Sermon: "Cause for Rejoicing"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 61.10-62.3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3.23-25, 4.4-7; John 1.1-18
Throughout Advent, our readings have focused on the coming of a long-awaited Messiah. On Christmas
Eve we celebrated the Incarnation. Now it is time for rejoicing in the Messiah!
Let’s briefly review some of the scriptures pertaining to the coming of the Messiah. The first reference is found in Genesis 3, immediately after the Fall, when God curses the serpent for having tempted Eve: “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel’” (Vss. 14-15; NRSV).
In Isaiah 7.14, we find, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (NRSV). “Immanuel” means “God with us.”
In Micah 5.2, we discover the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (NRSV).
And on Christmas Eve, we read the great prophecy found in Isaiah 9.6-7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (NRSV).
The gospels were written to reveal Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. However, for centuries the Jewish people had long expected a Messiah who would be a strong military and political leader, one who would rule as king and usher in an era of peace. After all, Isaiah said the Messiah would reign on David’s throne: he would usher in an era characterized by the greatness of government and peace which would last forever. Lest we wonder about the reluctance to accept Jesus as the Messiah, was any model other than an ideal king wielding power and might for the good of the nation available? From the standpoint of worldly power and prestige, Jesus was a failure.
If we accept the message of the gospels, we come to realize God had something different in mind. The suffering servant passage of Isaiah 53 provides a more accurate description, a more fitting image, of what to expect and of what Jesus experienced:
5 He was pierced for our offenses, He was crushed for our wrongdoings; The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off from the land of the living For the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due? 9 And His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
Here we search in vain for a king who would wield military might and power.
Matthew also records how John the Baptist, during his imprisonment, sent word to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus sent word, “Go and tell John what you see and hear: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11.2-6; NRSV). This was, and is, cause for rejoicing!
Although Jesus did not give John a direct answer, Jesus told John the prophecies he read throughout Isaiah were being fulfilled:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn (Isaiah 61.1-2; NRSV; cf. Isaiah 29.18-21, 35.5-6).
This is cause for rejoicing.
In the beautiful prologue to the gospel of John we read, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people’ (1.3b-4; NRSV). John then tells us of John the Baptist who came to “testify to this light, so that all might believe through him … the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1.7,9; NRSV). Those who believe in his name “he gave the power to become children of God” and “From his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1.12, 15-17; NRSV). This is cause for rejoicing!
A few verses after the prophet Isaiah says, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he declares, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61.10; NRSV). This is the experience of grace upon grace. This is cause for rejoicing!
The psalmist tells us what rejoicing looks like: “How good it is to sing praises to our God! How pleasant it is to honor him with praise! … Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God upon the harp” (Psalm 147.1, 7; BCP). In the last issue of the Messenger, I invited you to share your faith story. I hope you accept this invitation, for when sharing your faith story, you are singing praise to the Lord with thanksgiving; you are singing a new song! You are rejoicing!
And to cap all this off, in Galatians we read: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (4.4-7; NRSV). And this, my friends, is the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is a gift like no other! It is cause for rejoicing!