What were they waiting for?

Good morning, Friends!

I’ve got a question to start us off this morning. What do you all do to get ready for Christmas? What kinds of things are you doing this month?

Are some of you buying presents? We do that because we remember the gifts that the wise men brought to give to the baby Jesus. We also bring gifts because we remember that Jesus is the greatest gift of all.

Any of you putting up decorations? There’s nothing about Christmas trees and holly and stockings in the Bible. But it does say that Christ is the light of the world. It says to let your light shine. It says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

I think that’s why we have all these Christmas lights, and candles, and fires in fireplaces, and stuff that lights up. We’re remembering that Jesus came down from the Father of lights, and Jesus wants his light to shine in us.

Anybody here sending out Christmas cards? I always intend to get them done in early December, but I’m always so busy. Some years I get them out in January, or not at all. But cards are a nice way to reach out to friends who are far away, and let you know you still love them.

Anybody planning to go to a Christmas party? I know we’re planning to have one or two parties right here at Springfield, so in case nobody invites you to a party yourself, you’ve still got a couple of parties to come to.

One of the most basic ways to celebrate is to get together with your family and friends and have a meal. Jesus also said it’s good to invite people who can’t throw a party themselves and can’t pay you back. He said when you do that, then God knows, and God will pay you back.

There’s all kinds of things we do during the Christmas season. Does anybody like to listen to Christmas music? I don’t mean Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. I mean, music that’s really about the birth of Jesus, and about why we celebrate the season.

There’s so much great music out there. I like to stretch my head a little and listen to something new every year. When I hear different people singing, from different times and places and even from different countries, I start to realize just how big the celebration is!

Anybody else do anything fun or special for Christmas?

  • Does anybody give to COAT, or put some money in the Salvation Army kettle?
  • Does anybody go to see Christmas plays or Christmas pageants or concerts?
  • Does anybody sing Christmas carols? I love to go door to door Christmas caroling, but almost no one does that any more. I sing carols any time I get the chance. I’ve even gone out caroling when it’s twenty below zero.

There are so many ways we prepare for the holiday. I think that having something special to do every day is a reminder of what it’s all about.

Back in the days before Jesus was born, people then were waiting, too. A lot of them thought they knew what they wanted. But what they wanted, and what God gave, turned out to be pretty different.

There were people who wanted a king, a ruler like King David or King Solomon. There were people who expected a great warrior, who would lead the armies of Israel to victory. Was that what Jesus turned out to be?

There were people who expected a religious leader, like Moses, or a prophet, like Elijah. Getting warmer.

A lot of people were just tired, or burdened, or poor. There were people who were desperate for help. There were people who didn’t find the old type of religion fulfilling. Going to the Temple and offering sacrifices didn’t leave their hearts feeling satisfied any more.

In this kind of atmosphere, it’s not surprising that people’s hopes and expectations were all so different. It’s not all that different from the way things are today. We all want different things. We’ve all got a different idea about what Jesus came here for.

Might be a good idea for us to look at the Bible together and see what kind of hopes and dreams and promises are there about Jesus, the Messiah that everyone was waiting for.

Scripture – Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice calls:
In the desert prepare a way for the Lord,
Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
Every mountain and hill made low,
The rough ground shall become level,
The rugged places plain,
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all people together will see it.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

That is kind of a cryptic message. You kind of want to look it over again, and put your thinking hat on.

It starts out by saying comfort. That doesn’t mean sitting back in your Laz-E-Boy with your favorite drink and a bowl of chips. It’s not that kind of comfort. It means the kind of comfort that people need who are sick and burdened. It’s the kind of comfort people need who have been wounded to the heart, who have lost everything, including even their faith in God.

Comfort means healing. It means God reaching down to whatever place of brokenness people are in, and God touching us there.

The people who were waiting for Jesus had lost their national identity. They were a conquered people. They had heavy taxes. Many of them had lost their land. They were little more than slaves again, even though they were living in the Promised Land.

For them, the Messiah meant freedom. Christ meant getting their homes back. They were being saved from slavery.

