Pastor Johnold J. Strey
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church; Belmont, CA
Sermon on Isaiah 9:6
The Nativity of Our Lord; Christmas Day
Saturday, December 25, 2010
How good are you at guessing your Christmas gift? If you opened your gifts last night, how was your gift-guessing average? Children and even adults have fun guessing what is inside those decoratively wrapped boxes bearing their names. If you look closely at your gift—if you consider its size, if you feel how much it weighs, if you shake it gently to see if it makes any sort of noise—you might be able to venture an educated guess as to what is inside.
There is another gift for you this Christmas that is not underneath your tree at home. There is a gift for you that comes from God. Long before he sent that gift, his people could take a close look at the gift through the “wrapping paper” of the Old Testament and make a spiritually educated guess as to what this gift would be. Just the fact that you came to church this morning on Christmas Day suggests that you know what God’s Christmas gift to you is, but for a few brief moments today we want to step back in time as if we did not know what God’s Christmas gift was. We will try to understand God’s Christmas gift by looking at the Old Testament wrapping paper that covered the gift before its arrival. With the help of one key verse from the prophet Isaiah, we will look closely at God’s Christmas gift. Isaiah will tell us what God’s gift is, and who the recipients of God’s gift are.
If you came to last night’s Christmas Eve service, one of the readings you heard was Isaiah 7:10-14, the prophecy of the Virgin Birth of Jesus. This verse comes two chapters later, and tells us more about the miraculous birth predicted in Isaiah chapter seven. “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Look closely at Isaiah’s description of God’s Christmas gift! What is it? It’s not cash. It’s not a gift card. It’s not some inanimate object. God’s Christmas gift is a son! His gift is a child!
Parents whose children are born around Christmas time might say that their son or daughter is a Christmas gift from God—and they would be right! But that’s not what Isaiah has in mind when he tells us that God’s Christmas gift for others is a child. Two chapters earlier, Isaiah showed us that the birth he had in mind was no ordinary birth. Now he shows us that the child he has in mind is no ordinary child. Isaiah uses four phrases to describe the child who is God’s Christmas gift. He wrote, “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” We want to briefly examine each of those four phrases.
“Wonderful Counselor.” The Hebrew word for “counselor” that is used here is often used to describe someone who governs or rules. The idea of a governor or ruler makes sense here if we look at the larger context. Just before these four phrases, Isaiah said that “the government will be on his shoulders.” If something is “on your shoulders,” it means that you have responsibility for it. So this Son would have responsibility to govern. But his area of governing has little to do with an earthly nation. The verse that follows tells us that this Son would “reign on David’s throne.” David was the great King of Israel who was an ancestor of the Savior, Jesus Christ. God had promised David that he would have a descendant who would sit on the throne forever, and that descendant was Jesus Christ. But Jesus’ kingdom would not be an earthly kingdom; it would be a spiritual kingdom. He would be a “wonderful counselor” who governed over God’s spiritual kingdom called the Holy Christian Church.
“Mighty God.” Isaiah told us that God’s gift was a Son, but this was no ordinary son. This Son was also the almighty and all-powerful God. The Virgin birth predicted in Isaiah chapter seven was the miracle that would produce another miracle: God and man in one through Jesus Christ, God’s Christmas gift.
“Everlasting Father.” The term “father” here doesn’t mean the same thing as God the Father, one of the three persons of the Triune God. Here it is simply the picture of someone who leads and guides. For example, we talk about the “founding fathers” of our nation as those men who led and guided the United States in its early years. This miraculous son would also be the “everlasting Father.” Everlasting is another characteristic of God, who has no beginning or end in time. So Isaiah gives us another clue that the child who is God’s Christmas gift is more than an ordinary child. He is also the eternal God!
“Prince of Peace.” In a world where armies and war were commonplace, it grabs our attention to describe a ruler whose reign will be marked by peace. But the God-man who was born into this world at Christmas came to bring the peace of sins forgiven through the sacrifice for sin that he would one day make for all people on the cross.
