December 10, 2008

Advent: A Time to Heal - Dec 10, 2008

Warmest Advent greetings from God our Father and from His Son, the Christ Child. May the Holy Spirit prepare us tonight, through His Word, to properly greet the Christ Child this Christmas. Amen.

What do you do on your birthday? Does your family have some special birthday customs? Perhaps you get to have your favorite meal for supper. Maybe you get out of some of your regular chores. Maybe you even get a party with presents and games.

Regardless of how they are celebrated, birthdays are a part of most people’s lives. But have you ever stopped to ponder WHY we celebrate birthdays? At the office building where I used to work, birthdays were an excuse to stand around eating cheap cake and drinking coffee, but somehow I think there’s more to birthdays than that.

I guess it’s not all that hard to understand why we celebrate the births of the people that we love. We’re thankful that they have been born and that they are a part of our lives.

We celebrate birthdays for other reasons too. Sometimes we celebrate the births of people we’ve never even met because they’re very important people.

In February, Americans celebrate “Washington’s Birthday” or “Presidents Day”, as some states call it. None of us have ever met George Washington, but as one of the founding father’s of our country, he has had a huge impact on our lives. America wouldn’t be what it is today if George Washington hadn’t been born. So we celebrate (or at least remember) his birthday each year.

You know where this is going. Christmas Day, which we are already preparing and decorating for, is on it’s way. Simply described, Christmas Day is Jesus’ Birthday. Christians celebrate Jesus’ birthday for both reasons: because we love Jesus, and because He is very important. He is our Savior and the Savior of the world.

Now, people who don’t know what the Bible says won’t understand what this means. They might ask, “Savior? What has Jesus saved us from?” The angel who spoke to Joseph, gives us that answer to that question.

Remember Joseph? When he had found out that Mary was pregnant, and not by him, he was troubled. Joseph decided to divorce Mary in a quiet way and move on with his life. But then an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said,

Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20b-21 NIV).

This Baby would save his people from their sins. He would heal the broken relationship between God and man. Exactly how the Christ Child would accomplish this healing is recorded in our sermon reading for tonight.

Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

The other day I was talking to a person about God. This person said they had grown up in a church, but I didn’t know what their church had taught them. So I said, “Imagine that you die today. If you stood before the gates of heaven and God asked you, ‘Why should I let you in?’, what would you say?”

I ask people this question when I want to know what they REALLY think is going to get them into heaven.

The man I was talking to said, “Because of good life I’ve led.” Well, actually what he said was that he was a good man, and that he had lived his life better than a of people. So, he hoped God would let him in because of that.

I took the opportunity to tell him that according to man’s standards he might be a good man, but according to God’s standards we all fall short. We’re all sinners who can’t make God happy by our lives. We are sinners who, unless we are cleansed, will be condemned to hell. We cannot hope to enter heaven because of how nice we are, or how bad everyone else is.

In the verse from Isaiah that we read a moment ago, the REAL cause of our salvation is stated FOUR times. Let’s look at it in more detail.

“…He was pierced for our transgressions.”

The Hebrew word for “pierced” can mean anything from a wound that merely hurts, to a wound that kills. In this verse the Hebrew language makes it clear that it is not just a wound, but a piercing through, a killing wound.

The word for “transgression” means sin of course. But when we look in other places where this particular Hebrew word is used we find that it is associated with the idea of rebellion. We might translate,

“He was pierced through, mortally wounded, because of our rebellions.”

As in a lot of Hebrew poetry the next line repeats the same thought with different words.

“He was crushed for our iniquities;”

The Hebrew word for “crushed” is talking about what happens when heavy weight is placed on something. This weight can be enough to bruise, or it can be so much that it crushes what is underneath its load. Again the Hebrew language makes it clear that here it is not just a minor bruising, but a crushing that ends in death.

The word for “iniquities” is another word for sin. But this word emphasizes the guilt that comes with sin. We might translate,

“He was crushed to death because of the sins we were guilty of;”

The final two lines of our Isaiah reading summarize the “take home” of this message.

“the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed”

His punishment, our peace. His wounds, our healing.

This is really a text selection that would be fitting for the season of Lent. It’s all about Jesus’ suffering and death. But it’s fitting to consider this in Advent as well, because the Crucifixion that we think about during Lent is what gives Christmas its meaning.

The true Christmas spirit is excited to look at the Baby in the manger because of the Man that Baby would become. The God-Man who would rout the forces of Evil and set sinners free from punishment through the giving of Himself in their place.

It is a bit of a sad thing to look into the Christmas stable with these things in mind. To think that this little infant’s hands would one day be pierced through with nails. To think that this little child would one day die on a cross because the people He came to help, repaid His immeasurable love with dark hatred. It doesn’t give us a “Christmassy” feeling at all, especially since we know that it is our own sinful words and actions that set this Newborn on the path to such a horrible death.

Standing in the light of the Bethlehem Star, we rarely pause to remember that all light stopped shining on Jesus for three hours during His crucifixion. Even the Father above withdrew from His Son so that He could suffer the full punishment that our sins required.

Let me turn your heart now, from the darkness of Calvary, back to the Bethlehem stable once more. Think for a moment if you will, of young Joseph holding that puffy faced little Newborn Jesus, His little fingers still white and wrinkly. Think of Mary resting from her labor in the light of a small warming fire.

Did you know that some speculate that the stable might have been a little limestone cave that had been made over into a stable? There wasn’t a lot of wood around Bethlehem for building stables like the ones we see in so many nativity sets. And what a fitting thing, if that stable was a made-over cave. For when we look into the Christmas stable we see not only the cross of Christ that would be, but we also see the empty cave that was His three-day tomb. Isn’t this what we see all wrapped up in that little Baby?

The birthday of Christ is precious to Christians because in the manger is the Man who would live, die, and RISE AGAIN because His sacrifice was accepted by the Father.

The NEW LIFE lying in the Manger, is the King who will return in glory to give ETERNAL LIFE to all who trust in Him.

We celebrate this Baby’s birth because of the Man He would become. Because we love this Man who loved us first. Because what He did has forever changed our lives. We would not be who we are today without Jesus. He has made filthy sinners like us into God’s Holy people (God’s Saints).

We were sin-sick and broken creatures separated from our Creator because of our sin. And He has healed us. He has brought us back from the dead of unbelief and has promised that we will live forever with Him in heaven.

If we look to Christ during Advent, it is a time of healing. He removes the shrapnel of sin from us and bandages our wounds with forgiveness and peace. If the Christ we see in the manger is the Christ we see on the cross and that we don’t see in the tomb, then Advent will always be a time of healing.

I invite you to pray with me now.


Father in Heaven, heal us this Advent and Christmas. Heal past relationships that have soured. Heal old pains of body that trouble us. Heal bad habits that we wish to be free from. But first of all, heal our hearts by focusing our minds on Jesus and the unchangeable truth that because of His wounds, our sins have been forgiven. Let this ever be our hope, our refuge, our reason for joy, our purpose in life and our greatest possession. In the name of the Christ Child we pray, Amen.

The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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