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All I Want For Christmas
December 6, 1992

ISAIAH 11:1-10, JAMES 5:7-10

When I was a child, one of the popular Christmas songs was, "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." And, we have the nerve to criticize contemporary popular music! The song has taken on new significance for me because, after several years of frustration, I now have my new front tooth! I have an implant. The process took one year, but I now have a permanent, person-made, honest-to-goodness, sweet corn nibbling, pizza biting front tooth! What do you want for Christmas this year? Deep down in the depths of your dreams and hopes, what do you want for Christmas?

Humanity's Christmas wish-list is found throughout the Bible. Prophets, kings, and common folk cry out to God for divine gifts. Abraham wanted a son, and a homeland. The Hebrew slaves wanted deliverance and freedom. The nation of Israel wanted protection from its enemies. The conquered Jews wanted a second chance. Paul asked for the gifts of the spirit.

The prophets listed what they wanted for Christmas. They pointed to and longed for a Messiah, a savior, a rescuer. We Christians believe the Messiah for whom they longed, and the gifts the prophets wanted, were fulfilled in Jesus who was born at Christmas.

The lesson read this morning from Isaiah, poignant in its poetry, lists what Isaiah wanted for Christmas. Isaiah wrote during the stormy period of Assyrian expansion. Assyria (called Syria today) threatened and eventually conquered the northern kingdom which was called Israel. Isaiah lived in Judah, the southern kingdom, and preached judgment and hope.

Chapter 11 opens with some of the sweetest words of hope the people could hope to hear. The nation will be revitalized. Assyria will fall, and out of the deep, thick humus of human faith and suffering, the tender new growth of Jesse's lineage will shoot forth. Jesse was the father of King David. "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." (11:1) Isaiah makes it clear that felling the proud and nurturing the small and fragile are part of God's intentional work.

This passage depicts a miraculously peaceful moment in history, containing images that touch the depths of human longing and hope. God's reign is in direct contrast to the world's mighty. Rather than proud and haughty attitudes, rather than brute strength and force, the rule imposed by the new "shoot" of Jesse will be marked by wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge and a fear of the Lord. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,the spirit of counsel and might,the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:2-3

What Isaiah wants for Christmas is justice and peace, within a totally new kind of human existence. Wealth and influence will no longer determine the course of justice; instead, the poor will be dealt with on an equal basis with rich and powerful. Righteousness will determine the course of justice. "With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth." (11:4) The powerless will no longer need to fear the powerful, for all will find equal justice.

The achievement of equal justice will not need armies or fear-inspiring weapons. All that is needed to bring justice to life is "the rod of his mouth." "He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked." (11:4) In our country we hear lots of words. We will soon have new leaders in our nation's capital who speak well. They spoke words the voters wanted to hear. Now the task is to put words into action. It is our privilege and responsibility as Americans to hold our leaders accountable to their words.

On Isaiah's Christmas list, the commitment to justice will be part of everyday attire, connecting words to action. "Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins." (11:5)

In the next verses, 6-9, Isaiah rises to poetic heights to reveal just how wonderfully changed the whole of creation will be. The very essence of human existence and human nature will be changed by the Messiah, by the One who came at Christmas. All those that are now locked into predator/prey relationships--where one must die so that the other might live--will be freed from that vicious cycle. We will no longer hurt or destroy. Because we will have personal, individual, irrefutable knowledge of God's righteousness, peace will spread out over all the earth. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 11:6-9

What a Christmas gift! Who can help but be excited, thrilled with the anticipation! So, we wait. The Epistle lesson this morning, James 5:7-10, reminds us to be patient. "Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord." (5:7) The Advent stance is patient waiting, waiting for Christmas, waiting for the Messiah to come in all God's splendor, waiting for justice, peace, and the transformation of human nature. But, patience is not a passive waiting. Patience in the biblical sense is like a child waiting for Christmas. The child is not passive. The child investigates the presents under the tree, shaking, rattling, smelling. Patient waiting means to shake life as we know it. With courage, strength, fearlessness, shake the politicians, shake the church leaders, shake one another, shake our complacency, shake our resistance to change. Shake while we wait.

An English bishop, discouraged by the lack of progress, and saddened by the disagreements and squabbles among his people, dreamed one night he went on a shopping trip to heaven where he would purchase some of the gifts of the spirit--patience, justice, righteousness, peace. When he arrived at heaven's mall, he asked directions and was sent to the Gifts of the Spirit store where the salespersons were angels. He told an angel he wanted to purchase some patience, justice, righteousness, peace to take back to the earth, back to people who needed them so desperately. The angel apologized, "Oh, I'm sorry, gifts of the Spirit are not for sale. The seeds, however, are free.

Advent waiting means to nurture the seeds of patience, justice, righteousness and peace. Wherever you see possibilities of hope, nurture, water, feed, care for them that they may flower into fulfillment, patiently shaking the powers that be so the seeds of justice, righteousness and peace will have a chance to grow.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris