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Worship Series: The Promise
Worship Theme: Freedom and Joy
First Lesson & Sermon Text: Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11 (EHV)
Music: CW 23 Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel, CWS 771 I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light, Confession of Faith, Lamb of God, CW 12 Hark the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes (in worship folder)
Grade 1: Luke 1:26-38 and The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came
Message Notes & Growth Group Questions
Watch the livestream beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.
Message: Freedom and Joy
“What do you want for Christmas?” It’s getting down to crunch time! Unless you’re a last-minute shopper, now is the time to answer that question. Everyone needs to know! So, what do you want for Christmas?
Everyone’s list of “wants” will be different. Kids probably have their eyes on the newest doll—an animatronic version of Baby Yoda. Maybe a remote control parrot that flies is on their list. Did you know that Care Bears have made a comeback? They might look good under the tree! Does anyone have Hexbugs on their list? My nieces both asked for them. I had no clue what they were talking about until I looked them up. How cool is it to build your own little robotic “bugs”? Lego sets are always exciting to find under the tree, and they aren’t just for kids—plenty of adults wouldn’t mind finding the Lego Death Star set or the 1989 Batmobile, or even James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5! Of course, how many phones, PlayStation 5’s or XBox X’s, tablets, or virtual reality goggles made our lists?
What do you want for Christmas? Maybe 2020 has made you rethink your Christmas list. Instead of a pile of presents under the tree “I want an end to COVID and social distancing and quarantining and business closing and job losing?” “I want to go out to a movie, sit next to my friend with a big bucket of popcorn and a giant Coke, and lose myself in laughter? “I want to get rid of this mask - I’m tired of fogged up glasses and forgetting to pull it down when I want to take a drink!” Maybe your Christmas list simply reads, “I want my entire family to be able to gather at church and around the dinner table like we always have!”
Or, does your “want” list go even deeper? “I want to feel like I matter - I feel so low and dark, I don’t know what to do.” “I want my husband back. It has been so difficult since he died. How could he leave me now?” “I want to feel safe. The way he talks to me, controls me, even threatens me. I am constantly afraid.” “I want to be out from under this debt. My bills are such a burden!” “I want a change. I feel trapped in this job, in this house, in this life!”
What do you want for Christmas? We want a lot of things. No matter what we find under the tree this year, we won’t get everything we want. We probably won’t even get a fraction of what we want. When it comes to COVID or those even deeper wants, we might not get anything on our list. Do you know why? We live in a messed-up world, and the cause of it all is simple - SIN. It was no different for the people of Isaiah’s day. Last week Pastor Jake shared the struggle that lay ahead for Isaiah’s people. They were dealing with daily violence, chaos, political and social unrest. Instead of turning to the LORD for the help they needed, they rejected him. They took matters into their own hands. They climbed over each other to get ahead. They worshiped gods made of wood and stone, forgetting that human hands formed them from those materials. Isaiah had to bring a dreadful message. The Babylonians would smash the walls of Jerusalem, flatten Solomon’s beautiful temple, and carry off Judah’s best and brightest. The nation would spend 70 years exiled in a foreign land. They would get what they deserved.
What do we deserve? What do I deserve? There are times I feel worthless! I don’t deserve a pile of gifts under my Christmas tree. I deserve worse than anything COVID has to offer. I deserve everything bad that happens to me, and more. Even worse, I deserve to die for all the things I’ve done wrong. I’m also pretty selfish. I don’t bring peace on earth. I’m all about peace for me and forgetting about everyone else. I am not very generous. I’d rather keep what I have for myself. I’m not very empathetic. Who cares how you feel when I’m the one who’s hurting! Some days I’m worthless. Some days I’m selfish.
Then we look at Isaiah 61. The LORD promised to send someone who will give us everything we NEED for Christmas. He’s piled all kinds of gifts under the tree. We don’t deserve them. We haven’t earned them, but he’s giving, and who doesn’t like free stuff?!
Here’s the first gift that we NEED. “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the afflicted” (Isaiah 61:1 EHV). The Hebrew word for “afflicted” is עֲנָוִ֗ים . It portrays victims of either physical, emotional, and spiritual attacks. Does that describe you during 2020? I think it touches all of us. We understand “afflicted.” It’s either us, or it’s affecting the people we love. The LORD says, “Don’t worry about affliction! Check out what I’ve put under the tree for you. It’s exactly what you need!” Good news. Good news? I haven’t heard much on the news lately that’s good. In fact, I’ve been turning off the news because I’m tired of hearing reports limited to COVID updates and how divided our country is. What good news? The 1st graders shared it with us today. They repeated the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary: “Listen, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31 EHV). Jesus! Savior! Jesus would come and save us from our afflictions. He came to save us from our worthlessness, our selfishness, and our sin. Jesus’ saving work is the first gift that we NEED this Christmas, and God has given him to us!
There are plenty of gifts left under the tree. “He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1 EHV). When you fall down and scrape a knee, or a knife slips during meal preparation, we start bleeding a little bit. When that happens we need a ... band aid! Mom puts one on, gives us a little hug and kiss, and it’s all better. It’s not so easy to put a bandaid on a broken heart. Ah, but Jesus can! Jesus can bandage and even heal that brokenness. That’s what he came to do! Do you know how he bandages those wounds? Just like mom, Jesus surrounds us with his love. His arms go around our shoulders as he listens to us pour out our troubles with tears and deep, shuddering sighs. As the hurt pours out he’s there to murmur in our ear, “It’s okay. I’m here. I’ve got you. Jesus has you.” We NEED Jesus to bandage up our broken hearts this Christmas!
More gifts? More gifts! Jesus would come “To proclaim freedom for the captives and release for those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1 EHV). We’ve all had to wrestle the concept of freedom this year. How can our nation free itself from its entanglement with with slavery and racism and stereotypes? How can we set ourselves free from hatred and envy and strife? We can’t. Jesus can! He has proclaimed freedom from the underlying cause of all our problems - we are set free from sin! He has released us from hatred! When Jesus died on the cross, he smashed the chains holding us back and dragging us down. We are free to love others as he loved us. We are free to see that every nation, tribe, people, and language belongs to him. “There is not Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one and the same in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 EHV).
Have you ever received one of those gifts where a whole bunch of boxes are all connected and wrapped with a beautiful bow? It looks amazing, and there’s a lot to open! Jesus came “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a cloak of praise instead of a faint spirit, so that they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD to display his beauty.” (Isaiah 61:2–3 EHV). Wow—Jesus has given us so much to open and enjoy!
Jesus came to announce “the year of the LORD’s favor.” That phrase refers to the Year of Jubilee, something the LORD commanded his people to do, but there’s no record that they celebrated it. In the Year of Jubilee, every 50th year, slaves were to be freed, family lands returned, and God’s people were to celebrate it as a special year of rest for themselves and their land. It was a picture of the rest Jesus came to offer - rest from the burden of sin and shame. Jesus also came to carry out his judgment against all those who oppose him. He will announce “the day of vengeance for our God.” Those who hurt us, take advantage of us, persecute us, and treat us unjustly will receive what they deserve. If that retribution doesn’t take place here on earth, it will happen in eternity. Jesus promised!
The LORD gives us exactly what we need this Christmas. Comfort. Pastor Jake reminded us of that comfort, comfort last week. Out of that comfort comes even more gifts. A crown of beauty - Jesus wants you to see your true beauty in the mirror, the beauty of a soul he loved enough to die for! The oil of joy - better the most elegant perfume, Jesus wants your life to exude joy so everyone around you can smell it! A cloak of praise - Jesus has clothed you with his perfection so you will praise him. No dark, dull, faint spirit here. Just one that can’t hold back! A spirit that has to shout, clap, and sing his praises! What an amazing pile of gifts, and we NEED every last one of them!
Do you remember the first time you saw the Christmas tree decorated and lit, with piles of gifts underneath? What was that feeling like? I know I was pretty excited! I jumped up and down! I shouted, “Christmas!” That childlike joy is a memory of Christmas past I will never forget. How do we react when we see God’s pile of gifts that we NEED? “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD. My soul will celebrate because of my God, for he has clothed me in garments of salvation. With a robe of righteousness he covered me, like a bridegroom who wears a beautiful headdress like a priest, and like a bride who adorns herself with her jewelry” (Isaiah 61:10 EHV).
Remember last week how Isaiah said, “Comfort, comfort”? Today we hear him say, “I will REJOICE REJOICE!” There’s that Hebrew way of emphasizing something again. I won’t just rejoice, I’ll deep down REJOICE REJOICE! Why? Because we look good! We look perfect. On their wedding day, the bridegroom and bride look amazing. You know the pictures. The photographer captures that moment in time and they are so in love! In that picture they are forever young, forever elegant, forever looking good! That’s what Jesus sees when he looks at us! Forever young, forever elegant, forever looking good, no, PERFECT! That's our reason to REJOICE REJOICE!
What do you want for Christmas? Let’s change that question. What do you NEED for Christmas? God has it covered. You need him and all his perfect gifts to survive this life and make it to heaven. Here’s one final question to ponder. What does God want for Christmas? What does he NEED? He wants and needs you. He wants and needs you to be part of his family, to embrace his love, acknowledge his forgiveness, and rejoice over all the gifts he has showered on you.