Sometimes it’s something that five year olds love to do, but I think there are quite a few twenty-five and forty-five and seventy-five year olds who kind of like to do it sometimes, too – and that is to say, “Let me tell you what I got for Christmas!” If we would take some time right now and go up and down the rows, I’m sure it could be a lot of fun to hear what everybody got – and why they were so happy to get it – or why they are still very bewildered about why they did get what they got for Christmas.
At the same time, if we took the time to talk about what each of us got for Christmas as God’s people here in church gathered around God’s Word, it really wouldn’t take very long at all, because in reality we all got the same thing. It’s the same thing Isaiah talked about getting for Christmas before the first Christmas even came when he said in the opening verse, “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised.” So why don’t we let Isaiah tell us what he means by getting the kindnesses of the Lord for Christmas so we can make sure that we know we really did get the very same thing – the very same thing that we want to tell others about, too, so they can say the same thing to still more.
Now I just said that Isaiah was talking about what he got for Christmas before the first Christmas even came. That’s because he was writing about the coming of the Savior seven hundred years before the Savior arrived. It’s like he had a Christmas gift list that he knew was going to get completely checked off gift after gift after gift. Christmas lists can be very helpful, but they also can set us up for some disappointment, can’t they? If we draw up a Christmas list, it means that we would like to get those things, but we don’t always get the things we want. Sometimes it’s because it costs too much. At other times it may be that the person who has the list just doesn’t want to buy it or feels we don’t need it.
What’s interesting about Isaiah’s Christmas list – and therefore your and my Christmas list – is that we didn’t make it. God did. And since God made it, we never have to be afraid that it will cost too much to get it for us, nor will we ever have to fear that he just doesn’t want to get it for us or that he feels we don’t need it. He wants us to have his kindness and compassion. He wants us to open up those gifts and know that we will never have to return them, nor will we ever get too old for them, nor will they ever go out of style.
But they are something we don’t deserve. That’s why Isaiah speaks of God giving us gifts out of his “love and mercy.” Obviously it would take a lot of the joy away from giving a gift to someone in our family or to a friend if that family member or friend kept doing things that family members and friends just don’t do to one another. It would be awfully hard to have much joy in wrapping up a gift for someone who kept telling lies about you, or who kept making fun of you, or who thought he or she was so superior to you and so much smarter than you and so much more important to you and didn’t ever seem to hesitate to show how they felt.
That is just a tiny comparison to how God could feel when it comes to the gift he wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a manger. “I know what my Son is going to go through when the ‘Glory to God in the highests’ are replaced by ‘Put him on the cross with the lowests’ – and the people he came to save – even those who claim to believe in him are going to be the ones who will at times be ashamed of him or fail to worship him or spend time with him or act in a way that no one who knows them would ever guess that they even know who he is.”
That’s why every single one of us got the “kindness” of the Lord for Christmas. It is kindness – divine, perfect kindness – that the divine and perfect Son of God didn’t return us with a gift receipt to get something better or to get someone nicer or to just get his money back. He paid a price for us the way we are, so we can be considered by his heavenly Father to be the way he is – perfect and forgiven people, redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.
And since we have been redeemed or purchased by the precious blood of Christ, that means Jesus got something for Christmas, too. Can you imagine Jesus saying, “Let me tell you what I got for Christmas?” He got us! Look at verse 8: “He said, ‘Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me’: and so he became their Savior.” What Jesus got for Christmas was a family – a family of believers – sons and daughters who will “not be false to me,” he said. That is beyond amazing, isn’t it? In fact, that is so amazing that it’s part of the kindness that we got for Christmas from God that Jesus would say he got us as a family that would not prove false to him, when we know how much and how often we prove false to him. He considers us to be what we could not be because of what he was. He never proved false to us, and for Jesus’ sake God looks us as if we are the same as Jesus. All we can say is, “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which is he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us.” Let me tell you what I got for Christmas.
And when the holy Jesus says you are part of his holy family, that also means he is going to be there for you like no family member could ever be there for you, no matter how hard they tried and no matter how much they wanted to be. What I mean by that is what verse 9 says: “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them.” We ache for the people we love when they go through distress, when they are sick, when they have been taken advantage of, when they have had to learn a lesson the hard way, when they are crying and we don’t know what else we can do but just give them a hug and hold them tight.
Jesus is the perfect parent, the perfect brother, the perfect friend – and he knows exactly what to do when the members of his family are in distress, when we are in a situation when there doesn’t seem to be a way out – and maybe there really isn’t. But God is the God of the impossible. Can you figure out the specific reference Isaiah is making to comfort us by proving that God is the God of the impossible when talks about “the angel of his presence” saving his people and then in the next line talking about lifting them up and carrying them all the days of old? Isaiah, who lived over 2,500 years before us, was looking back at something that took place about 700 years before him – the great moment when the angel of the God’s presence – the angel of the Lord – led the children of Israel out of what seemed to be an impossible situation in the land of Egypt – and then at the Red Sea, when they were surrounded on all sides by desert or water or an oncoming army of chariots, he led them through the sea by piling up the waters to their right and to their left so they could get to the other side on dry ground and officially begin their journey to the land where the promised Christ would be born.
That is something you and I can think of every time we are in whatever we might call “distress.” Our God is the God of the impossible. The God who kept his promises to his people of Israel over three thousand years ago so the Savior could be born is going to keep keeping his promises in whatever ways he determines are best for the people who are his family of faith, because they believe in the Savior who actually was born so many years ago. How many times hasn’t the Lord lifted you up and carried you when you didn’t even have any idea he was doing it? How many times hasn’t he lifted you up and carried you to allow you to feel better when you were sick, to have someone figure something out for you that you could not figure out yourself, to give you someone to help when you needed a purpose for living or a reason to feel needed – and someday to say, “Just close your eyes and let me lift you up and carry you one final time.”
Even if you don’t always think about it quite that way, that’s what you got for Christmas this year, because that’s what you get for Christmas every year – the only gift there is that can’t at some point be replaced by something better. So let me tell you that is what I got for Christmas! I am so glad and so thankful to know that you can tell me you got the very same thing! Amen.