A homily for Christmas II
January 3, 2021
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Isaiah 61:1-3
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A few days ago, I found myself reading the first couple chapters of Genesis, as one is often prone to do at the beginning of the year. I have always found Genesis 1-3 to be extremely helpful in understanding the world in which we live. Understanding God’s goodness in His creative act, and our sin, as it is birthed out of Adam and Eve’s rebellion.
This time, in reading it, the tree of life caught my eye. We don’t hear a lot about the tree of life – but there are two places that it is prominent is in Genesis 1-3, especially after Adam and Eve’s turning away from God, when God puts them out of the garden – puts them away from the tree of life, so that they would not be further tempted to try to become gods themselves.
The second place we read about the tree of life is at the end of Revelation – when the tree of life is placed in the center of the Holy City, when out of the tree of life springs for a river of life, a river of life for all those who dwell in Christ.
We realize, so much was lost in Adam and Eve’s actions, we realize that so much hurt came into the world, and often we don’t really pause to think about this – pause to think about the depth of this pain, but in the curse came animosity between husband and wife, animosity between humanity and nature, came hardness in labor, came distance between God and man, and came death.
This pain we experience in this life, the breaking down of our bodies, the frustration, anger, hatred, and sorrow – this was not how God intended the world to be. But in the creation of men and women – in that final act of creation – God proclaimed the world to be very good.
God created all things and called them good, then placed Adam and Eve in the garden, give them life through His spirit – and said it was very good.
But sin ruined this.
Sin deeply damaged the very good.
And we with Adam and Eve turn our backs on God.
We with Adam and Eve live in animosity towards one another. The ones who were created to be our helpers, the ones who were created to live in step with us – are often the ones with whom we are most prone to clash against.
But God did not leave us hopeless, God promised that one would come who would crush the head of the serpent.
God promised that there would be one who would come at great personal expense – to redeem humanity.
This morning we read of that one again. This morning we read the words of Isaiah – and I want to read the fourth verse with it:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
That which was lost shall be restored:
The ancient ruins will be rebuilt.
The former devastation shall be undone.
The ruined cities shall be renewed.
The devastation which we have created in humanity shall be undone because of the one who would come.
Christ read the first part of this passage as his public ministry began.
Christ read these words and scandalized his hometown.
For he said – as he read “the spirit of the Lord is upon me” that today – today – you see these words fulfilled in me. Christ publicly and boldly proclaimed that He fulfilled these things.
St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John in their gospel accounts set about the task of showing us, by the help of the Holy Spirit, that it is in Christ – that all which was promised of old has been fulfilled.
That Christ is the new Israel – the complete Israel.
That Christ is the perfect priest – the priest who intercedes for broken humanity from his position at the righthand of the Father.
That Christ is the perfect prophet – the prophet who speaks as God and fulfils, renews, and restores God’s covenant with humanity.
That Christ is the perfect prince – the prince of all nations – the king of kings, and the Lord of lords.
That Christ is the redeemer.
That in Christ all will be renewed, that in Christ – the poor have received good news.
This is the good news that our broken spirits – that our sinful ways – that our spiritual death – and physical death has been redeemed. That Christ has made us new.
What more could we want? What more could we desire?
We live in spiritual poverty – we live in nothingness, we live in the darkness of the land and Christ has come to redeem us and many – Christ has come to the weary and given us life, given us rest, given us the cool drink in the heat of the day.
But we must also understand the context of the prophets of Israel – for they speak to a people who are poor and oppressed, who are alone and scared – who are downtrodden.
So, there is the spiritual element – the element in which we recognize our spiritual poverty – but Christ gives hope to the poor as well.
For one – the church becomes a beacon of hope – the church becomes a refuge for all who might enter her – where the poor can find richness, where the lonely can find a family, where the broken can find healing – where sinners like you and I can find our only hope – who is Christ our Lord.
But also – it is through Christ that we have hope for the day when the bread will be free, and the water will not only refresh but bring life.
It is in Christ that we live for the day when God will provide perfectly for all people, where there will be no rich, and there will be no poor, for all will be rich, the day where there will be no suffering – no sorrow – no heart ache – where this will be no economic injustice – but instead perfect provision and perfect fellowship with God.
And what is your reaction when your heartbreaks?
I know that we have all experienced significant sorrow in our lives. I know that we have all had sleepless nights because our hearts have been rent in two and it feels as though life cannot go on, that the hollowness that is left behind – will never be redeemed.
