First Advent Message 2016
It was just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of the Christmas tree of a family. It peeked through the branches of the family’s trees for ten years.
The story of the envelope is told by Nancy, a mother whose husband Mike was not a big fan of Christmas. He appreciated and enjoyed the true meaning of Christmas, but not the commercial aspects of it, including gifts purchased in hurried desperation because you cannot think of anything else to get and time is running short.
Knowing how her husband felt about Christmas, one year Nancy decided to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and things like that. She wanted something special for Mike. This is how her idea came about.
Nancy and Mike’s son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. The inner-city boys, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to Kevin and his teammates in their blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.
As the match began, Nancy was alarmed to see the other team was wrestling without headgear to protect their ears. Headgear was a luxury the inner-city team could not afford.
In the match, Kevin’s team routed the other team, winning every weight class. Afterwards, Mike, seated beside Nancy, shook his head sadly and said, “I wish just one of the other team could have won. They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”
That is when the idea for Mike’s present came to Nancy.
That afternoon, she went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes.She then sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. Then, on Christmas Eve, Nancy placed a small, white envelope on the tree. The note inside told Mike what she had done, and that this was his gift from her.
On Christmas morning, when Mike was told the envelope was his and he opened it and read the note, his smile was the brightest thing about that year’s Christmas. That same bright smile lit up nine more Christmases before Mike’s death. Each Christmas, Nancy followed the tradition, one year sending a group of mentally challenged youngsters to a hockey game, another year sending a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The white envelope became the highlight of Christmases for Nancy, Mike, and their family. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning.
The children? They would step away from their new toys, at least for a while. They would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.
Each Christmas season, including this one, we celebrate another gift given for the benefit of others. A gift even more generous than wrestling headgear and shoes, tickets to a hockey game, or help for those who lost a home to fire. Those gifts were very important and very special, but the gift we celebrate each Christmas is even more spectacular. We celebrate the gift of Jesus. The gift that keeps giving for all who accept Him as the Savior from sin. The gift that keeps giving now and will continue to give for all eternity in Heaven.
This Christmas season, many of the Sunday morning messages will be reminding us how Jesus, the one whose birth we are celebrating, fulfilled various Old Testament prophecies about the Savior.
Each time Jesus fulfilled any of the Old Testament prophecies about the Savior - He fulfilled every one of them, not only at His birth, but throughout His ministry, His crucifixion, and His resurrection - He gave proof over and over and over again that He is the Savior. the Savior the Old Testament people of God looked forward to. The one who is the Savior for all of us today who accept Jesus as the Savior He is.
Today’s message will center our thoughts on a prophecy found in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah in chapter 9, verse 6. A prophecy that describes the type of Savior Jesus was, at the time of Isaiah, going to be. The type of Savior He now is.
In verse 6 of chapter 9 of Isaiah, there are five descriptions of the Savior. The first one is Wonderful. The Savior was to be - Jesus is - Wonderful.
Let’s think how wonderful Jesus was and still is. How He proved He is worthy of that description.
Jesus was, according to all He did, both God and man. That is certainly wonderful.
He was man in that He was born as a human. He was born a baby, but grew and eventually became an adult.
How important is that ? It means Jesus faced all the aspects of humanity you and I face, not only as children and teens, but also as adults - the good days and the bad days, the days when everything goes well and the days that are not so smooth, days of good relationships and days of strife.
In a minute, we will get to the second description of the Savior, that being Counselor. What a wonderful counselor Jesus is. He knows how to advise us in all aspects of life because He knows everything there is to know about what we experience. He lived it Himself.
At the same time, Jesus was and is God, which was shown by His great power and His great miracles.
Jesus’ dual nature of being both God and man? I certainly cannot explain how He can be both at the same time, but He is. His dual nature was certainly wonderful.
Jesus was and is wonderful in His love. And by the way, in my study for this message, I came across an interesting definition of wonderful. It means more than just being “delightful” or “pleasing.” To be wonderful means being “miraculous,” which leads to the idea that Jesus being wonderful means He does what no one else can do for us.
That includes His love. Jesus was and is wonderful in that way. His love is miraculous because it never changes. He always has, He does now, and He always will love each one of us.
Of course He is disappointed when we mess up, but His love for us will never cease, which truly is miraculous. You slap me around enough, including verbally, I might eventually decide to not love you anymore, but Jesus’ love will never end. It will never change.
Jesus’ miracles were wonderful. He healed. He raised people from the dead. Those are just two examples. There are dozens and dozens of other examples of His miracles. But do we notice that all the ones mentioned had the benefit of others in mind, which is an extreme example of what Nancy did for Mike in the opening story? She helped others with gear and tickets and money, giving in the name of Mike. Jesus helped and still does help with miracles and love, doing so in God’s name.
