THE MEANING OF MESSIAH
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is a time when we think about Jesus; we think about him being born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem. We think of angels and shepherds and innkeepers. But that is not what the Jewish people thought about when they thought of Messiah. Their ideas were very different.
Messiah to them meant one thing. It meant the Great Deliverer who would rescue the people from oppression and usher in a new era of justice, peace and prosperity. While this was not totally incorrect, it also was not totally right because the Jewish people focused too much of their efforts into fitting the Messiah into their specific situation.
That’s because, Jesus was born, Judah was under Roman control. Caesar was the Emperor, Herod was the King of Judah supported by Roman legions. The Jewish people had always been a fiercely independent people and they highly resented Roman occupation. Therefore, for them Messiah as Deliverer meant that the Messiah would rise up and lead them in rebellion against Rome so that they would be free and independent once more.
That’s why most of the Jewish people missed Jesus when he finally came. They had been waiting for the Messiah for generations but they didn’t recognize him when he arrived because they were looking for the wrong kind of Messiah. They were looking at their present moment but the Messiah is not confined to the present. His mission is eternal.
Like them, we run the risk of trying to fit the Messiah into our situation. The Messiah did not come just for us in our unique circumstance. He came for everyone in every situation. His mission is not to save a few but to bring as many as possible into the light of God’s love. He is the Cosmic Christ and his influence extends beyond time and space.
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming Messiah. Those prophecies, speak of where he will be born, where he would live, the nature of his ministry among many other things. Those prophecies also tell us what family he would be from. To find that out, I’m going to read Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NIV) which says:
“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’
Interesting. It says that the Messiah will be a Branch sprout from David’s line. What does that mean? Let’s find out.
DECORATING THE CHRISTMAS TREE
Let’s begin our journey on a Saturday afternoon in December. At our house, we always decorate the Christmas tree as a family. Everyone has specific jobs. I have two jobs. The first on is to walk down to the Rotary Park in Cottam and buy a Christmas tree. We always get one there because we just have to have real one. One of the kids goes with me and, once we have picked out the perfect tree, we pick it up and haul it the two blocks back home. Then I put it in the tree stand and take it inside so that the boughs can sag down properly. That’s my first job. That’s Saturday. My second job, which happens on Sunday, is to put up the lights. They have to go on first and they have to go on right.
Once the lights are on, my job I basically over. Everyone else then starts putting on the ornament. I know that there are all kinds of opinions about how a Christmas tree should look. Some people like Charlie Brown trees, little spindly ones. Then there are those who like a tree that looks like it comes out of a Better Homes and Garden magazine.
Personally, I think the best people to decorate a tree are children. They aren’t caught up in the idea that the tree needs to be perfect. They just put the stuff on branches wherever it seems to fit. Trees that kids decorate are colourful and chaotic, just like life. The decorations are also limited by how tall the kids are. When ours were young, most of decorations were cluttered in the bottom three feet of the tree. As the kids got older, the decorations moved up. Some of our decorations are new. Some of them were on our parent’s trees when Ruth and I were children. Lots of our decorations are home made. Most have stories behind them and all of them mean something. They are simply a mishmash of what has been collected over the years. They are hung on the branches with care. When the kids were younger, decorating the tree was an exciting night. Now it’s sometimes just Ruth and I and the evening is more reflective than exciting. But it’s still very, very special to watch the branches fill up for another Christmas.
The branches of the Christmas tree ground us in the past. But they also promise hope for the future. Somehow, we know that the tree won’t stay the way it is forever. There is a purpose for putting up a tree and that purpose is to provide a place to put the Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. Therefore, the Christmas tree points us both towards the past and into the future. It’s branches both ground us and give us hope as we await the coming of Jesus.
