It is Christmas Eve 2012. Yesterday’s sermon at the church we attended (Third Avenue Baptist Church), the pastor, Greg Gilbert preached from Isa 9:1-7. The sermon began with a nod to all the Christmas decorations in the church. The sermon was a simple and straightforward explanation of why Christmas exists. After telling a story on himself, he began to unpack the purposes of God’s work in sending his Son.
If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time, these verses will be familiar at Christmas time. I have preached them myself, probably often but not so clearly.
What stayed with me throughout the day was the last sentence of verse 7. I heard something familiar but new and refreshing. After Isaiah explained the great reasons for humanity needing a Savior, the prophet told us how and why God would do it.
We need a Savior because we sit in the darkness of a fallen world. There are oppressive governments and hostilities all around us. Isaiah explains that the hostility exists because humanity is hostile in attitude and status toward God. Not to mention the fact that God is also an enemy to all who rebel against him (Eph 2:15, 16). Is there any place where there are no wars, troops on the march, violence in the land and blood stains every garment (v. 5)? It was true in Isaiah’s day, been true since his day and is true in ours at this Christmas Eve 2012.
But then came a promise made. The promise made is that the Messiah will govern with righteousness, the wisdom and intimacy of a father, establishing lasting peace (so elusive today in most places in the world), and justice for all.
How would God keep the promise? Jesus Christ’s coming was the first step in a promise kept. His life was the second step. His defeat of Satan in the wilderness was the next step. His preaching ministry, training of the twelve, and miracles the fourth step. His sham trial, death on the cross and resurrection were the decisive steps. All of that was for you and me.
For everyone “sitting in darkness” and suffering under the grinding oppression of brutal leaders, corrupt bosses or economic injustice, there is good news: God’s passion for his glory and your good will “accomplish this.”
That’s what caught my attention, right at the end of Greg’s sermon. He got positively passionate about the passion of God. He asked, “Why would God do all this?” For his glory certainly, but also for me . . . and you. God’s passion may be powerful enough to overcome any opposition, but it is a passion with intimacy. It was almost like I heard this for the first time. It wasn’t, but I heard the intimacy of the Father’s whisper say, “The coming of Jesus was to put right many wrong things and to show you that I love you, too.”
The zeal of the Lord is his passion to make a people for his name’s sake to be with them.
That’s what makes Christmas merry.