According to Isaiah 9:6, the coming Savior was to be Wonderful. Jesus displayed that description throughout His ministry, which means He is the Savior. He proved it.
Jesus was also predicted to be a Counselor.
What does a counselor do?
Because of my background in education - as a student and as a teacher - I usually think of school counselors What do school counselors do? They make sure their students take the right classes. They do what they can to make sure their students study when they are supposed to study. They might check to make sure their students have some down time to rest and be refreshed. School counselors sometimes discipline their students if they happen to misbehave.
There are also social work counselors who help clients talk through the problems they have, helping them to discover ways to overcome the problems.
According to Isaiah 9:6, the Savior who was to come was to be a Counselor. That is what Jesus did and still does for people, including spiritually. He has given us the Bible to study, which includes His famous Sermon of the Mount, in which He summarized how we are to live in every part of our lives.
If we will let Him, He will encourage us to study, and learn, and apply what the Bible teaches.
He might let us suffer a bit if we mess up. That can be part of His discipline, but remember His wonderful love. That means that if He does let us suffer, it is for the purpose of having us come to our senses and return to obeying God. Obedience is one of the goals of a counselor.
As Isaiah predicted, the Savior would be Wonderful. He would be a Counselor. Jesus was and is both those those things, which proves He is the Savior. He was also to be Mighty God.
God - ruler of all. Mighty - powerful, which was seen, for instance, in His miracles over nature, including, as mentioned earlier, His ability to heal - to overcome nature in that way. He also had the ability to control nature in other ways.
Remember the report of the time Jesus and His disciples were on a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee, when a severe storm began? A storm so severe the disciples who had been fisherman - fishermen who were used to storms - were terrified.
Remember? Jesus, after being awakened by the disciples [interestingly, He was asleep during the storm, but the disciples woke Him up], He stood and spoke to the wind and the waves, telling them to be still. Which they suddenly were.
What a dramatic way for Jesus to prove He is Mighty God, which was one of the predictions of the Savior given to us by Isaiah. In addition, Isaiah predicted the Savior would be Everlasting Father.
What does a father do? I know some fathers are not loving. If your father was not or is not very loving, do not allow that to taint your view of Jesus. Instead, take the word “father” for what it is supposed to mean.
What does a father do? For one thing, a father loves his children and cares for them.
I think of my dad, who worked at a job he did not like, for a boss who was not very nice. But my dad worked hard at the job he had so he could provide for my sister and my mother and me.
A father protects his children, sometimes doing so tenderly, sometimes doing so with a bit of force if that is necessary to get his message across. A father disciplines when that is needed. He encourages when that is the better course of action.
Not being a father, I do not know the tricks involved - the wisdom needed - for a father to figure out when discipline or encouragement is the better way. But guess what. Jesus knew. He still does know. That has already been mentioned when we talked about Jesus’ wonderful love.
And everlasting? Concerning Jesus, that means He does all that a good father does, not just on the easy days or when He feels like it or when we, His people, are easy to get along with, Jesus is our father - our good father, our wise father, our wonderful father - all the time, no matter what.
An example? How about the time Jesus and His disciples were on a road, traveling? They had stopped to rest a bit before going on. During that time of rest, people learned Jesus was in the area. Several parents grabbed their children and raced to where Jesus was. Their goal was to have Jesus bless their children.
Before they got to Jesus, the parents met the disciples, who sought to send the parents away.
The disciples did that to try to protect Jesus so He could rest, but remember? Jesus did both discipline and encouragement.
The discipline was Jesus rebuking His disciples, telling them to step aside and, in my wording, to be quiet. The disciples were scolded for trying to keep the children away from Him.
The encouragement was seen when the children got to Jesus. He touched them, some sitting on His lap, others getting hugs from Him. He blessed them. What encouragement those children received as they learned of the love of Jesus.
As Isaiah predicted the Savior would be, Jesus is Wonderful. He is a Counselor. He is Mighty God and Everlasting Father. And, as predicted by Isaiah, He is Prince of Peace.
Peace. That word seems like kind of a joke in our time, does it not, with so many wars going on so many places and so much terrorism happening, some in our own country, much more in other places around the world? Peace is a joke when thinking of relationships between nations and often between people.
That is why it is important to understand what peace means in the context of Isaiah’s prophecy. To Isaiah, peace had nothing to do with worldly or political or even relationship peace. For Isaiah, the promise was not that Israel and her enemies, including her enemies even now in Gaza and Iran and many other places, will ever have peace. In Isaiah’s prophecy, peace refers to a good relationship with God. That is what is possible because of Jesus. A peace that will bring blessings now and Heaven later.
