Here we are, the third week of Advent. Christmas is just two weeks away. I know that most of the preparations at our house are coming together. Our lights are up on the house. We got a really good tree from the Rotary Club this year. Most of the kids are all planning to be home which will be great. In fact, we learned this week that lots of them will be staying overnight on Christmas Eve which will just be crazy because there’s quite a group of them now. Ruth is getting her baking done. Gifts are being wrapped. There’s still lots to do but things are getting done.
In our house, we take special care to remember why we have Christmas. Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season. I know that not everyone sees it that way. We hear radio and TV spots that refer to the holiday season and happy holidays. To tell you the truth, that used to irk me but it really doesn’t bother me anymore. I know that other religions celebrate their own traditions this time of year. Our Jewish friends have Hanukkah. There are also major Buddhist, Muslin and Zoroastrian festivals that happen in December. And even if people aren’t active in any religious group, even if they are atheists or agnostics, most people in our culture do traditional Christmasy things. So I no longer get bent out of shape when someone says, “Happy Holidays” to me. But I’m still liable to answer with “Merry Christmas” which for most people is quite alright.
Nonetheless, for we who call ourselves Christians, this is very special time of the year because it is about the birth of Jesus. That is what it is about. For Christians, Christmas is about Christ and, as Christians, we need to be willing to tell that story.
ARE YOU THE MESSIAH?
That’s what today’s reading from Matthew is all about. It is about telling the story of Jesus. The story is framed in an interesting manner. It’s not in Bethlehem. There is no stable or manger or inn with no vacancy. The scenario, rather, is that John the Baptist – Jesus’ cousin – has been thrown into prison and he has sent some of his disciples to find who exactly Jesus thinks he is.
It starts off in Matthew 11:2-3 (NIV) which says, “When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” You might wonder what that’s all about. Let me explain.
2,000 years ago, Israel was under Roman occupation. The people of Israel were not thrilled about this because, even back then, they were very proud and independent. And so they yearned for the day when they would be free.
They also were aware of the Old Testament prophets who spoke about a coming Messiah who would rescue and redeem the people. Specifically, they would be familiar with Isaiah 35:3-4 (NIV) which says this;
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
The prophet Isaiah is speaking to people who are afraid and whose knees give way. He tells them not to be afraid, to not tremble because God will come to rescue them. With divine retribution he will come to save them. They call this person the Messiah.
Isaiah 35:5-6 (NIV) also says something about what this Messiah will do:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
This passage talks about how the Messiah will heal. He will open the eyes of the blind and enable the deaf to hear. But he won’t stop there. He also will bring miracles. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. So we have healing and miracles as signs of the Messiah.
Can you remember what Jesus did? He became famous for his healings and miracles. People read the words of the prophet Isaiah about the coming Messiah and saw Jesus doing healings and miracles and naturally wondered if he might be the long awaited Messiah that the Old Testament prophets foretold. Lots of people asked that question. Peter believed that it was true. In Matthew 16:16 (NIV), when Jesus asked him who the people thought he was, Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” It appears that the word was getting around.
No wonder John the Baptist is asking the question. Everyone else is asking the same question. Can Jesus be the Messiah? Is he the one who is going to save them and redeem them?
Of course he is. Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah. The people are looking at the right man. They are asking the right question. What they get wrong is what the Messiah is supposed to do. They are expecting a political Messiah, one who will save and redeem the people from Roman occupation. Jesus comes to redeem the people but it isn’t from Roman oppression. It is from something far greater. Jesus comes to redeem us from the tyranny of sin.
John asks the right question. It is the same question everyone is asking. Is Jesus the Messiah. Let’s listen to Jesus’ answer in Matthew 11:4-6 (NIV) which says this:
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Jesus, as he does so often, refuses to give John’s disciples a direct answer. He could have said, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” or, “No, I am not the Messiah.” But he doesn’t do that. Instead he gives them statements to think about. He challenges them to consider what they have seen and heard. While he does it with statements, he could just as easily have done it with questions. He could have said, “What do you hear? What do you see? Do those things match up to what the Old Testament prophets said about healings and miracles? You go and tell John that. Tell him what you hear. Tell him what you see. And then I’m pretty sure you’ll figure it out.”
