2nd Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 30
Come, O come, Emmanuel! And ransom captive Israel. Amen. In the name of Jesus, who comes to save us and will come again, dear friends in Christ, how do you drive in a snowstorm? It’s that time of year again when we all have to relearn how to drive in snowy, icy conditions. So, how do you drive on a road that hasn’t been plowed yet? Carefully, yes. Slowly, yes. But there’s one other rule of the road. You do your best to follow the tracks that other cars have already made on the road. Why? Because if you go too far to the right or to the left you risk getting your tires on the slippery snow and losing all control either sliding to the left into oncoming traffic or sliding to the right and either crashing or getting stuck in the snow. Guaranteed every year you will see vehicles stuck in the snow on either side of the road. You want to stay on the narrow path.
Well, there’s also a narrow Scriptural road that we want to stay on. The devil is constantly trying to push us humans to either stop short of what God says or go beyond what God says. At Christmastime we are faced with one of those instances where we need to stick to the path and not slide off either side of the road.
You see, at Christmastime, perhaps more so than any other time of the year we see the depth of sinful materialism. It seems that every year we hear about a death or injury at a mall or a shopping center because people were trying to get the heavily discounted item. We also see and feel ourselves the many stresses and worries about stuff. About getting the right gift, “Should I get this person a gift or not, what should I get them, what if I don’t get them a gift but they get me a gift?” And it even affects our children. How disappointed children will get if they didn’t have any presents or enough presents or the right presents.
There’s a part of all that which bothers us and it should. It shows the depth of our sinfulness, it shows our incessant longing to find happiness, fulfillment, peace in stuff instead of our Savior. It shows how much we deserve God’s punishment forever. That bothers us.
So that’s slipping off one side of the road. But here’s the other side. The subtle implication arises that it’s perhaps sinful to celebrate Christmas. There arises perhaps this idea that we’re somehow sinning if we give presents or if we have a nice meal or a nice party. And that’s where we need to be reminded about driving on the narrow road. Yes, our celebration for Christmas can be sinful if we’re focused on the wrong things. At the same time, God never says that we shouldn’t celebrate it. In fact, it’s a great and wonderful thing to celebrate the great acts of God and to do so with a great celebration and a clear conscience.
And we see it here with Hezekiah. Remember, Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, had been an absolutely horrible king- shutting the doors of the temple, sacrificing to idols, setting up altars to false gods all over Jerusalem. It was a time of terrible spiritual darkness. But then, Hezekiah came to the throne and his first job was restoring worship to the one true God. He re-opened the temple, reconsecrated everything, reestablished the sacrifices, rededicated the temple. Great!
But there was a huge festival that still needed to be celebrated: the Passover. The Passover was supposed to be an annual reminder for the Israelites of God’s incredible grace. The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for generations, but the time had come for God to take them to the Promised Land. So, God gave Pharaoh sign after sign, plague after plague, but Pharaoh hardened himself in unbelief and refused to let them go. The final straw that led Pharaoh to let them go was the Passover. Each Israelite family was to take a one year old male lamb without blemish, slaughter the lamb, paint the blood on the door posts. Then, that night the angel of death would pass through all of Egypt and wherever he saw blood on the doorway, he would pass over that house and not bring death there. But where there was no blood, the firstborn would die. And, it happened! Just like God had said. And the Israelites were able to leave their slavery and were free to go to the Promised Land.
And God wanted them to celebrate this incredible event every year. So right at the beginning of their calendar they would be reminded of God’s incredible power to deliver, God’s incredible grace to rescue them, and God’s incredible faithfulness for their future.
And what did Hezekiah do? He determined that it was time to celebrate the Passover again. He invited all Judah to come, he even invited everyone from the Northern Kingdom that had been left after the Assyrians had conquered them. And they celebrated! A huge crowd of people gathered in Jerusalem. The entire event lasted 7 days, the Levites and priests sang to the LORD every day, accompanied by instruments. At the end of the 7 days, they had enjoyed it so much that they decided to celebrate for another 7 days! Hezekiah provided 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep/goats for the people, the officials provided another 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep/ goats. And even more priests consecrated themselves. Nothing had been seen like this in Jerusalem since the great days of King Solomon.
But don’t you see? What they celebrated pales in comparison with what we’re about to celebrate! They celebrated the release from earthly slavery, we’re celebrating our release from sin’s eternal slavery, release from the imprisonment and torture of sin, death, and hell forever! They celebrated shadows of the coming Savior, we get to celebrate the reality. You know, if Hezekiah were to come here today, if he got to see what you and I get to see, hear what you and I get to hear, if he had the opportunity to celebrate what you and I get to celebrate, he would be jumping up and down saying, “Don’t you see?? We celebrated shadows of deliverance, rescue, salvation, you have the real thing! You get to celebrate the reality that God loved us so much that he came himself to be born into our world, to live our life, to die our death. You get to see the glory of the one and only born as one of us and placed into the manger all in order to go to a cross in order to save us. You get to see it and celebrate it!”
But what would he see in us? “Oh Christmas again.” “Oh, I can’t wait until the holidays are over.” “Ugh, I have to go spend several hours with those people?” “Ugh I have to find a present for so and so.” “Ugh I have so much baking to do.” “Ugh I have to get the house clean.” “I’m just so stressed and exhausted.” If Hezekiah were here and he observed us, would he be just dumbfounded at our lack of celebration? We have awesome, amazing, good news truths to celebrate!
So make your plans for your celebration! Get presents, or decorate, or send cards, make cookies, prepare a meal, get together with family, volunteer somewhere, or whatever it is that you like to do. Celebrate! Provided one thing: provided that we remember WHY we’re celebrating. No, the getting together with family isn’t the key point. The presents, the cards, the meals, the cookies, the volunteering – none of those are the key point. And if our celebration becomes focused on those things, then our celebration will be fleeting and will leave us strangely empty.
But if our celebration keeps the central focus, that we’re celebrating Jesus, the baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger, the Savior who’s come to save us, then our celebration will be what it should be: wonderful and uplifting, God-pleasing.
So, yes, the devil is going to try to lure you down the path of commercialization, will try to focus your celebration on the things of this earth rather than on the eternal grace of God. Resist that urge! Fight it!
But the devil will also send “Scrooge” to you, trying to condemn you for celebrating at all, trying to make you feel guilty or exhausted or stressed. Fight that too!
Don’t slide to the right or to the left. Stay on that Scriptural road, the road that leads you straight to your Savior, and then your celebration will be God-pleasing, uplifting, and wonderful. Amen.