We’ve been studying the book of Isaiah on Wednesday mornings. We’ve learned about the sometimes scandalous history of God’s people and the political history of Israel. I’ve tried to teach that the prophet Isaiah was not a crystal ball gazer, fortune teller, or otherwise soothsayer. A prophet is much different. A prophet speaks the difficult truth of the coming future if the people continue down the path they have chosen. Isaiah predicted the future of God’s people based on what they were doing and the political landscape of the 8th century B.C.
The people of Judah had turned away from God and were trying to form political alliances to protect themselves from whatever great empire was tearing apart countries and nation states. The prophet Isaiah was calling the people to repent of these alliances and put their trust in God alone for protection. The 2 great superpowers of this time were Assyria then Babylon. The prophet Isaiah warned the people of their defeat by first Assyria then Babylon if they didn’t trust God. Isaiah told the people that they would be defeated and deported from the land God had given them.
The prophet Isaiah promised that following the Israelites exile to Babylon they would eventually return to their promised land. Babylon would defeat them and cart them off to other areas of the empire. However, God would save them. In the end, God would make a way for them to return to their country. Isaiah says that through the wilderness there will be an easy path to follow back to their heritage, back to God. This wilderness path will be smooth, level, and straight. Their way back will not be like the Exodus when they got lost in the wilderness for 40 years. This time the way back will be an easy road that’s easy to follow and leads straight back to Israel. This road back to Israel will also be a road back to God. Returning to Israel will mean they are returning to God.
From Isaiah’s prophecies, John the Baptist borrows 40: 3 – 5. The message of Isaiah and John the Baptist using the very same words are quite different. The prophet John the Baptist uses the same image of a smooth, level, and straight path. Rather than this way being made through the wilderness, the voice announcing it comes out of the wilderness. John the Baptist comes from the wild to proclaim this road and the traveler. This road John the Baptist speaks of is very different than Isaiah’s road. John’s road will not lead the people to God – this road will lead God to the people. God, the Savior, is the One coming down the road.
Advent is a time to prepare a way for God to come to us. This requires much of us. We must search our hearts for sin. We repent and turn toward God’s road. We do this through prayer, meditation, and study of the Scriptures. Before the baby can come, we must examine ourselves. In doing so, we prepare to welcome Jesus. John the Baptist called for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Advent requires repentance from us. That is the way to prepare for the Lord’s coming.
I think one thing we can repent of this year is engaging in this so-called war on Christmas. Some would have us believe that there is a war on Christmas. This war is is said to be one of secular society against the Christian claim on Christmas and the whole season between Thanksgiving and Christmas day.
For some, there is evidence of this war all around. Religious songs are excluded from school Christmas pageants. Companies have holiday not Christmas parties. Signs in stores say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Nativity scenes are removed from town squares. The list of evidence goes one.
Honestly, we don’t need to defend Christmas. We’d only be defending decorations and greetings. That’s not what Christmas is about.
It doesn’t matter if someone says Happy Holidays to you – you don’t need to be disappointed. You can still say Merry Christmas to them. Bethany celebrates Christmas with simply a Christmas tree and a star on the grain elevator – towns don’t need a nativity scene and Merry Christmas in bright lights. Silent Night sung by the school choir and O Holy Night by the band are not what’s important. Twinkling lights around every door and candles in every window do not make Christmas, Christmas.
Further, we can’t condemn others for how they celebrate Christmas. If we are too concerned about how others are celebrating their holidays, we lose our focus on what Christmas is really about. If we’re spending too much energy trying to force Christ into someone’s Christmas, we aren’t preparing the way for Christ to come to us.
If there is any war being waged, it is a war on Advent. We need more Advent and less Christmas. If we want to be faithful to Christmas, Nativity scenes shouldn’t actually be set out until Christmas day and the Maji can join the scene on Epiphany. Christmas trees aren’t supposed to be set out until Christmas Eve and should stay out through Ephiphany. Some of the songs we’ll sing for the Children’s Christmas program shouldn’t be sung until Christmas Day. We shouldn’t start greeting one another with Merry Christmas until Christmas Day.
We’ve got it all backwards. We are so busy defending Christmas and rushing toward Christmas and frankly celebrating Christmas all month long that we don’t observe Advent. Understanding the need for Advent in our lives, we can finally hear the voice of John the Baptist calling out to us from the wilderness. He calls us to prepare the way for the Lord to come to us. That road is paved with soul searching, repentance, and prayer, not banners and tinsel.
Messages from Israel’s prophets, like Isaiah, are included in the lectionary readings for Advent each year. The messages of the prophets are important for us to understand what Advent is about. Especially, we read the prophet Isaiah because he talked of a king that God would send to restore David’s kingdom if the 8th century people of God would trust in God. There are many Scriptures read during Advent from Isaiah because he describes a coming king that would save and he tells the people of their need for repentance.
I suppose we should join the war on Christmas, so we can defend Advent.
For additional thoughts, please visit:
Mark Sandlin’s War on Christmas?: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-sandlin/war-on-christmas-sign-minister-up_b_2259843.html
Rev. Dawn’s Keep Your Christ Out of My Christmas: http://theflagsofdawn.wordpress.com/about/