A reading and reflection for Wednesday, December 12, 2012.
The eleventh day of Advent.
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Isaiah 12:1-6 NRSV
Are you sensing a pattern in these texts during Advent? There's a lot of discussion of "that day." Some prophets call it the "day of the Lord", the New Testament writers call it the "day of Christ." Here, in this twelfth chapter of Isaiah, it is simply called "that day."
In that day, Isaiah says, our prayer will be one of thanksgiving, for we will see God's anger toward our sin changed into compassion and comfort. Everything else in this text seems to hinge on that affirmation: "though you (God) were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me."
Indeed, everything about the Christian gospel hinges on such an affirmation. Even though God was angry (yes, God does get angry), he drew near to us, became one of us, and comforted us, bringing us salvation and healing.
As Christmas draws near, one of the refrains I occasionally hear from parents (even my own, when I was a child!) was that children had better be good otherwise "Christmas won't come!" Behavior modification seems to be the object of the season between thanksgiving and Christmas and it was mediated by a looming threat of no cookies, no tree, and, more importantly, no presents. And while this may work insofar as your goal is producing a good-mannered child for four weeks, it runs counter to the claim of the Christian church that "when we were still sinners, Christ died for us." In fact, it is precisely the opposite of "the real meaning of Christmas."
The first Christmas did not come because God was thrilled with how we were behaving. It wasn't because we scored enough points on the "Goodness" scale. He didn't send his messengers to check up on us to see if we deserve his presence among us. No, like the prophet Isaiah says: "Even though you were angry with me, your anger turned away and you comforted me."
Christmas came, God-in-our-flesh came, purely because of his grace, God's unmerited favor toward us. God's sovereign decision to be merciful. Christmas comes in spite of our rebellion, our bad decisions, and our disobedience. And this act of grace, this encounter with a being who elects not to punish but to save, who chooses not to judge but to redeem, this encounter produces in us a wellspring of thanksgiving that is the real basis for good works.
The prophet says that this encounter with God's sovereign goodness is enough to inspire new songs of praise and thanksgiving. It is enough to elicit joy in our hearts as we "draw water from the well of salvation."
So as we draw ever nearer to Christmas, as we approach Bethlehem and the manger where a small baby boy lies, wrapped up in coarse linen and laying where animals feed, as we gaze into the face of that fragile child, weak, and cold, let us grab hold of one another and say in a loud voice: "Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust and not be afraid! For the LORD is my strength, and my might, and today he has become my salvation!"
For the message of Christmas -- the true message of Christmas -- is that it came.
It came despite our sin.
It came despite our disobedience.
It came despite our wrongheadedness.
It came despite our ignorance and it came despite our selfishness.
And because it came, because God came among us in Christ, we are prompted to give thanks and sing praise.
1. Have you ever threatened "NO CHRISTMAS!" to your children/grandchildren? Does this text challenge this kind of punishment at all?
2. If someone had the right to be angry with you, but relented and chose to be comforting instead, how would that make you feel toward them?
3. When is the last time you have been overwhelmed by God's grace in your life?
Today, spend some time in prayer. 15 minutes. Spread it out, if you need to. Take some time and confess to God the things you do which are destructive, selfish, or just plain stupid. Pause for a moment, and then pray the words of the text today:
I give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you have a right to be angry with me,
your anger has turned away because of Christ, and now you comfort me. Surely, you are my salvation. I trust in you. I am not afraid for you are my strength and my might.