4th Sunday of Advent
2 Kings 20:12-19
Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom us the captive Israel! Amen. In the name of Jesus, who humbled himself to save us, dear friends in Christ,
How many of you here today have bought or made gifts for at least one other person for Christmas? How many of you anticipate (whether you want to or not) receiving at least one gift from someone this Christmas? How many of you understand why you’re giving or receiving gifts at Christmas time? What’s the history behind giving gifts? To a secular person who doesn’t believe God’s Word, gift giving at Christmastime supposedly originated with a pagan Roman festival called Saturnalia that was celebrated at the end of December. People would party, become intoxicated, and exchange cheap gifts as a means to secure a prosperous new year. A secular person will claim that Christians hijacked this festival and Christianized it and adopted the act of gift giving so people wouldn’t become upset. As a Christian, however, you can trace gift giving back further than that to the time of the Magi who came with gifts to honor Jesus. But even more importantly at Christmastime we may exchange gifts as a reminder to each other of the greatest gift of all: our Savior.
Well, long before the Roman festival of Saturnalia, before the Magi, even before Jesus’ birth, we’re told here about Hezekiah who received many, many gifts in his life. We’re continuing in our preparation for Christmas with one final week: Self-deprecate. Our text probably happened actually before the Assyrian’s had invaded Judah and were about to lay siege to Jerusalem (which we looked at last week). Some messengers from Babylon came to Judah to give a gift to Hezekiah. Why would the king of Babylon do this? Well, Babylon is struggling under their enemy, the ruthless Assyrian kingdom. And when the king of Babylon hears that Hezekiah isn’t going to cater to Assyria- this is good news. Any rebellion against Assyria will lighten the pressure that he feels against him from Assyria. So sending messengers was kind of his way to encourage this little insignificant kinglet Hezekiah without making any formal agreement, alliance or commitment.
But what does this mean from Hezekiah’s point of view? This is huge! This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day! Little Judah is being favored by the Babylonians! He’s thrilled! If he can curry the favor of the Babylonians, they can be a very useful ally against Assyria or any other major threat. But he’s forgetting about who’s an infinitely greater ally than any nation: God.
So these messengers from Babylon come. Hezekiah has a prime opportunity here. He has right before him a ready made opportunity to glorify God, magnify God’s greatness and glory and grace to these pagan Babylonians. But what does he do? That’s not what he does. Instead he succumbs to glorifying himself and trying to prove to the Babylonians what a worthy partner he could be if they wanted to team up together. And so we get this picture of Hezekiah scuttling and scurrying around showing off his little treasures and the Babylonians are giving their polite approving nod when really they had seen treasures way greater, way bigger in their own nation. It’d be like me trying to show off the glory of my bank account or possessions to millionaire who would politely nod and say, “Very nice.”
Well, what happens next? Isaiah the prophet shows up. Notice that Hezekiah didn’t call upon Isaiah, invite him, summon him. Isaiah just shows up. That must have been somewhat disconcerting to the kings of Israel. At any moment a prophet from God might just show up to call you to account and rebuke you for some sin in the Lord’s name. (How would you like to have your pastor just all of a sudden show up on your doorstep after you commit some sin? J) Isaiah questions Hezekiah: what did those men say? Where did they come from? What did you show them? And how does Hezekiah respond? He knows that he can’t get out of this so all he can do is try to make it look like he was being hospitable. And you can almost sense some defiance from Hezekiah: “They saw everything in my palace…there is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”
Then Isaiah announces the sad news that one day all the treasure is going to be hauled off to Babylon and Hezekiah’s own descendants are going to be servants to another foreign king.
Hezekiah had a prime opportunity to glorify God, but he didn’t. Instead he was prideful and tried to glorify himself. He wanted to look good to other people. He treasured the gifts and ignored the Giver. Do we do that? Does God give us prime opportunities to glorify him but we take the opportunity to try to glorify ourselves? Do we take credit for what we’ve achieved in life, what we have in life, where we’ve come in life, or does the glory go to the Lord?
Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the things you have, enjoying the talents you have, enjoying your life achievements. Provided one thing: provided you acknowledge who has given them all to you, who they all really come from and that’s the Lord. A proud person will take credit for anything they achieve or get in life, a humble person will see it all as a gift from God. Pride is claiming to be the author of that which is really a gift.
But perhaps there’s a more subtle and deeper way that pride infects us. It’s the entire way that you view life. You can either view your life as worse than you deserve or you can view life as better than you deserve. You can go through life with this deep sense of owedness. You can go through life thinking that you deserve it, you’re owed everything. But here’s what will happen: you’ll be miserable. Because either when good things happen to you- you’ll react by saying, “It’s about time, this should have happened sooner.” You won’t even be able to enjoy good times. Or, when bad things happen to you, you’ll react by saying, “I don’t deserve this, this shouldn’t be happening to me, what did I do to deserve this?”
But you know what that is? At the heart that’s exactly the problem Hezekiah had- it’s pride. It’s like sitting around the Christmas tree expecting to get presents, expecting to get certain presents, and being disappointed with your gifts. But, you see, for this whole gift giving thing to work, a gift, by it’s very nature is undeserved, unearned, a surprise.
The reality is, your whole life is a gift. Hezekiah’s life, your life, my life is way, way, way better than what we deserve. What do we deserve? We deserve God’s wrath, His abandonment, we deserve eternal pain and suffering, we deserve punishment for our sins, we deserve eternal death in hell. But that’s not what any of us get! We get a life way, way, way better than what we deserve and way more!
Hezekiah did a foolish, prideful, arrogant thing here. But that’s not to negate the fact that Hezekiah was a good and godly king. But he wasn’t The King. We need someone better than Hezekiah. We need someone who has perfect humility, who did not come to be served but to serve and give his life up as a ransom for many, we need a King who had perfect trust in God and perfectly glorified God. And that’s exactly the gift that God has given to each of us in that tiny baby placed in the manger. In that baby Jesus is the ultimate gift- God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. With the gift of Jesus, you have life, you have peace, you have joy, you have eternity, you have heaven!
And if that’s all that God gifted us, we’d have more than enough reasons to praise and glorify him for all eternity. But that’s not it! “If God did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Everything you have in life is way better than you deserve, everything you have in life- your spouse, your children, your job, your wealth, your health, your stuff- it’s all a gracious gift from God. It’s all dessert! My wife likes to cook and she’s good at it and I like to eat. But there are times, like on my birthday, where she made this breakfast dessert that my mom used to make growing up- I had no idea that she had made and she surprised me with it- it was great. But that’s exactly what everything you have in life is- it’s all dessert, it’s all a surprise, it’s all undeserved.
Because of that baby in the manger all of life is a gift. It’s all a gift! It’s all mercy! It’s all a surprise! It’s all dessert! And that’s what it means to self-deprecate, to be a gospel humble person: to see everything as a gift from God and glorify Him for it. Because of that baby in a manger you have the greatest gift of all: forgiveness, eternal life – everything else is icing on the cake, frosting, dessert, a gift. So prepare this final week of Advent by being humble, seeing your whole life as a gift. Amen.