This little object, if you can see it, is a key fob for my car. Anyone who has a key fob like this one knows that when you press the button, it is supposed to open your car door or your trunk, which means that it is great and helpful when it works, but it is frustrating and a bit of a hassle when it doesn’t. In fact, I had to replace the inner workings of this key fob a couple of months ago because I went from doubting and wondering whether it would work “this time” to realizing it couldn’t work at any time because it was just plain broken. A trip to the local key fob repair guy got it fixed, but, just as he said would likely happen, it is again working only sporadically, causing this feeling of doubt in my mind every time I press the button. Most times it’s easiest just to use the key, but keys can get broken or get lost, too. There is always something that can make a key not do what you want it to do.
What about the key to a Merry Christmas? You can press the button of a Christmas song, you can turn on the ignition of shopping for Christmas gifts, you can make your way through the snow and cold to a midweek Advent service, but isn’t there always a little doubt as to whether there can really be a happy, merry Christmas, when so many things in my life – or in the life of someone I love – or in the lives of people all over the world are anything but happy and merry? It is one thing to say to everyone we meet, “Merry Christmas,” but isn’t it another thing altogether to really have one – or to have one for more than the few hours of that day or the few days of the season?
Many of the people at the time of Isaiah the prophet who had been told in beautiful detail about the coming of the Christ on the first Christmas, which was still hundreds of years to come – many of those people were not thinking, just as many people today are not thinking, about a merry Christmas but a merry life. In fact, earlier in the chapter from which our Bible reading is taken, some of the people are quoted as saying the words that led to the motto, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” It even got to the point that God told the prophet Isaiah to tell the people, “In your dying day this sin will not be atoned for, says the Lord.” Unless you repent, you will die forever and have anything but a merry eternity.
There was one example of that, in particular, that God used to try to teach the people a lesson to wake up and to think about the real meaning of Christmas. It involved a man named Shebna, who was in charge of the entire palace of the King, with all its treasuries and storehouses of silver and gold and bronze and weapons and utensils of all kinds. He literally held the key – the key to a lot of wealth and glory. But he also was apparently a vain-glorious, selfish man who, for example, purchased an ostentatious tomb on a high hill where his body would someday be buried and who was buying chariot after chariot so that he could have a huge collection of chariots to enjoy until the day he went to that great big grave.
So what God did to try to humble him and to warn the people is what we are told he did in the opening verse of our lesson, “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe (Shebna) and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.” (In other words, he will be a good, humble, caring man working for the benefit of the people and not himself.) And then Isaiah said next in verse 22 these key words for our thoughts tonight: “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” This man Eliakim, whom we know hardly anything else about in the Bible, would be someone who would be in charge of all of the wealth of the kingdom, because he had a key – the key to the house of David, King of Israel. And it is this little history lesson, which I admit I had to review for myself because it is such an unfamiliar part of the Bible – it is this little history lesson, I pray, which is going to help us now think about the key to a Merry Christmas.
To help us do that, please turn back a page to page 7 of the worship folder, if you would, where at the top of the page we have the prayer that slightly changes each week and each week is setting the theme for that week’s worship. For hundreds of years during the season of Advent, many Christians have used what are called “O Antiphons” – verses that are spoken and sung – to help reflect on certain thoughts in preparing for Christmas. In tonight’s “O Antiphon” we addressed Jesus and said, “O Key of David… you open and no one closes; you close and no one opens…” And then in our hymn response right below that in the second stanza we sang, “Oh come, O Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.”
What is there about this Key of David that is the key to a Merry Christmas, no matter how much misery there may be, no matter how much I may doubt at times that the key is working or that they key could possibly work in my life when I have so much to worry about? The key to knowing how the Key of David is the key to a Merry Christmas comes from the Bible verse that is the only other place where the Bible talks about this Key of David – a place that looks back at this pretty obscure verse in the book of Isaiah and applies it to the life of every child of God who needs help when he or she feels there is little hope. That place is in the book of Revelation, where Jesus says of himself “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.” So Jesus himself has the key to all the treasuries, all the storehouses, all the glories of God. There can’t possibly be a better chance to have a Merry Christmas than to get a gift from the one who has all the gifts!
And what are those gifts? Clearly they are not silver and gold and bronze and weapons and utensils of all kinds. Clearly they are the encouragements and promises of Jesus himself, as he says in the book of Revelation to those whom he had just told he held the key of David: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven.”
Can there be a better way to have a Merry Christmas than to know that the Christ of Christmas has written his name on me, and not only has he written his name on me, but he has written my future home address on me –“New Jerusalem” — and not only has he written his name and my future home address on me, but he has also promised me that he is coming soon, so that I can know that all the reasons not to have a merry Christmas really don’t mean anything at all. They are just so “right now” – they will “not be” then – so right now I can “hold on” as Jesus encourages me to do, because he has promised that no one will take away the crown God has given me. The Christmas gift of Jesus will never go away, no matter how many people don’t care about that or ignore that or even make fun of people who think that.
And that’s the temptation we have to face, too, right? It is so easy to be like that Shebna way back when. In fact, so often you and I are Shebna, accumulating things for ourselves or regretting that we don’t have more things for ourselves or being covetous of the things of others, whatever those “things” may be. And so often thankfully God humbles us. He reminds us through the many, many examples of the horrible things that happen in this world around us – and even through the many difficult things he may allow to enter our own lives – that putting our hope for merry-ness and meaning in anything of this world is leading to a door that can’t ultimately open up to anything good for us, but only is the key to suffering and even eternal punishment.
But the Key of David comforts us and encourages us. It comforts us and encourages us because God knows how we wonder about things and how we fret about things and how we doubt that things will be okay. How can God forgive me for what I have done and have trouble not continuing to do? How can God help me when there are so many things that have to work out right in order for me to be helped? How can God change my attitude from one of doubt and even despair to one of contentment and confident prayer?
Jesus tells us, “Don’t think that you have to be the key or find some other key to make you happy. What I came to do for you at Christmas in giving my life for your sins means that God loves you and considers you his child, no matter what. What I come to do for you when I come to you in my Word like this means that God wants to continue assuring you that nothing can separate you from his love, no matter what. And what I will come to do for you when I come on that Last Day means that God wants you to have something to look forward to every single day, no matter what.” Jesus says, “I own all the treasuries and all the storehouses of everything that can make anything truly good, no matter the time of the year. And that is precisely why I myself, Jesus Christ your Lord, Emmanuel, the Son of God – that is precisely why I myself am The Key to a Merry Christmas, No Doubt!”
That key, unlike this key (fob), will never fail. Amen.