And prince. That means that the Savior - that Jesus - is in charge of peace with God, which Jesus fulfilled when He died on the cross. Remember that sins separate people from God. Separation would be permanent except for Jesus becoming the perfect sacrifice for sin. All who accept Jesus as that sacrifice can and do have a good relationship with God, thereby making Jesus the Prince of Peace. It was His sacrifice that paid the price for sins.
How great the Savior predicted in Isaiah 9:6 is. The Savior who, at the time of Isaiah, was to come.
How great that when Jesus came 2000 years ago, He became the fulfillment of each of those descriptions as He proved to be Wonderful and a Counselor and Mighty God and Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.
Jesus still is all those things as He continues to work with and for His people, including those of us here today who accept Him as Savior. But you know what? Us knowing who Jesus is is not enough. As important and as great as our personal salvation is, it is not enough to keep our spiritual knowledge to ourselves. Jesus does not want us to keep our faith to ourselves. We are to share our faith with others.
Which leads to one more thought. Several weeks ago, as our Music and Worship Ministry discussed this year’s Advent celebration, they left it to me to decide what to present in the Sunday morning messages, but they suggested that, if possible, the messages would, in some way, include some thoughts on various birds associated with Christmas.
I don’t know that I ever have, before this year’s Advent season, given a lot of thought about what birds are associated with Christmas. But I did some research. Guess what. There are quite a few birds that are thought about this time of year, including the bird for today - the goose.
As we know, geese are mentioned in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, which is a song written to teach the Christian message during a time of persecution many years ago. Geese are mentioned as the gift on the sixth day of Christmas, the number six standing for the six days of creation, which Jesus was part of.
In addition, goose has, many places around the world, traditionally been the main course of many Christmas feasts.
But there is something else I think of concerning geese that applies to today’s passage from Isaiah. Something that gives us a challenge of what to do with the knowledge we have about who Jesus is. It is this. Geese are known for traveling great, great distances.
A quick sidebar with a couple other things about geese that I find interesting.
At least Canada geese, which are what we are most familiar with, fly in a v-formation. That helps the birds behind the lead bird because each successive bird breaks the wind resistance.
In addition, the birds take turns being at the point of the v. They share the work of leadership.
I read that another benefit of flying in a v-formation is that the geese in the flock can more easily keep an eye on each other, thereby knowing when one of the flock is struggling. What a reminder that is for us to keep watching each other. Not in a negative way, but in a helpful way so we can all continue on our Christian journey.
Also, at least Canada geese mate for life. What an important teaching that is.
But Canadian geese travel great, great distances. Each spring up to the northern reaches of Canada. Each fall back south at least to southern Mexico. A straight line distance of over 3,700 miles.
What does that have to do with Isaiah’s description of Jesus ? How about this? As geese travel great distances, may we send our faith flying over great distances. Again, not keeping our spiritual knowledge to ourselves, but doing what we can to help others know about Jesus, including others far, far away.
We do that through the missionaries we help support. In fact, news about Jesus flies even further than geese migrate. To Turkey from here is over 6,000 miles. To Malawi from here is almost 9,000 miles. To Yap from here is almost 10,000 miles.
We of course are also to share descriptions of Jesus with those close to us. That challenge will come in two weeks with the third bird of the Christmas season.
But the Savior prophesied by Isaiah was to be Wonderful, a Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. How good it is to know and to share the fact that Jesus did fulfill and still does fulfill each one of those descriptions, meaning He, the one whose birth we celebrate this season, is the Savior. The Savior who, to a much, much greater extent than Nancy did for Mike in the opening story, is devoted to doing things that help others.
In a moment, a closing carol. As we sing, let’s remember - let’s proclaim - that Jesus did come, that happening 2000 years ago. Let’s remember and proclaim that Jesus still is with us, as the carol says, to set His people free, to give us strength, consolation, hope, and joy, to be our good, benevolent ruler, a ruler who is Wonderful, a Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And listen. If you do not know Jesus as your Savior, will you take care of that, even now? That is all He wants from you at this time. After that, He will empower you to take His message farther than geese migrate, but all He wants from you now is your acceptance? Will you accept Him?
Pray a prayer of acceptance if you need to do that. Otherwise, let’s sing Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious Kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Lord, as Isaiah prophesied the Savior would be, You are. Help us, each day of this glorious Christmas season, to celebrate who You are. Help us, as we have opportunities, to share with others, including those far, far away, just how great You are. And, as was suggested in today’s opening story, may we accept it as a gift that we know You and can share You with others. Thank You. Amen.