If you exchange names at Christmas, is there someone you really hope gets your name, and is there someone you really hope doesn’t get your name? I normally am not a very imaginative Christmas gift giver, so you probably don’t want me to be the one who would get your name, but a few Christmases ago, for one part of our Christmas, our family decided to do a Christmas gift exchange just between the five of us, with a $10 spending limit. I happened to draw my wife’s name, and since I couldn’t imagine only spending $10 on my wife, I bought a $10 gift certificate toward a stay at a place in Door County, which meant of course that far more than $10 would be spent. My kids howled that that was very unfair and not in the spirit of the $10 limit, but I think they were just jealous. I don’t know if this was the case, but I would hope my wife would have said when she saw that gift certificate, “I’m glad he got my name.” Maybe so… Maybe not…😊
Either way about that, what about this? What if God came to us this morning and suggested a gift exchange for Christmas? I would certainly think that every single one of us would want to cry out at the top of our lungs, “I hope he gets my name!” Let’s see what today’s lesson from the prophet Isaiah has to say about how great it would be if the Lord God of heaven and earth got your name for Christmas.
The Lord God of heaven and earth had made it very clear to his people in the Old Testament time at the time of the prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before the first Christmas, that they didn’t deserve any Christmas gifts at all because they had profaned his name. Sadly, and unbelievably, after all the Lord had done for them, the vast majority of the people not only didn’t think about God all that much, but they actually were worshiping other gods like the “Baals,” they were called – a horrible so-called worship, which had more to do with sexual pleasures in the name of religion, than anything even closely related to honoring the God who had made them and who loved them. In addition, at this time in their history, times were good. The Israelite financial markets were in full blossom and many of the people enjoyed the kind of earthly prosperity that ended up taking their attention away from the deep spiritual poverty that engulfed them because of their failure to recognize that the only thing that really mattered in life was where they would go at the end of their life. Many, many ended up losing the gift of eternal life, just as in the case for many, many today, sadly – and just as is the concern all of us need to take to heart ourselves.
Thankfully, as with many others at that time, so you and I have been led by our Lord to know we need something for life – we need something for Christmas – that only God can give. And, just as thankfully, each one of us can say that God got my name for Christmas, because for every single one of us God sent his Son to give us the kinds of Christmas gifts that we really, really need – and that, as God’s children, we really, really want.
The opening verse of our lesson reminds us who exactly the gift-giver is. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me…” That is an Old Testament way of saying that the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord – has confirmed that Jesus is the promised Messiah – the promised Savior. The word “anoint” in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament is the word for Messiah, So, hundreds of years in advance, Jesus himself is speaking in prophecy and saying, “The Holy Spirit messiahed me. So, listen, world. Listen, people of Christ the Lord. I am the promised Savior, and that means I am the gift-giver, and when I come, I will bring some special gifts that will be a different kind of Christmas gift exchange, because I will exchange what I have for what you need.” And that is exactly what Jesus did.
Here’s one of the gifts in God’s Christmas gift exchange. Jesus said, “The Lord anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Just think of what it would be like if God said on the Last Day, “Pay me what you owe me to get into my heaven.” We wouldn’t possibly have enough good things to give to God, because we are so poor. Our poor lives have been filled with all kinds of bad things that we have done and said and thought over and over again. But Jesus proclaims to poor people like you and me, “I became poor so that you, through my poverty, might become rich. My Father in heaven put all your sins on me, when I went to the cross, so on that cross I paid the price for your entry into heaven. Come on in, and have a merry Christmas forever!.”
The great thing in God’s Christmas gift exchange is that there is no limit of gifts, and that gift means there are more gifts, many gifts, unending gifts – more gifts of Jesus giving us what he has that we need. We can only look at a few of them. At the end of verse 2, Jesus said, “The Lord anointed me to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” How many of us so many times in our lives do not feel like we are having a happy day or can have a happy Christmas? How many of us are mourning and grieving, because we miss people who are no longer with us? How many of us so often feel a spirit of despair because nothing just ever seems to go our way, or because we know we have messed up so many times that nothing should ever go our way, or because there doesn’t seem to be any way I can undo what I did to that person or how I have failed that person – and I don’t even know if I can lift up my eyes enough to look at the face of my God.
God be praised that the face of our God is the face of Jesus, and that Jesus here says he puts a crown on the top of our face — on top of our head – and says to us, “You are part of my kingdom. In fact, I have made you a king – a queen — with me.” The face of God is the face of Jesus, and with joy on his face Jesus puts a garment on us that puts an eternal smile on ours – such beautiful clothing that we just have to praise him, as verse 10 tells us, “For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness.” This is the ultimate exchange – the ultimate Christmas gift exchange. What I have – nothing, nothing but sin, nothing but reasons to grieve and mourn… What I have, I give to Jesus. What Jesus has – love, honor, mercy, forgiveness of all my sins, holiness, perfection, righteousness… What Jesus has, he gives to me.
It’s no wonder we can have a merry Christmas, even if Christmas may not be so happy sometimes. At all times, in all circumstances, we can say what Isaiah said, “I delight greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God.” For what I really needed for Christmas — what I really need for my life — all this came to me when God kept his promise and let me see a little baby lying in a manger, whose birth the angels announced, and whose arrival led simple shepherds to tell people all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.
That God would do exactly as he said he would is exactly what verse 11 – the last verse – so confidently states: “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” God has worked out his world to take care of our earthly needs by having gardens grow. God has worked out his kingdom to take care of our spiritual needs – our needs to have a truly meaningful life, a truly service-filled life, a truly grateful life, a truly emphasizing-the- forgiveness-of-my-sins kind of life… God has worked out his kingdom to take care of my spiritual needs by keeping his promise to have his righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. Every time you and I in this nation in this place praise God for the gift of Jesus’ righteousness – Jesus’ holiness – Jesus’ perfection – Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins — just as we are doing right now, we are part of the fulfillment of God’s promise that the message of Jesus Christ would go into all the world. And God then even uses us to get that message to more parts of our world in our community and in our land and in other regions of this entire globe on which we live.
Jesus once told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last…” Isn’t it amazing that the one anointed by God appointed you to be part of his spiritual garden, his kingdom, his family? Isn’t it amazing that God selected you and me to be the people to bear fruit in our lives by showing people Jesus and by telling people what Jesus has done in the wonderful Christmas exchange of his life for mine? That most definitely and most wonderfully is much more than a $10 gift certificate that went against the rules. We can say of the Ruler of the Universe, the Savior of the World, the Center of Christmas: “I’m Glad He Got My Name!” Brothers and sisters, let’s never stop praising his! Amen.