But Christ comes to us in these hours – Christ calls out to us – Christ calls us to rest in Him.
Christ came to bind up the broken hearted.
This last year has been filled with – so much.
With so much heart-ache – so much division – so much sorrow.
Yet, I have seen those who lean into Christ grow in Christ in profound and beautiful ways.
One day after church a month or two ago a few of us were talking about how rough this last year had been – and in my sarcastic and punchy way I said, “I don’t know what you guys are talking about, this year has been great.”
I was, mostly joking – but I have seen so many of you draw nearer to Christ.
I have seen the church rally together to care for her neighbors.
I have seen new friendships blossom.
Was this year hard – heartbreaking – terrible – full of death?
But is Christ’s grace – his mercy – his healing far more persistent than any earthy powers?
Christ’s mercy and life prevail and there is nothing.
no human or natural or spiritual power than can prevail against His love.
For Christ came for a time such as this – Christ came to bind the broken hearted – and not only bind, but to replace our hearts of stones, to replace my stony heart – to replace your heart – with a tender heart of flesh. A heart made for compassion – for love – for grace. A heart made to live for Christ.
And Christ frees to captives.
Have you ever found yourself held captive by a sin?
Have you ever found yourself stuck in a sin that cannot be shaken?
Perhaps you’ve struggled with alcoholism, or drug addiction, or addiction to pornography.
Perhaps you’ve struggled with anger, or bitterness or callousness towards your neighbor or loved one.
Perhaps you’ve struggled with covetousness, or lust.
We all know our own struggles and we all know how deeply entrenched sins can become – how impossible it can seem to shake those sins off.
Christ came to free us from them.
Christ frees men and women from addiction.
Christ frees men and women from the brokenness of their minds.
Christ frees men and women from the imprisonment of death and gives them life.
There is hope – even for the most bound – do not give up – do not despair but lean deeper and deeper into your savior.
The prisons of death and sin are no more for those who believe in Him.
The prisons are shattered, and we are free in Christ.
The prisons are destroyed, and we live in that service of Christ which we proclaim is perfect freedom.
Christ has set us free.
Christ has made us free.
Christ has made this happen.
And then Isaiah gives us a vision – not of Christ’s first visitation – not of the Christ who came in humility and was born in a manger – but of the Christ who will proclaim the final judgment – and the final comfort.
In one sense – Christ’s first visitation – Christ’s ministry two-thousand years ago – was a judgment and redemption.
We saw the world judged against Christ’s perfect righteousness.
But we know that injustice – that evil persists today – and so we long and ache for something better. We long and ache for the kingdom of heaven and we wait for the coming of Christ – we wait and cry out:
Come Lord Jesus, comes.
Come thou long expected Jesus.
Come and finally set the captives fully free. Set us free.
Come and make this upside-down world right again.
Come and finally, fully crush the head of the serpent, and caste away the darkness, cast away his servants who hate what is good.
And we look forward to that day – we look forward to Christ’s coming – when the day of vengeance of our God will come – when God’s favor will be poured out. When All who have mourned will rest in him will be comforted. When all who dwell in wickedness will be judged. When freedom is perfectly secured forever.
When our headdresses of repentance, and sorrow will be turned into crowns of Glory, when we will know and experience God, finally and fully.
The theologian and Christian teacher AW Tozer wrote: “A scared world needs a fearless church”
These words ring true today – in the shadow of so much fear we need to be fearless – in the shadow of so much heartache – we need to bring the balm of healing – we need to have the surety that Christ has done these things that Isaiah wrote of, that Christ has fulfilled all that was said about him, and that he will fulfil them perfectly in the great last day.
And in this –
We are called to be a people who put on a garment of praise – a powerful praise that proclaims God’s goodness – that proclaims God’s faithfulness – that proclaims that God is with us.
That we would not remain tender and bruised reeds – but that we would be transformed to oaks of righteousness – planted in God, planted by God, grown by God, nurtured by God – that God Himself may be glorified.
That we may see his redemption and witness it.
My friends – what we read of from the prophet Isaiah this morning, what we see St. Matthew testify as being fulfilled when we read his gospel account, is fulfilled in Christ.
And this is the good news of the Christmas story.
My friends – Christ has come to redeem the world.
Christ is with us to redeem and restore us.
And Christ will come again.
Let our hearts not be troubled – but let us rejoice – and look forward to that final restoration – which the tree of life will be in our midst and we will dwell with God for all of eternity.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.