Significance and Christmas Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12
How significant is Christmas for you?
How significant is Christmas for you?
I don’t know if you have been into Alton recently but you may have seen, instead of a Christmas Tree a 16ft skiing marmot, with ear muffs. A marmot is sort of alpine rodent. A rat on rails, basically.
This civic decoration has caused a bit of a stir, even reaching the Sun and ‘Have I got News for You’.
Revd. Andrew Micklefield has told me that he is ‘staying out of it!’
The Alton Parish Council says that the aim is ‘to make you smile….especially the children’ and doubtless, when the tills are emptied at the end of the month and the receipts from the businesses in Alton are tallied up, it is just possible that more people will have visited the Alton high street and bought their Christmas presents in Alton, because of this rat on rails than if they had not put it there.
Look, there is nothing wrong with having a little laugh and there is a case which could be made for the therapeutic benefits of humour. And, of course, we have to shop, commerce is necessary for us all to survive…
But is having a little laugh and shopping the most significant things about Christmas? Is that what we have come to as humanity: comedy and economy being at the heart of human existence; what we are for?
Well, if that’s what has happened, it is not at all surprising that I read that the Prince’s Trust Youth Index for 2019 reports that as many as a fifth – 18% of 16-25 year olds disagree that life is worth living; up from 8% ten years ago – in essence that their lives have no significance to them or to the world. This research has been confirmed by a recent OECD survey which puts British 15 years olds towards the bottom of an international scale for a sense of meaning in their lives Unherd Report on OECD Survey The article in the Guardian in which the first piece of research was reported in February this year, concludes by giving the telephone number for the Samaritans…..
And yet, the Bible describes the birth of Christ in a stable on Christmas Day as the most significant event in history, something which brings significance to you and I and every other human being living on this planet.
The significance of this birth could easily have been missed at the time: ‘birth of baby to a homeless unmarried couple’ is hardly headline news…especially in the first century AD, but even now…it would not even be a footnote in the Big Issue
So God made sure that we would not miss that something very significant was happening through Jesus birth, by making promises and sending prophets for hundreds of years before Jesus was born predicting his birth. Over 300 prophesies in the Old Testament were fulfilled through Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, and resurrection so that no-one who had eyes to see and ears to hear could miss that his birth was of world class importance, the turning point in history. Indeed, all the Jews were expecting a messiah to be born who would lead Israel.
But God wanted not just the Jews to know that this birth was to be significant but for the whole world to understand it. So he organised not only bands of angels to greet the Jewish shepherds and send them on to the stable but also interplanetary alignments to coincide with Jesus birth so that a star appeared in the East for the gentile Magi to follow.
But why would God do this?
What is the significance of Jesus birth?
To understand this, we have to go right back to the beginning of time, as portrayed in Genesis 1:26, where, after God had created the universe and made all the plants and all the fish birds reptiles and animals, he says ‘Let us make mankind in our own image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky over the livestock and wild animals and over all the creatures that move over the land.’
It was bound to be a problem for God to make an animal in his own image; to make humankind, like God…because it was never going to be enough for humanity to be like God, to be content to be in his image. We were bound really to want to be God, rather than him.
And, of course, that is precisely what happened in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, tempted of course by Satan, decided that they knew better than God and so chose to eat the apple of the knowledge of good and evil. That first act of rebellion is the archetype of all sin which is in essence rebellion against God; an attempt by us to supplant him as God: to be gods ourselves! And then, as we know, they were banished from the garden and our relationship with our Creator was fractured.
The rest of the story of the Bible is of God’s loving attempts to encourage us back into a loving relationship with him; to repair the fracture!
First, he blessed one family – the children of Israel; which became one nation; as a means of blessing the whole world. He gave them the Law through Moses so that they might know his character, his loving provision for them. The Law, the ethical principles of which are the blueprint for human flourishing.
He made promises (called the covenant) that if only his people would obey the law he had given them and not seek to act as if they were little gods themselves, choosing any old way to live, disregarding the law, that he would bless them, meaning that he would give them everything that they needed to flourish as human beings. In particular he would give them a wonderful land to live in, a land flowing with milk and honey, the promised land. They, in turn, would be a blessing to the whole world, to every human being, including us.
But, as we know, from the Old Testament story, the Israelites just could not manage to keep their side of the bargain. They sinned and sinned and sinned again. And so they lost their land and went into exile.
Like them sin is in our nature. It is sadly part of our character from our birth and God knew from the beginning that we would not be able to overcome our sin by ourselves; that we would need not only his example of how to live our lives, but also his presence to restore our relationship with him.
So then God gave new promises, through the prophets that he sent to speak to his people, about a messiah, a leader who would come to enable them to relate to God again.
Today we have been hearing about the work of two prophets: Isaiah who wrote in around 700BC and John the Baptist, who was a contemporary and cousin of Jesus, born just before him. Both point to the arrival of that messiah, to the arrival of God’s answer to the problem of sin, which affects all of us, which is endemic to human nature and blocks us from being able to engage with our creator, the remaining fracture at the centre of creation.
The prophets point to the arrival of the one with the key to our human flourishing and the answer to our existential questions; to the arrival of the one who can show us the Way, the Truth and the Life; how to be the people we are designed by the Creator to be.
But who is this messiah?
In our reading today, Isaiah predicts: a new ruler from King David’s line a messiah who will come Chap 11: verse 2 upon whom rests the Holy Spirit, great wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Verse 4 who judges by his righteousness in other words by his sensitivity to God’s will, not simply by what he sees and hears. Verse 6, through his rule, which is inaugurated now (but not yet fulfilled but will be when he returns) a new Eden will be established where all sources of conflict are removed: the wolf and the lamb would live together; the leopard and the goat would sleep together; the calf and the lion and the yearling together would be led in safety by a little child; the infant would play near the cobra’s den; ‘nothing would harm or destroy’, says the Lord ‘on my Holy Mountain’.
700 years later, John the Baptist announces the arrival of that messiah, who will baptise with the Holy Spirit, to enable us to have that same understanding of God’s will of how God wants us to flourish which can be given to every human being, should they want to invite him in.
It is clear that that messiah sent by God, is actually none other than God himself the Creator of the Universe, stepping down into the messiness of human nature and ultimately dying for you, and for me, while we are still sinners, still in rebellion against him, and taking the responsibility for that sin, that rebellion upon himself by dying in great agony, for us if we choose to accept him in our hearts.
Why on earth, would he want to do that?
Why would the all powerful creator of the universe want to subject himself to pain, poverty, cold and heart ache and crucifixion?
There can be only one answer:
that he love us
he loves you
he loves me
and Christmas proves it…….
What could possibly be more significant than that?
What could possibly give more significance to each of us than that?
The Creator of the Universe loves us!
So Christmas is not about having a laugh at a rat on rails or more and more shopping, but remembering that we are truly significant to the creator of the universe; that we matter and he loves us and wants us to choose to draw close to him
11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Is 11:1–9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’ ”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 3:1–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.