promise that he will become a nation; Israel's bondage in Egypt and the Exodus through the desert to the promised land; the building of the temple and its terrible destruction; the children of Israel weeping by the waters of Babylon, the dry bones called to life and the desert blooming; the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, where all tears will be wiped away."
God’s people were waiting to come home. … to get out of their captivity and turntheir hearts back to God.
Mention the Christ-event.
Christmas is homecoming, a symbol of the end of our exile, that time when the babe at Bethlehem is a sign that the dwelling place of God is with his people and we are brought back to our true home, with God. Therefore, this day is a day of good news. In the babe at Bethlehem, we are home.
Invite and encourage the congregation to further action. (Recognize past faithfulness)
In the midst of our exiles, whatever that may be, God’s invitation rings out for us, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David (Isa 55:1-3).
Return to the opening remarks.
If this Christmas season has not been a time of joy and happiness, but a time of sadness and loneliness, take comfort, because the saviour is born.
Return to major concern of the text and sermon.
Focus on their lives.
Contact (how does the text affect the hearer?)
Relevance (why do I - the hearer - need this?)
Responsibility (what is the hearer supposed to do?)
Why are so many of you here today? I'll tell you. Moving right into the middle of your family with its problems, secrets, sin, and silliness; the love, and laughter, and the little joys of your home, there comes this God. And I think that's why you're here and that's why there's joy.
"See, the home of God
is among mortals.
He will dwell with them
as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself
will be with them..."