Let’s put all these puzzle pieces together to see the gift God gives at Christmas. God’s gift is a son. But this son is no ordinary child. He is at the same time the almighty and eternal God. He rules and governs a spiritual kingdom that is characterized by peace. When we put all those puzzle pieces together, we discover that Isaiah told his readers about the very same thing the angels announced in Luke chapter two. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Isaiah explained the same profound mystery that John described in the Christmas Day Gospel. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
What is the most valuable gift you have ever received for Christmas? Have you been one of those fortunate people to find a new car with a red bow parked in your driveway on Christmas morning? Were you the excited recipient of an engagement ring on Christmas Eve? Is there some other gift you received that would top that list?
Whatever the most valuable gift you’ve received for Christmas is, it still pales in comparison to the gift that God sent into the world at Christmas. Perhaps we are all too familiar with the Christmas story that the miracle of this day doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. But how could we think that way! Look closely at God’s Christmas gift. His gift is his own Son, born in human flesh. Could there be anything more valuable, more incredible, more mind-boggling than that? The One whose very nature fills heaven and earth became an embryo in the womb of a virgin! The God who created the human race now becomes a part of the very humanity he created! The Lord who has existed from eternity now has a birthday to mark his entrance into this world! What an amazing miracle! What an incredible event! Nothing we imagine could compare! What a gracious and miraculous Christmas gift God sent into this world—his own dear Son!
If you like to guess what presents await you under the tree, there’s something you need to do first before you start grabbing and shaking all the packages under the tree. You need to look at the label on the gift. Is your name next to the little word, “To” on the tag? You’re probably not going to spend a lot of energy guessing someone else’s gift. The gifts you’ll be interested in are the ones with your name on them.
Through Isaiah’s words, we have learned that God’s Christmas gift is his own dear Son. There could not be a more valuable or precious gift than that! But who is this gift for? Some powerful national leader? Some wealthy and elite businessman? Some highly religious person? Who is the gift’s recipient? What does it say on the tag? Isaiah tells us directly, and his answer is not what we would expect. “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” The most valuable gift sent by God himself is not for the wealthy or the elite, but for you. For you! In case you missed it, or in case it seemed too good to be true, Isaiah said it twice. “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” It seems so unlikely, so unexpected, but the name on the tag is plain as day. Who are the recipients of God’s gift? We are! You are!
Maybe there has been a mistake. Does God realize who he is sending his gift to? Does God realize who he is sending his Son for? If God’s gift-standards were like Santa Claus—make a list, check it twice, and find out who’s been naughty and nice—then forget it! We might be able to pull the wool over old Saint Nick’s eyes and get him to think we’re better than we actually are, but there is no fooling the eternal God who sees all and knows all. There is no hiding a single sin or failure before an all-knowing God—and God sees every last sin that mars our record and manifests the sinful condition inside our hearts.
Maybe there has been a mistake. Maybe God didn’t really intend for us to be recipients of his gift. But look again! What does the tag on the package say? “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” There is no asterisk with fine print on the bottom of the tag that excludes you from this gift. Christ was born this day for you! The angel told the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). He was born for you because, as the angel said, he came to be your Savior. The sin that separates you from God and that makes you unworthy of God’s gift is the reason God sent his Son for you! God sent his Son to become one of us so that he could redeem from the sin that separates us from God. God sent his Son to become one of us so that he could take our sin on himself and pay for it all on the cross with his holy, precious blood. God sent his Son to become one of us so that his future death and resurrection would assure us of his forgiveness and of our future resurrection from the dead.
And the gift God gives us for Christmas is a gift that keeps on giving. You unwrap his forgiveness every time you open up the pages of his Word and hear and believe the message of his grace. You enjoy his peace and pardon every time his forgiveness is proclaimed. You come across that gift tag with your name on it every time you stand at this altar and hear his assurance that in his Supper, his body and blood is given “for you.” God’s Christmas gift of his Son is truly amazing! Even more amazing is that you are the recipient of his precious gift—a gift that becomes your own through faith in the Son who was born to your Savior on this holy day.
Soon all the presents will be unwrapped. Soon the holiday will be over, the decorations put away, the tree taken down, and life will return to “normal.” But perhaps one of those gifts you received will be something you use and enjoy frequently during the New Year—maybe a special watch or another piece of jewelry from a loved one, or perhaps a sweater or outfit that becomes your favorite item to pull out of the closet and wear. But even if you didn’t find a gift under the tree that you’ll use frequently in 2011, here you have a gift from God that will never get old and that will keep on “giving” every day and year of your life. “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Amen.