A BRANCH WILL SPROUT FROM DAVID’S LINE
Jeremiah 33:15 (NIV) says, “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is right and just in the land.” A righteous Branch will sprout from David’s line. A branch. Not a branch from a Christmas tree but a far more important branch. Like the Christmas tree, however, it will do two things for the people of Israel who first hear Jeremiah’s prophecy. It will both ground them in the past and give them hope for the future. How will it do that?
First of all, it grounds them in the past because it reminds them that the Messiah will be from David’s line. David was the second king of Israel. He ruled with justice and fairness. Did he make mistakes? Sure, he did but he did the best job he could humanly do to rule his kingdom in a godly manner.
After David’s death in 970 B.C. all of the legitimate kings of Israel and Judah were his descendants. They were of his blood and his DNA. Some of them were good kings and some of them left a few things to be desired but all of them were legitimate because they shared a common ancestry. Each of them was a branch sprouting from the tree of David.
Jeremiah’s prophecy is interesting because it comes about 400 years after David’s death. It also comes at a very difficult time for the people of Jerusalem. The armies of Babylon are camped outside the city walls. Food is running out. People are dying. That’s why Jeremiah’s prophecy is so profound. “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line…” Those words remind the people of their glorious past when David was king and Israel was the strongest nation in the Middle East. In their time of greatest need, it grounds them to their powerful past.
It also gives them a reason to hope for the future. “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is right and just in the land.” Did you hear the good news? The Messiah is coming. He will be from David’s line. Because he will be from David’s line he will be a legitimate king and he will rule with justice and righteousness in the land. With this prophecy, Jeremiah is saying, “Yes, things look bad now and they are bad. In fact, they are really, really bad. But the day will come when all of the horrors of this day and age will be turned around. The Messiah, the Deliverer is coming. He will be from David’s line and he will rule as David ruled. Do not lose hope! Even though Jerusalem will fall, do not lose hope. For a better day is coming.”
A righteous Branch will sprout from David’s line. There could be no better news for the people of Jerusalem as they wait from the inevitable end at the hands of the Babylonians. The good news is that the darkness will someday give way to light, oppression will give way to freedom and defeat will be swallowed up in victory.
A BRANCH FOR US
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is right and just in the land.” We now have a sense of what those words meant to the Jewish people 400 years before Jesus was born as they waited for Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians. We also know what those words meant to the people of Jesus’ day who were looking for a Messiah to cast off the chains of Roman slavery.
But what do those words mean for us? Let’s look at that now. Like the people of Jeremiah’s day and like those who walked this earth with Jesus, each of us has to deal with various challenges in life. Our concerns may not be Babylonian invasion or Roman occupation but we still have things in our lives that cause us to pause and wonder.
Believe it or not, Christmas is one of the times when those things come to the fore for a lot of people. Sometimes we think that Christmas is all about happy thoughts and coloured lights and ho-ho-ho. While there certainly is that aspect of Christmas, there is also another reality. There are people who will be going through their first Christmas without a loved. There are people who will be going through their first Christmas after a family or relational breakup. There will be people going their first Christmas after a job lose or an economic turndown or maybe this is the first year they will have to accept one of the Christmas hampers that the food bank provides for needy families. Covid-19 has made us all very adept at wearing masks but you never know what’s behind the masks that people wear during the Christmas season. You never know what pain they are holding in or the worries that are eating at them.
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is right and just in the land.” The Branch from David’s line. The decorated branch of the Christmas tree. They remind us of the way things used to be. They ground us in the past. They remind us where we came from.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing to know where you came from because it is in the past that the foundations of our lives were built. It’s like those old ornaments on the tree, the ones from Ruth’s family, the ones the kids made, the ones that hold special memories. They tell us who we are because the remind us of where we’ve been.
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is right and just in the land.” From a tree will come a sprout and from the sprout will come a branch and from the branch will come new green leaves and buds that will bear fruit in due season. A branch not only grounds us in the past. It also points us towards the future.
