Christmas Day December 25, 2023
“Christmas Cancelled” Isaiah 9:1-7
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
There are quite a few ramifications of the fighting that is going on between Hamas and Israel. This year Christmas is cancelled in Bethlehem. Pilgrims and tourists, every year, make their way to Manger Square in Bethlehem to light candles and sing, “Away in the Manger”, in numerous languages. But not this year. Bethlehem is closed. Christmas is cancelled in Palestine.
But that happens in many other ways, not just in a sacred village many miles from here. For some this has been a hard year. There is little joy. Illness has been too prevalent. Death has come to their household. Family disunity and friction has caused great grief. No cards went out. No party is being held. Decorations wait for another year – maybe. For many households and families Christmas is cancelled. Maybe next year will be better.
When Isaiah writes his historic chapter, one that we know so well at Christmas time, he begins, “The people walking in darkness…” There is too much darkness. In the Middle East we see the darkness. We know of folks who can’t wait for “the happiest time of the year” to be over. And we know the darkness of the human soul. We call that darkness sin. We know how it takes us to the worst places and robs us of the good that God wants to bring us. We know how our sin has hurt others in our life.
But I have something important to say to every one of us. Christmas is not cancelled. Bethlehem is open for everyone. It is open for nations in conflict, and for lives that are dysfunctional, and for souls that are infected by sin. Betlehem is open. It just has to be.
Isaiah speaks, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” (Isaiah 9:2, 4)
A yoke, a bar across their shoulder, a rod in the hands of their enemies. That description sounds like a people enslaved to others. No freedom. No joy. No future. But that is when our God is needed the most and that is when He comes.
Do you know the reference that Isaiah is making when he speaks about Midian’s defeat? Think back to your Sunday School days. It was Gideon who was told to bring the army from Israel and go to war against the people of Midian. He got an army together – 32,000 men. He would outnumber the enemy. But God wanted to show to Gideon that Israel wasn’t going to win the battle due to their numbers and strength but because God was in the battle with them. All glory would go to Him.
In Judges 6-8 the army was reduced a number of times from 32,000 to 300. And they were told to get rid of their instruments of war and replace them with trumpets and glass jars. And they fought the Midianites with them and routed them. “The battle is the Lord’s.” “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”
Bethlehem is open because from Bethlehem comes God’s answer when we face our enemies. Who was born in Bethlehem? Jesus.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Bethlehem has to be open to everyone because we are in need of this strength in our weakness. We are in need of light in the midst of our darkness. Some years ago I heard of a family that was taking their dream vacation to Germany during December. It was a specially planned trip called, “Christmas in Germany”. It was a family event. Mom and Dad were paying for the trip and invited their three children and their spouses to join them.
It was like Disneyland. Clean white snow blanketed the rooftops of the village. Everywhere were tall evergreens. In Munich they joined hundreds for the tree lighting in the Town Square. Perfect. Memorable. Beautiful.
Then someone suggested that Dachau was only a few miles away. The dad wrote of this, “Would we want to spend a day visiting the infamous prison where so many Jews and others were incarcerated and so mistreated? We debated whether to include a concentration camp on our lovely Christmas holiday. Finally, we decided to do it. We would go. We would see Dachau.”
He goes on, “What an unforgettable experience it was. It was a bitter, cold day. We saw the barbed wire above the stone walls, the guardhouses, the foundation outline of the barracks. And on down the road we saw the furnace built to exterminate human lives.” On one trip they saw beauty and ugliness. They saw the best and the worst.
Bethlehem has to stay open for everyone because into a world of darkness a light has to shine. God would make sure that His words, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” were kept.
It is always in the context of human need that God operates. Into sin comes forgiveness. Into mortality comes immortality. Into darkness comes light. Into your world and mine has come Jesus Christ – the light of the world. On the dark day of Good Friday this little child, the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the world.
Some of you might remember Ann Landers. She wrote an advice column for years that appeared in thousands of newspapers daily. This article is particularly memorable:
I wanted to tell readers about my precious Christmas gift. It came from one of my third graders when I taught in southern Wisconsin. As I was opening the present the little boy said, “Two came in a box. My brother gave his teacher the other one.” I was delighted. When I retired and moved to Florida, I brought his gift with me. I see the adorable little donkey salt shaker on my table every day, and it makes me smile.”
She had one-half of a salt and pepper set. But the gift was given in love and that is what made it so special for her.
God, in love completes the gift for us. In our darkness He gives light. Jesus comes not just in a manger but also upon a cross. He not only dies but He also rises. Bethlehem is not closed. Ever. It is always open to those who seek Him. Christmas isn’t cancelled but it is God’s invitation to see that a child has been born for us and a son, God’s own Son, has been given to us. I guess we should do what the shepherds did, “The shepherds said one to another, ‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.’” (Luke 2:15)
God’s complete gift, our Savior, Jesus, is born. Thank God. Amen!!