They were also being saved from the sins and mistakes that they and their ancestors had made. We could actually benefit from some of that.

Will there ever be a day when all the mistakes we’ve made, from greed and selfishness, from fear and pride, from politics and war and race and prejudice, when all of our mistakes and sins will be undone? Will that day ever come?
That’s what people back then were asking, too.

In the desert prepare a way for the Lord,
Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
Every mountain and hill made low.

I remember, when I was a boy, the Interstate was being built in our part of Vermont. Back then, all we had was dirt roads in the country. The road past my grandparent’s place was just wide enough for one car, and there was grass growing up down the middle. There was one paved road in the whole town, that led over to the county seat. Took more than 45 minutes to get there, even though it was only 15 miles away.

So when the Interstate came through, two towns over, it was something. First a small group of surveyors came through, all one summer and fall, marking out the route and leaving sticks with little flags on them behind. The next summer bulldozers came, and started clearing the land along the route.

Then blasters came, with drills and dynamite. Whole mountain sides got carved away, and giant culverts placed to re-channel creeks and rivers. Valleys got filled in, and bridges built. None of us could imagine such labor.

That’s what it’s talking about here. But the purpose of all this construction, in the vision of the prophet, wasn’t so people could drive from the Triad down to Charlotte to do business. It was to prepare the way of the Lord.

Before the Lord came, valleys would be filled and mountains made low. Before the Christ arrived, a path would be made through the swamps, and roads would be made through impassable forests.

Long ago, God had made a pathway through the sea itself. God had made a way, where there was no way. That’s God’s specialty.

God can cross mountains and deserts, oceans and valleys. There is no place where God can’t go – not into cities, not into prisons, not into hospitals and places of illness. God can go into schools and communities, places where people have no hope.

Any time we think there is someplace where God can’t go, we’re making a mistake. We are limiting God. And God has no limits.

So this vision isn’t just about road construction. It’s about God being able to go anywhere. It’s saying that God can make a new road map for us, and the way will open. If you feel that your way is blocked, or if you feel that society’s road is a gridlock, ask yourself if God can change that. If God wants to go somewhere, a way will open. Never doubt that. Whatever the barrier, God can make a way.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all people together will see it.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

When we look ahead to the future, it’s easy for us to feel discouraged. When we look all around us, it’s easy to see failure. I don’t want to dwell on the negative. There are plenty of other people to do that for me. I watch the news the same as you all do. There are plenty of people saying how bad things are, or how much worse they’re going to be.

What Isaiah says this morning, and it’s part of the Christmas message, and it’s what people
needed to hear back when they were waiting for Jesus, is, “Lift up your eyes and see God’s glory. Lift up your hearts, and put your hope in God!”

In another place, Isaiah says,

Strengthen your hands, that have lost their strength;
Steady your knees, that are shaking with fear;
Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong! Do not fear!
Your God is coming, he is coming to save you!”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of those who can’t hear will be unplugged.
The lame will leap like a deer,
And those who can’t speak will shout for joy. . .” (Isaiah 35:3-6)

I’ve never been sure if the blindness and deafness Isaiah is talking about are literal, physical handicaps, things which people are born with or which are caused by accident. Or is he talking about moral blindness, not seeing the suffering of people around us? Is he talking about being deaf to the cries of the poor and the victims of war and injustice?

Are the “lame” Isaiah talks about people who simply can’t walk, or are they people who are immobilized and broken by society? Are the “mute” people who just can’t talk, or have they been silenced?

Either way, Isaiah says, when Christ comes along, things will change. People will shout for joy, because the Savior has come.

We’re all going to celebrate the birth of Jesus in our own different way. And that’s fine. Just don’t forget what it’s all about. Remember whose birthday it is. Remember the reason for the season.

When you give, remember Christ. When you light your trees and candles, remember Jesus, the Light of the world. Whenever you have a party or a meal, remember there’s an extra guest at your table.

When you’re discouraged and look down, take heart, and lift up your eyes. When you don’t know how to go forward, remember that God can make a way.
And always remember to look for God’s glory. It’s always around us. It’s always near.

Merry Christmas!

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