Good morning, and Merry Christmas to all of you! I am so glad that you are here today. It is good to see you, and to shake your hands, and to be together to praise God on this Christmas morning!
I wonder… have you ever been far away from someone you loved at a special time like Christmas? Maybe you sent that person a Christmas card, which is nice. Or maybe you even got to talk on the phone, which is even better. That’s what I’ll do with my parents and sisters and brother this Christmas. I’ll talk to them on the phone. That will be good, but not quite as good as actually being there – where you can see each other, and give each other hugs, and just spend time together.
This year, Nick and I are going to fly to BC. We’re leaving this afternoon to visit Nick’s parents, and we’re looking forward to being with them. I wonder if you have anyone special visiting you this year… Does anyone have any special guests with them for Christmas? (We are so glad that you are here!)
Now, to those of you who are hosting guests: When did you start to get excited about your visitors? Was it just today when you got up on Christmas morning? Or was it the day your guests arrived? Or was it the day you found out they were coming? It was earlier, wasn’t it? Before they even arrived!
That reminds me of a passage from the bible – from the prophet Isaiah. He wrote it a long time before the time of Jesus. It was during a time when the People of Israel were feeling very lonely and sad. Some of their friends had been taken away to live in exile in a foreign land, and things back home just weren’t the same without them. The people felt so discouraged that they thought maybe God didn’t care about them anymore. They couldn’t imagine how God could let something like this happen!
But the prophet Isaiah knew better. He knew that God never abandons us, and he was sure that something good was going to happen soon, the exiles were going to come home.
This is what Isaiah wrote: (Isaiah 52:7-10)
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
That bible reading had some big words in it, but I hope you got the idea… A messenger is coming to announce the good news that God’s People are all coming home to be with their friends in Jerusalem. God has not left the people. God is helping them. And God is planning for a wonderful reunion. They can see the messenger coming with the good news! It’s almost time!
The people must have been so excited when they say the messenger coming. Even before the messenger arrived, they were excited. They said, “Look at the beautiful feet of the messenger who is coming!” They were so excited about the good news he was bringing that they thought even the feet that carried him to them were beautiful.
Some of us have been excited about our visitors and about visits we get to go on this Christmas. But we’ve all been excited about Christmas itself, haven’t we? I don’t know about you, but sometimes on Christmas Eve, I’m almost too excited to go to sleep. I lie awake thinking about all the special Christmas things – with Christmas carols running through my mind – and wondering about the special things that will happen on Christmas Day.
I hope that today will be a wonderful day for all of you, and that you’ll remember the best gift of all that we celebrate at Christmas. God’s people waited a long, long time for this special gift – for God to actually come and visit them IN PERSON. (Not just a message or a commandment.) Jesus was born. And Jesus is God coming to be with us in person. Let’s celebrate this wonderful gift!
Today we celebrate the incarnation of God. God is not just a good idea, or a kind thought. But God became a body – with hands and arms, feet and legs, head and heart. As the author of the book of Hebrews explains it, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” God preached, and God instructed, God corrected, and God comforted. And God did all this with words.
But now, “in these last days [God] has spoken to us by a Son.” “And the Word became flesh,” John’s Gospel proclaims so eloquently, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
We have all experienced the blessing of having someone we love come to visit us. Strangely, we don’t always have much to say when they come. After all, we’ve been communicating all along through letters or emails or texts or phone calls. But something is so different and so special when that person comes to visit us. We’re not alone. We’re at home. We can just BE together.
“How beautiful are the FEET of the messenger who announces peace and brings good news,” Isaiah proclaims. “But what is beautiful about feet?” we might ask. Not much, really. Feet are pretty funny-looking, when you think about it. They can certainly look pretty yucky, especially when they’re tired and sore, when they’re blistered or calloused… and they might not smell very nice either!
But what is beautiful about the feet is their coming. What is beautiful about the feet is the purpose they serve in carrying the messenger and his good news. What is beautiful about the feet is what they are doing – travelling the distance and climbing the mountains to get there.
How extraordinary is this good news that the messenger brings to the People of Israel? It is so good that the exiles rejoice even before it is achieved. They praise the very feet of the messenger who is bringing news to Zion that its citizens are on their way home; they break into singing when the sentinels send out word that the exiles can be seen in the distance; they are comforted even before they celebrate their reunions.
Biblical commentaries note that even the verb tenses in the passage play up the relationship between what has already happened, what is happening, and what has yet to happen. And there is excitement about all three! God HAS COMFORTED his people, he HAS REDEEMED Jerusalem. The messenger IS ANNOUNCING peace, he IS BRINGING good news. And all the ends of the earth WILL SEE the salvation of our God.
This interplay of tenses is a normal part of our expression of faith as well. In Advent, we waited for the God who CAME to us in the form of a manger-born baby, and now we wait for God who WILL COME again.
At Christmas, we celebrate God’s redemption of the world through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It’s an event that happened more than 2000 years ago. It is finished. And yet, even as we celebrate what God has done, we have to notice that God is doing something right now. God is present with us, and God is coming to us in Word and Sacrament. God is comforting us in our sorrow, and rejoicing with us in our joy. God is forgiving us for our sins, and calling us to follow the way of Jesus with our lives. God is turning our lives upside down, just as God turned the world upside down so many years ago with the coming of the child.
What God has done for us in the past, and what God is doing in us, and among us, and between us today are beautifully intertwined. And they are also tied up with our hope for what God will one day complete.
For we look and wait for the day when Christ will come again to make all things new. We watch and we work for the day when the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled, when the earth is filled with the knowledge and love of God, as the waters cover the sea. Even today, on Christmas Day, we live between “the already” and “the not yet.”
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news.” As we learn to see even the feet of the messenger as praiseworthy, we gain practice in praise for that day when the ends of the earth do see the salvation of our God, and praise is all that is left to do. Amen.