Jesus has a way of making the people think for themselves. He never spoon feeds his disciples with easy answers to tough question. He never backs down or candy coates issues when challenged by powerful people either in the synagogue or in government. He just lays things out there and says, “Look at the evidence. You’re bright people so figure it out.”
He says the same thing to us in more ways than one. What do you hear? What do you see? Is Jesus the Messiah who was to come to save and redeem his people or isn’t he? What do you hear? What do you see? Does that match up with what the prophets said or doesn’t it?
The amazing thing about Jesus is that he fulfills so many of the Old Testament prophecies. This is true even in his birth. The prophet Micah says this about the Messiah in Micah 5:2 (NIV):
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
And as we know from the Christmas story, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) talks about the Messiah’s mother: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” That was fulfilled in Mary who had not lain with a man before Jesus was born.
Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NIV) says that the Messiah will be born from David’s line.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’
We see that fulfilled in the genealogies published in both Matthew 1 and Luke 3.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the fulfillment of prophecy. What do you hear? What do you see? Armed with all of that, go figure it out. Do you think Jesus is the Messiah or not. Is he the one who was foretold or isn’t he?
And if that isn’t evidence enough, look at what he has done in the lives of people. I’ve never done this before but I believe that if I asked anyone in this room to talk about the difference Jesus has made in their lives that everyone would have a story to tell. I’m pretty sure that some of you could pop up right now and tell your story. Some of you would have to think about it a bit. And then there are the introverts who would just try to make themselves as small as possible and hope that I don’t call on them. But that’s not because they don’t have a story to tell. They just don’t like getting up to speak in public.
Personally, I don’t know what I would do without Jesus in my life. He gives me strength when I am weak. He gives me guidance when I am lost. He brings people into my life and into this church at just the right time to meet needs that I sometimes don’t even know I had. I could go on but just suffice it to say that since Jesus became the centre of my life, my world has been a very different place and I am so thankful for that.
JESUS TELLS A STORY
Jesus tells John’s disciples to tell John what they have seen and heard, that the blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the dead are raised to life. And then Jesus turns the tables a bit and starts to talk about John. Listen to his words in Matthew 11:7-11 (NIV):
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
It’s interesting. Jesus told John’s disciples to consider what they had heard and seen about him. But now Jesus does the same thing with the crowd when he asks them what they see and hear in John. Who is he? What do they remember about him. Is he a reed swaying in the wind? No. Is he dressed in fine clothes? No.
What do they see? They see a prophet. And then Jesus quotes another Old Testament prophecy, Malachi 3:1 which says there will be someone who will prepare the way for the Messiah and he applies that to John. He is the messenger. He is the forerunner. He is the one who is to prepare the way for the Lord. And so Jesus tells John’s story.
Just as Jesus told John’s story, we are called to tell Jesus’ story. That’s important because his story is the greatest story ever told. From his birth to his death, from his resurrection to his ascension, we need to know his story and we need to share that story.
Christmas time is a great time to start doing that. It doesn’t matter if others may call this the Holiday Season. We can still call it Christmas. It doesn’t matter if there various religions groups claiming this season as their holiday. They can do that. Be we can still talk about Christmas. It doesn’t matter if there is a Santa Claus parade in town. There is nothing wrong with that because we can still decorate our churches and our homes with nativity scenes that speak of Jesus’ birth. Mariah Carey can sing All I Want for Christmas Is You at the top of her lungs. It’s a fun song and she’s a great singer. But We Can Still sing Joy to the World and Go Tell It on the Mountain with great gusto. There is no one standing in the way of us tell the story of Jesus’ birth except for ourselves.