That’s what the Messiah does for us. That’s what Jesus does for us. In the midst of hardship and sadness, he points to a God who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He points you towards a future in which there will be healing and wholeness. Maybe it will happen in this life, maybe not until the next. But his promise is that it will happen.
Do you remember what the Jewish people thought of the Messiah. He was their Deliverer. Who, from time to time, could not use a deliverer? I certainly could. I’m pretty sure that you could too. Do you know what my hope for you is? My hope is that no matter what you are going through, no matter what hardships or loses you have faced this year, that you can find some of the magic in this season. I’m not saying that you have to jump up and down and pretend that everything is rosy. But each of us can find moments. Each of you can find moments of peace when you are open to experience God’s love and healing grace. If you are one of those people going through tough times, I pray those moments upon you. And I pray that those moments will grow.
When we moved here from Northern Ontario in 2004, one of the things we brought with us was a white pine sapling. That’s important first of all because the white pine is my favourite tree and also because the sapling was given to us by people we cared about dearly and we for them. The very first day we arrived in Cottam, I went out in the backyard and planted that sampling in the back corner near the laneway. I watered it almost every day that first summer and fall but even then sometimes it looked pretty sad and I wasn’t sure it was going to grow. Seventeen years ago, it was sad droopy little thing that was maybe ten inches high. But that little sapling took root and it grew. It’s now taller than me and it is beginning to take on the characteristics of the white pine, growing straight with branches and soft needles pointing to the east with the prevailing wind.
What began as a sapling has taken root and it has grown. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of where we came from. Every time I look at it, I am reminds of the hope that there is for the future. The funny thing is that that tree will probably outlive me. It will probably outlive my children and my grandchildren as well. Generations from now, that tree will provide shelter for birds and shade for children and none of them will give a second thought about where that tree came from or who planted it or why. They also won’t realize that the only reason why that tree is there is because someone took a moment to plant it and nurture it to growth.
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is right and just in the land.” The story of Jesus the Messiah is not just a story about a Branch of David or a Christmas tree. It’s a story of hope. For us, it’s a story of choosing to hope. When life is down and you’re not feeling well and you wonder if things will ever get better, my prayer for you is that you will find the courage to hope. You never know where hope will lead. But you will never find out where hope will lead unless you first choose to hope. You have to believe and you have to trust that God loves you and that he will work all things out for your good as he said he would.
Where do we put our hope? We can put it firmly on Jesus Christ. Will that make everything better? No it won’t but what it will do is give you a reason to carry on. No one knows what the future holds but any future is a better future with Jesus by your side. Let him walk beside you. Let him be the branch that holds you up and gives you strength.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Hope, we come to you in this Advent season waiting for your blessing. We experience your grace in the stuff of everyday life. We see your glory in the strong winds of winter and in soft fallen snowflakes. We see your peace in bundled up children and in frosty designs on the window panes. We are amazed, once more, by the power and patience of your amazing love.
We come to you in this season of waiting for the Christmas spirit is in the air. We hear carols and see coloured lights. We join the shoppers and seek the perfect gift for that special someone. We wait for you to come to us anew every day. We also wait for that day when you will gather us all into your Kingdom where justice will reign and love will be the standard by which everyone will live.
We wait with hope for a better world where all people will have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and enough food to satisfy their hunger. We wait for a world where everyone is able to be safe and secure, where they can close their eyes and have a restful sleep, not worrying about what the morning will bring. As we wait for these things, help us to do our best to make them a reality in our time. There is much to do that has been left undone. Give us the courage to step out in faith to build your Kingdom in our corner of Creation.
Healing God, bless those who need your healing touch in a special way. Touch them with a special blessing of your Healing Spirit and make him whole in your sight.
Holy God, help us to not only hear your Word, but to do what it says, being grateful for the opportunity to hear and know the truth. Enable us to honour it every day, not only by what we say, but also by what we do. May we never become complacent or take for granted the forgiveness of sin, and hope of eternal life that you have freely given to us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.