The Star of Christmas – 3 Dec 2023

Isaiah 64:1-9

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to
 our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins for ever.
Oh, look upon us we pray,
for we are all your people.

Seems to me that two worlds collide at Christmas time, and the collision caused discomfort for both worlds.

This is because Christmas remains the only Christian holy day that is also a major, if not the major holiday in our western culture. Millions celebrate Christmas from both worlds at the same time.

Over these last decades we followers of the Star of the whole thing, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Son, notice more and more of the story around Christmas is being replaced by a whole other story not related to biblical roots of the holy day at all. We are moving rapidly from ‘Joy to the World’ to “here comes Santa Clause’ and ‘Have a holly, jolly Christmas’.

We wonder whether the day will come when there is nothing left of the biblical story in the story. We feel sadness about that and the discomfort and long for more.

But, for people not particularly connected to the biblical foundation of this holy day that has become a juggernaut holiday, the biblical story still gets enough of a run anyway in two main places – in the shopping centre and the Christmas pageantry.

It must be a little irritating for many people to hear those words about ‘born to give us second birth’ and ‘everlasting Lord, Prince of Peace’ when shopping with the kids. “What is a ‘second birth’ and why do we need that, Dad?”. What is a ‘Lord’ and who is the ‘Prince of Peace’ and why, Mum?”.

It is not that the real Star of this ‘Christmas show’ has not changed. It is that he is just less heard, less recognised, less invited to his own celebration! We seem to be relentlessly searching for other ‘stars’ to give us some joy and inspire us to keep on living life.

Is that you? Is that me? Would we allow the real star of Christmas to not only inspire us and make us all happy, but allow him to save you, love you, transform you, into a deep joy that is beyond the things of Christmas so you can love and forgive and contribute his light in so much darkness we know is at work in people’s lives?

Christmas does not begin with shiny stuff. It begins in Advent and Advent always starts with hard stuff and a desperate cry for help from a forlorn and fearful people.

The cry is essentially, “Do something, God!”

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!

 

Why is it imperative that God be in our world? Because we know darkness within and without.

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to[
b] our sins.

And why is that so bad?

In other words, without the promised and presence of God, we are gone; swept away from the light, as unclean as a grease rag in the shed; shriveled up inside; on the edge of death, isolated, alone, left to ourselves and our own ingenuity and technology and thinking, hoping for best with no sure hope for the best now or later on.

Do something God!

This feels like this is our cry in this war-torn year, and we are not even close to the wars! But we have battles enough to face. The ancient plea from the prophet is our plea still.

God, do something and do it now. I am struggling. We are struggling. The world is not improving and might be getting worse.

Money is tight. Conditions are all wrong. People close to me are in great pain. I have lost people. I am worried about the future.

Yes. Star of the morning, do something.

But waiting is so hard! So often we do not wait for him to act or recognize that he has in this baby of flesh and blood and bones in a cow shed. We keep looking for other stars; other enlightenment for the soul.

Science, technology, human genius, human genes, now Ai; are these our stars?

The late Tim Keller makes the point that ‘If you are like philosopher, Bertrand Russell; if you don’t believe there is any God or supernatural, transcendent dimension to reality at all, and you turn to science to illuminate you, things end up looking darker.

Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which science presents for our belief….

 

That Man (sic) is the product of [natural] causes which had no pre-vision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of [mere] accidental co-locations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism or intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve and individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of our solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievements must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins…

Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built”.

Oh boy! It is only in our complete giving up of any belief in any star of hope beyond us and complete giving into the reality that we are the result 100% natural accidental causes and forces that we can begin to build our life.   Merry Christmas, Bertrand!!

Thank the Lord that Isaiah says the exact opposite. He tells us not to look with within or just here at what we experience, but look up, look to, look for…

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,

 

He urges us to look and see and hear God because as we do, it will be like it has been for heaps of people in the past.

For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

 

He speaks of Moses, the mountain, God being with his people; being the shepherd leading them to his promised future in him.

God’s presence delivered in this Star – the child of promise changes everything.

The real star transforms you from isolated and shamed unclean to belonging and free person.

From a grease rag to a pure white altar cloth

From a dying leaf to a flourishing fruit

From someone overwhelmed by the blasts of grief and loss and trouble to strong and true and resistant person of God.

From feeling like God has tuned his back on you to a person who knows God is fully facing you with love and courage to share.

Friends. We have a God;

    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

We turn to face him these Advent days because if God does ‘come down’ then Isaiah’s vision of light and life and hope come with him.

Please find a way to look at the Star of this show. It may mean having less focus on the others ‘stars of the show’.

Begin your Advent with your questions and your cry for some help. Walk into what Christmas has become with a different ear, a different prayer, a different allegiance.

Begin with Psalm 80;

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
     before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us! (Psalm 80:1-2).

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

That can be our prayer in the shops and in the pageantry and in our homes and in our heart.

Restore me, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that I may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

God has shone. We have seen him in the words of his Son. I want him to restore me and you and our world.

Restore me, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that I may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

Or, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come’.

Amen

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