And here’s the other thing to think about. If we don’t tell it, no one will. It is our mission to share the Christmas story. It is our responsibility to remind people of the angels, the shepherds and the wisemen, it is our duty to share the good news that Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
And finally, I want to say this. Don’t just tell Jesus’ story. Tell your own story. It’s the story about what Jesus means to you. How has he touched your life? How has faith made a difference in your life? How has your relationship with Jesus changed you in a positive way? Tell that story because, of all the stories, that is the one that will touch others the most. That is the simple story that will move people, the story that is most likely to plant seeds of faith in the lives of those who hear it so that they might say, “If Jesus has meant so much in Sally’s or Ron’s life, maybe I should start looking at it myself and think more about this child born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger.”
You may not have a great big stage with millions of viewers watching but you have the stage that God has given to you. That stage may be your house and your family members. That stage may be your neighbourhood or where you work or where you go to school. That stage may be something as simple as the checkout counter where you’re paying for Christmas presents or groceries. It may be the library or the reception desk at the doctor’s office. That stage may change a dozen times a day but it’s your stage and with your words and with your actions and with the way you treat people, you proclaim what Luke wrote in Luke 2:11-12: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David as Saviour who is Christ the Lord and this shall be a sign to you. You shall find the baby wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger.”
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, God of Advent, anticipating all that you make available to us. You give us life. You give us joy. You fill us with love and compassion. Thank you for your blessings. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for coming to us in the form of a tiny baby born in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem.
Thank you for Jesus’ life. Thank you, also, for his sacrifice that made it possible for all people to be in relationship with you, abolishing the hostility and barriers that once separated us from one other and from you. Enable us to recognize those barriers where they exist and to do what we can to break them down that all people may be one.
We lift up in prayer those who will find this Christmas to be a difficult time. For many there will be an empty seat around the table this year. For others there may be hardships caused by a loss of job or health concerns. Others, still, will be facing the reality of broken relationships and heartache. Lift us, O God, above our sorrow and enable us to look with hope to the better day that you have promised.
We pray for the sick, at home or in hospital. Give them strength. Give them healing. Give them hope and wholeness of spirit.
Great and Holy God, we can hardly begin to comprehend the amazing depth of your love. You made yourself available to us even before we knew who you were. At times our patience is so small that we can hardly wait for the good things that you have promised in your heavenly Kingdom. Help us to wait upon you for all things and to trust that you will fulfill the promises that you have made in Jesus Christ our Saviour. We await his coming at Christmas. We await, also, his coming again in the fullness of time. As we wait, fill us with your patience as you fill your creation with love and compassion for all things. We raise these prayers to you in Jesus’ name.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 11, 2022 / Advent 3
Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; Luke 1:47-55 (Alt. Res.); James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us praise God as long as we live;
Blessed are those whose help is in the Spirit;
Christ’s reign will last forever;
Praise God, O my soul.
Praise God, O my soul. Praise God for the redemption that is ours in Christ. Praise God that love glistened from a stable in Bethlehem. Praise God that in amongst the rude and ordinary things of Creation, a Saviour was born to shine light into the world. Shine that light upon us now, O God of Love. Fill us anew with your Spirit and with the new life that you have promised. Praise God, O my soul.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
The desserts shout for joy and the rocks sing your praises. But we have been guilty of falling away. The road that you set before us is straight and easy to follow. But there are times when we choose another path. We prepare our homes for Christmas but we forget to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child. We bake and cook our feasts but we put the hungry out of our minds. We ensure that there are many gifts under our trees but we neglect the needs of the poor. Convict us, forgive us and place our feet firmly upon the way of Christ.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God’s love is shown most clearly and profoundly in Jesus who was born at Bethlehem. He gave his life as a sacrifice for us that we may receive the gift of eternal life. By his wounds we are healed.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We come to you with our offerings, O God, meager though they may be compared to the abundance with which you have blessed us. In faith, we turn to you and ask that you would bless us and our gifts.
The love of Christ is shown in this world by the way we love one another. May God’s compassion and peace be with us as we share the Good News of salvation.