Reading 1: Isaiah 9:2-7 “I’m Dreaming…”
I’m dreaming… “Yes,” you are probably thinking – “yes, you are dreaming, if you think you can put us in the Christmas spirit during the dog days of July. Whether it is a white Christmas or peace on earth or a nice present from Santa, you are most definitely dreaming.”
That’s okay. The prophet Joel foresaw a day when the young men would see visions and the old men would dream dreams. An announcer at golf’s British Open last week proclaimed that the problem with Tiger Woods is that where he used to be a dreamer he has now become an engineer. Robert Kennedy once said, “There are those who look at the way things are and ask why… I dream of things that never were and ask why not.”
Dreaming is frequently born of discontent, and the dream is about a better day to come. This is certainly true of the period of Israel’s history when messianic dreams came to the forefront. One world power after another marched through, conquering, demanding tribute, carrying off slaves and valuables, destroying and desecrating. Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, eventually Greeks and Romans, all vied for this important crossroads of the world that is Israel. Those who worshiped the God of Abraham and Moses, Joseph and King David, surely expected God to raise up someone in history to accomplish his purposes as each of them did so dramatically.
In the early part of Isaiah, the prophet is concerned with guiding and correcting King Ahaz, and his hope is that God is going to raise up a child from the king’s line who will be different – who will be strong and Godly and courageous and will have the complete backing of God and will bring restoration in every sense to Israel.
We frequently give in to the temptation to dream that out of the next lineup of politicians we are going to find the one. The one who is good and fair and unblemished and courageous and will have the complete backing of God and will bring restoration in every sense.
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s dream did not come until many years later, and it did not come from the political world. The words he used to describe his dream were fulfilled perfectly, it turns out, by Jesus of Nazareth, who was no earthly king, had no army or weapons, and did not engage in politics or whining. God’s way is ever different than what we expect or want, and it is not executed in accordance with our timetable.
So here we are five months ahead of Christmas, 95 degrees every day. I have not seen the first Christmas display in a store or Christmas ad on television. This is what it means to dream, to hope, to wait. Even on days when it seems impossibly far away. Even in a summer when peace on earth or even in South Carolina seems farther and farther away in many ways.
Here, from the “Canticle of the Turning,” is the essence of living into the dream of Christmas: “My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait. You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight, and my weakness you did not spurn, so from east to west shall my name be blest. Could the world be about to turn? My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.”
Reading 2: Luke 2:8-20 “Christmas Every Day”
Where Isaiah tells his dream about what Christmas will be like when it comes, Luke tries to help us know what it was like to be there. From the long, difficult journey due to Caesar’s census to the inability to find a room to the abject humiliation of giving birth surrounded by animal stalls to the fear and astonishment of shepherds listening to an angel choir and announcement, Luke gives us indelible, human interest pictures to remember the story of Christmas.
The temptation from reading Luke is to treat Christmas as a Hallmark moment only, a moment frozen in time on Christmas cards, something we pull out once a year and have warm, fuzzy feelings about and feel moved to generosity and gift giving, then put it all back in the attic. Perhaps it will help to know that the date of Jesus’ birth is not known to us. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 300s, the date of his birth celebration was set as December 25. A number of early church fathers opposed establishing such a birthday celebration, perhaps fearing some of what has happened. It does help us keep time, and it is nice to have occasions to celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises, but today we remember that the birth of Jesus only began the story of God with us. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, every day is Christmas for us, God’s gracious and generous gifts are showered down daily upon us. In turn, we should live every day in the Christmas spirit of joy and gratitude and generosity. Just remembering Jesus on his birthday and his resurrection day is a woefully inadequate response to what he has done for us.
So “Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant; O come ye; O come ye to Bethlehem! Come, and behold him, born the King of angels! O come, let us adore him; O come, let us adore him; O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!” And let’s do that everyday!
Reading 3: John 1:1-14 “Pondering These Things in Our Hearts”
John leads the way in helping us think about the meaning of Christmas for our lives and faith. He helps us understand that this child who fulfilled our dreams and was born in such humble manner was the preexistent Son of God, the light of the world, the Word of God through whom the world was created. In him is life. Yet the Light of the World did humble himself and pitched his tent among us.
We appropriate the year round meaning of Christmas when we begin to reflect deeply on what that means for our lives. When we move past the baby in swaddling cloths, the shepherds, and the wise men, we find the teacher, the healer, the prayer, the intercessor, the feeder, the miracle worker, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, with those stripes we are healed. We grow in grace and understanding when we ponder in our hearts the teaching, the manner of life, the humility, and the servant nature of this one whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
And so we pray along with Phillips Brooks, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us; abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey
July 26, 2015
Central Presbyterian Church