Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Homily 2015

The passages before us today from the prophets and from the Gospel of Luke share a common theme – the arrival of the Branch of the Line of David. Isaiah first heard God’s promise of the Branch – a king who would rule and reign in righteousness. The Branch would not be like the false shepherds in Isaiah’s day – kings who looked out only for their personal interests, pursuing personal gain at the expense of the sheep. Rather, He would be filled with the Spirit of God, filled with wisdom, knowledge, and discretion – modeling the character of God Himself. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of kings like Manasseh and Amon.

Over a hundred years later, Jeremiah picked up on this same promise. Disgusted like Isaiah with the selfishness and folly of the kings of Israel he reminded his readers of God’s promise through Isaiah. One day God would raise up to David a Branch of righteousness. This king would reign and prosper, saving and protecting His people, upholding righteousness and purity in His person. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of kings like Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.

Another hundred years later, Zechariah returned to the same promise. Though Israel then lacked a king and was subject to foreign rule, God told Zechariah to set a kingly crown upon the head of the High Priest Jeshua. For the Branch would be not only Israel’s king but also her high priest. “He shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne” and, “The counsel of peace shall be between the two offices.” This priestly king would not abuse the authority granted to Him but would rule and reign in righteousness and justice, bringing light to all the world. But for a time God’s people had to endure the darkness of Persia, Greece, and Rome.

But then, over four hundred years later, an angel spoke to some shepherds. The long-promised Branch of righteousness, the Shepherd of Israel, the One who would rule and reign in justice was to be born. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this would be good news not just for Israel but also for all people, for all the nations of the earth, for all the families of the earth. The light is coming, the world will change. Then glory filled the sky, the light and life of the Messiah’s rule reflected itself in the voices and faces of the angelic host as they declared that the prophecies of Isaiah and of Jeremiah and of Zechariah were coming to fruition. Praise filled the sky as the angels marveled that the mercies of God would now extend to all the peoples of the earth. Light had come!

So what do these words mean for us? Just this: the darkness of the Judaic Age has come to an end. The Judaic Age – when God’s presence was by and large limited to the land of Israel, closeted behind the veil in the Holy of Holies – the Judaic Age has passed. Now the Age of the Messiah has come – all nations have been given to Him and so the Word of Truth, the light of life, is going forth to all the nations of the earth. The Spirit of God has been poured out on the Church and is now pouring forth from her into the world bringing life and salvation in His wake. God has begun to fulfill the promises He made long ago through the prophets. He has given a King to rule and reign in Justice; He has given a High Priest to minister in the Temple. And this King, this High Priest is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Branch from the Stem of Jesse.

It is this transition from darkness to light that we sung of just a moment ago. In the darkness of the ancient world, amidst the rot and decay of paganism, amidst the folly of apostate Judaism, came the Root and Branch of David.

Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half-spent was the night.

And from this Root, this Branch, planted by the hand of God, a great tree has grown which shall one day fill the entire earth.

“This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.”

It is the planting of this Branch, the Branch of Righteousness, which we celebrate today. The light has come – let us feast! Our King sits upon His throne – let us rejoice! Our High Priest has offered up a perfect sacrifice on our behalf and offers up prayers and petitions for us continually – let us give thanks! And let us start even now. Let us pray together: