Matthew 11:2-11; Isaiah 35:1-10
“‘Tis the season to be jolly.” Or so one popular secular Christmas song tells us anyway. But at this time of year, you can’t miss it. The sights and sounds of Christmas are everywhere! In the malls. On the radio. In restaurants. Christmas songs – both sacred and secular. Some are rather silly, but many speak of the tremendous joy of this season.
And they’re right. We Christians do have good reason to celebrate and rejoice. Christmas is coming. The Savior of the world has come near.
Amazing, isn’t it? That the birth of a baby could bring us this much joy – year after year after year.
Let me tell you a story told by the late Dr. Bryant Kirkland. He had been at one time the pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. He tells of traveling to preach on the West Coast one winter:
“I needed the time on that three hour flight to study and prepare,” he said, “so I buckled down and let everyone near me feel the tension – that said, ‘don’t bother me. I’m a busy man with places to go and work to do.’
“And wouldn’t you know it, a young woman and a baby slipped into the seat next to mine. I thought, ‘This will be difficult.’ So I kept a straight face, and looked very Presbyterian.
“It lasted for about six minutes. Pretty soon this little boy began fussing around. ‘Man, man,’ he cooed at me. I couldn’t resist. So I put my sermon back into the briefcase, picked him up out of the seat, and just loved him all the way across the country.
“When we landed in Los Angeles, his mother said to me, ‘Thank you for doing that. He lost his father not long ago, and he has no man to muss him up like that and love him. Thank you so very much.’”
“And Dr. Kirkland realized as he got off the plane and pushed into the crowd, just how much joy and peace that little boy had brought into his own heart, when he least expected it would happen.”
Sometimes – well, maybe almost all of the time – a child will do that for us. One of the reasons I love doing baptisms. I get to hold that child in my arms. I mean, you just watch sometime – watch as I sway back and forth. It’s involuntary. Sometimes I don’t even know I’m doing it.
We eww and ahh over newborns. And sometimes a child can even get into the heart of a man or a woman that has been locked up tight for years. You know what I mean?
Folks – isn’t THAT what Advent and Christmas are all about? Isn’t that it? Isn’t that why Jesus came? To unlock hearts that have been locked up tight for years? We do indeed celebrate –every year we celebrate – his coming to us and living among us as a human being – but born as a baby. And what joy!
He came – and he still comes to us – to open up our hearts. To set us free. Free from the big three. Do you remember what they are? Sin, death, and the devil or evil. AND he came to bring us joy!
In our Gospel reading today from Matthew, disciples of John the Baptizer come to Jesus asking on behalf of John, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we wait for another?” What does Jesus say?
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
The blind receive their sight,
The lame walk,
The lepers are cleansed
The deaf hear
The dead are raised
The poor have good news brought to them.”
This is not a coincidence! What Jesus is saying is that He Himself is fulfilling the ancient hope spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. We heard Isaiah’s message in our first reading today just a few moments ago. Isaiah chapter 35. So Jesus says, “Go tell John what you see and hear. The blind see – the deaf hear – the lame walk – the poor have good news preached to them. I am the One – and besides me, there is no other.” Is it any wonder that so many who come into contact with Jesus are filled with joy!
Is it any wonder that we who meet Jesus here today are filled with joy – and especially at this time of year! Listen. The Hebrew language has a wonderful word – a wonderful name – that is given to Jesus. We hear that name a lot at this time of year. And that word – you’ve heard it before – that word, that name is Immanuel. And it means “God with us.”
Let me point out to you another sentence in our reading from Isaiah. “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.”
And you know what? God did come. God has come. God incarnate. God in the flesh. God in the person of Jesus Christ. And because of Jesus, there is a way out of our darkness – there is a way out of our sinfulness. A way out of those things that rob us of joy. God has come. And God still comes to us today. We are not alone because of Jesus – Immanuel – God is still with us today.
As I look at the world the way it is these days, and you know, you can talk about this need, that need, and the other need. But you know what the world’s greatest need right now is? What your need and my greatest need right now is? The thing that we want the most? We want God. We want to know that God is a part of our lives, and that God cares, and that God is with us. And with us to bring all the hope and the peace and the joy and the love that God so desperately want to give. Those are what we want. Those are what we need.
Think about it. Why in the world do people make such a fuss at this time of year? Why? It is to acknowledge that Jesus is “God with us!” We make a fuss to celebrate that Jesus is our Immanuel!
Quite often – in fact prit near every week – I pray that the Holy Spirit will invade and infiltrate this place. I pray that the Holy Spirit would invade and infiltrate the hearts and minds and lives of everyone – all of us – who gather here week after week after week. Especially those among us who just might have their hearts locked up tight. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will come to make a difference.
And you know what? The Holy Spirit does come. And He does invade and He does infiltrate and He reveals Jesus Christ to us.
And then, what does Jesus do? Well, one of the things Jesus does is to come to bring us joy! The problem for us is that there are too many joy stealers out there. There are often circumstances beyond our control that steal our joy. Sometimes there are even voices that tell us, “You have no right to be happy.” Don’t listen to them. These are the joy stealers – the things that steal your joy.
A man by the name of Richard Leider tell of a time when he was leading a backpacking safari in East Africa. He says:
“I had a state of the art backpack loaded with every gadget imaginable. My group was accompanied by a Masai chief who carried a knife and a stick only. At the end of the day, I was completely exhausted while the chief was fresh as a daisy. He asked me to show him what was in my pack. As I did – explaining why each item was crucial – he asked me, “But does all of this make you happy?”
“I ended up leaving about half of my stuff in the Masai village. Actually, I could have left more.”
Folks, Jesus came to relieve us of the unnecessary baggage we carry around. He came to bring us joy. We don’t have to listen to the voices from the past that tell us that we’re no good. We don’t have to listen to the voice of sin and guilt and shame.
Why? Because Jesus, our Immanuel, has come near.
As we approach the manger this Christmas. Please notice that the manger is a very small space. And then please notice that there isn’t room in there for all that baggage we carry around. And you know – we all do. We all have extra – unnecessary baggage that we carry around with us.
And then I want you to remember – I want you to notice – that that tiny manger leads to a cross. That’s where I want you to leave your baggage. Leave your baggage there at the foot of the cross. All the “you’re no good” messages from the past. All the joy stealers – the things that steal your joy. Leave them there. And don’t pick them up again. DON’T pick them up again!
Remember that Jesus came to bring us life – the abundant life. A life filled with joy.
This past week, I was listening to NPR in my car. I heard the same program twice. And both times I heard the moderator quoting someone who said, “I will to joy.” And I said to myself, “I’m going to use that phrase in my sermon this weekend. Want to hear it again? “I will to joy.”
Folks, let me ask you. Do you have the will to joy? Are you here today to awaken to joy? God our Immanuel is here. Jesus has come. He has come to bring us joy. So no matter where you’ve been. No matter what you’ve done. And if you’re prone to wander – no matter how long you’ve been away. Jesus has come. He comes to you – to forgive you – to be with you – and to have your joy restored.
So ‘tis the season… to be jolly?” Nah! Tis the season to be joyful!
So awaken to joy! Choose to have the will to joy. Why? Because Christ has come. Our Immanuel. God. Is. With. Us.