There are always a lot of truck and car commercials on TV, but would you agree that there seems to be an awful lot of extra truck and car commercials at Christmas time? Have you seen the one where the husband takes his wife out to the driveway and surprises her with the Christmas gift of two his and her big beautiful driving machines – a big beautiful blue pick-up truck and a not-quite-as-big, but still beautiful red SUV? I don’t know about your house, but in my house those would definitely be two unexpected gifts for Christmas! Actually, two impossible gifts for Christmas would be the better way of saying it. Maybe for my house – as perhaps for your house – it would be more like two his and her wheelbarrows for his and her yardwork – and even that might be two unexpected gifts for Christmas for a totally different reason, since two his and her blue and red wheelbarrows might be very practical and needed, but they would not be very cool or fun Christmas gifts – at least, not like two cool and fun big beautiful cars like a blue pick-up and a red SUV…
Today as we continue to prepare for Christmas the prophet Isaiah talks to us about the impossible when he describes in the words of our Old Testament Lesson Two Unexpected Gifts for Christmas! They are not really unexpected in that we don’t know that they’re coming. What is unexpected about them is the humanly impossible things they do for us – and that they could do for our world. Here’s what the two gifts are: The Christ Child on our earth and The Christ Child in our hearts. That’s nothing unexpected at Christmas. But now let’s talk about what Isaiah the prophet tells us the big and beautiful things those gifts do.
The opening words of our lesson talk about something very unexpected – a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse. Those of you who attended our Sunday Bible Class sessions on Isaiah earlier this fall may remember that while most of Isaiah’s audience among the children of Israel didn’t care one bit about what he was saying, a small portion cared a lot about what he was saying. They were very sorry for all their sins that had caused their loving God to tell them that their nation was going to be destroyed by people from a faraway place – by very bad people who were going to do wicked things to the people of God. These people who cried because of their sins repented of their sins, just like hundreds of years later John the Baptist in our Gospel told the people to do, just like you and I tell each other to do hundreds of years later today. Those sorry-for-their-sins people would rejoice to know that someday from Jesse’s stump – from the line of a man named Jesse, whose son was the famous King David, long since dead – but someday from that line of descendants – which at some point would kind of rot out — would sprout a little branch that they at that time called the coming Messiah, and whom we today call Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. That is the unexpected gift of the Christ Child on our earth.
And to see the totally unexpected thing that he would come to do – and did do – look at verse 3, where it starts, “He will not judge…” “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears, but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” Are you part of the poor of the earth? You surely are, if you admit in your heart that you deserve from God far worse things than someone coming from a faraway nation to destroy you. But what does the Christ Child do? What the Son of God does not do is judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears. What if he did? What if Jesus made his judgments of us – what if Jesus determined what Christmas gifts he would give to us – based on what he sees us do and what he hears us say, especially when we know he sees and hears everything?
But the Christ Child came for God’s children to do for us what we could not do. He judges us with righteousness and justice – God’s righteousness and justice – total perfection — righteousness and justice that is impossible for us to have and to be and to do – but righteousness and justice which Jesus has and is and did. Those are unexpected, impossible, but true gifts from the Christ Child. And we have the guarantee from God that he will never take those gifts away from us, because, as Isaiah says in verse 5, “Faithfulness will be the sash around his waist.” God is faithful to everything he has promised, and what he has promised is that for the sake of the Son of God — the Christ Child come to earth — he considers us to be his righteous, just, holy, dearly loved children. That is a big, beautiful gift that is beyond anything we could ever hope for or imagine. The God who made me loves me, and he sent his Son to be my Savior to prove it.
But there also is that other unexpected gift under Isaiah’s Christmas tree, as we look forward to the birth of the Christ who would come from the family tree of Jesse and the line of David. The first gift is the Christ Child on our earth. The second gift is the Christ Child in our hearts. And while that gift itself is not really unexpected, either, what results from that gift truly is. Let’s look back again at some of these words to see how Isaiah describes the impossible results that will come true when the Christ Child makes his home in our hearts.
Just look over verses 6 and following for a moment again. Isaiah talks about wolves and lambs and leopards and goats and calves and lions getting along with each other — and a little child leading them; and he talks about cows and bears and lions and oxen not hurting each other — and little babies playing with cobras and not getting harmed. Those things are not possible, because those things just doesn’t happen. Wolves and lambs do not get along and play nice with each other… But when the Christ Child lives in your heart, they do!
Here is where a good reminder about how God speaks in his Word can hopefully help us enjoy this unexpected gift more and more every single day. The way to do that is to hear what God says about “that day” in the last verse – verse 10, where he says, “In that day the Root of Jesse (again, the Christ Child) will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.” We will definitely see “that day” fulfilled when Jesus returns on the Last Day — when the angels bring people from all the nations of the earth who have come to faith in Jesus to come and live with him in that place of rest forever. But “that day” is also this day – today – in our hearts, because already now people from all over the world have rallied to Jesus Christ and know that the Christ Child came to do the impossible – to give us who should have no peace with God peace with God.
And since we have peace with God, we want to live at peace with each other, just like wolves playing with lambs, and leopards showing kindness to goats. If the world wants peace on earth, like so much of the world desperately wants peace on earth, then let’s tell the world why the Christ Child came to earth. So many people just don’t know anything more about Christmas than that there was a little baby born in the manger. We can start by telling them how humanly impossible that was – the Son of God born of a virgin! – and we can for sure tell them the wonderfully impossible things he came to do for us and for our salvation. And as we tell them — and as the Lord puts faith in their hearts to believe it — then we can enjoy the wonderfully humanly impossible results that the Lord will give his people, just like our Second Lesson talked about today, where we were encouraged to accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. That is lions and cows playing together and enjoying each other’s company.
The difficulty, of course, on earth before heaven is that this will not be perfect until we get to heaven. That’s why we need to keep being warned and built up and comforted and encouraged day by day with God’s Word until that day comes, so we can keep getting glimpses of heaven even in the midst of sadness and sins and heartaches on earth – yes, even in the midst of those times where we may for a while act like the spouse in the commercial I mentioned at the beginning who got the gift of the red SUV, but made it very clear she wanted the blue pick-up, no matter how much her husband wanted that same truck. And while that, of course, if you have seen the commercial, was meant to be humorous, it does perhaps help us make the point that with the two gifts the Christ Child came to bring, there is no need to want the other one. We already have them both: the Christ Child on our earth to save us from our sins and the Christ Child in our hearts so we can live as his saved people. As you keep preparing for Christmas in these last weeks before Christmas thank God that from your Lord you can expect the unexpected and that, because of his Son, you can know exactly what’s coming, as wonderfully impossible at that may seem. Amen.