Happy Holidays, folks. I know you want me to say: “Merry Christmas” and I would agree with you. However, I want to also tell you that as Christians we need to show people that the times of holidays (which are holy days in God’s view) should also be happy.
The problem is that our situation is not very happy. Like in the times of Isaiah, the people around us sense that times here are not very happy. The economy is still struggling to recover. People are still trying to make ends meet. People feel that the government can’t work it out. People sense that their own families can’t sometimes work it out.
So what do you do? On one extreme, you can take the traditions that you have and make it a simpler secular solution. I read an article this week in Slate magazine. One author in the magazine suggested that we eliminate Santa Claus. Forget the old white man. Let’s replace hime with a penguin. Her point was that this clearly white tradition should be eliminated. There is no Black Santa Claus, nor is he Hispanic. So instead of confusing children with a different colored Santa in different homes, why don’t we just replace him with a penguin.
I’m not kidding.
So let’s ditch Santa the old white man altogether, and embrace Penguin Claus—who will join the Easter Bunny in the pantheon of friendly, secular visitors from the animal kingdom who come to us as the representatives of ostensibly religious holidays. It’s time to hand over the reins to those deer and let the universally beloved waddling bird warm the hearts of children everywhere, regardless of the color of their skin.
On the other extreme, there are people who want to eliminate the secularization of our sacred holiday. Let’s stop celebrating Christmas altogether. It’s pagan. It’s too commercialized. It’s doesn’t really Christ in its present form.
So you have people who think it should be secular. Let’s have the gifts, the parties, the decorations, and lights. Let’s do it all and by the way, it doesn’t matter how this all got started or why we have gifts in the first place.
There are others who believe it needs to isolated and eliminated. Don’t celebrate the birth of Christ. Don’t recognize Him at all.
I have a different solution for you to consider today. I want you to consider putting the holy back into the happy holidays. How do we do that? As Christians, who know what this is all about? How do we let others know about the real meaning of Christmas? I think it takes a shift in our approach.
In these verses, Isaiah is compelled to prophesy the judgment of God, he follows with a picture of God’s redemptive purpose.
These five shifts or transitions take place in this chapter. As John Olgive notes, they are important shifts.
Notice the five shifts or transitions that take place in these verses:
SHIFT #1 Wasteland to Garden
SHIFT #2 Weak to Strong
SHIFT #3 Lame to Leaping
SHIFT #4 Drought to Delta
SHIFT #5 Wilderness to Highway
This passage is a bridge from the first part of Isaiah (Chapters 1-39) and the second part of Isaiah (Chapters 40-66). This chapters forms a bridge from those who were in the Babylonian exile to the people who are leaving the Babylonian Exile and coming home.
So one sees in these verses the bridge that shows the shifts that God is planning in the life of God’s people. He is moving them from their past to their future. Although the past has been hard and bleak, their future is looking bright.
That’s what Happy Holidays are all about. When we come to this time of the year, we look at our past and see how hard it has been. We look at the present and see ourselves. We look to our future and we wonder what is going to happen.
Isaiah prophesied basically that things will get better. Isaiah trusted God that He could share the promises of God. We have to do the same thing. But it is more than that. We get to encourage people during these holidays. Instead of bemoaning Christmas as pagan thing or crying and whining that Christmas isn’t worth celebrating, let’s do what the prophet did here. Let’s tell people what we know is true this season. Let’s start with this: While the fate of God’s adversaries is bleak indeed, that of God’s people is glorious to contemplate.
The glory of God changes my perspective.
“It will blossom abundantly and will also rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” (Isaiah 35:2, HCSB)
The shepherds saw the glory and rejoiced.
The people in the wilderness saw the glory of God and worshiped.
My perspective changes when I encounter the glory of God. Isaiah’s perspective changed when he saw God. He looked at the glory of God and it made Isaiah recognize how great God is, and much of a sinner he was.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.” (Isaiah 6:1–3, HCSB)
In the same way, we can put the holy back in “Happy Holidays” when we recognize the great things God did at Christmas.
“When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,” (Galatians 4:4, HCSB)
“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, HCSB)
“Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:1–3, HCSB)
We have to stop looking at Christmas as a selfish love feast and start to see Christmas how God sees it.
It is a time of worship. It is a time of praise. It is a time to recognize God for who He is.
Sing: O Come Let Us Adore Him
The work of God changes my possibilities.
“Say to the cowardly: “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; He will save you.”” (Isaiah 35:4, HCSB)
Just as the death of Jesus changed my ability to live this life, it can change your life too.
Notice the pattern in these verses:
It means the core of these verses is about God’s saving act. God moves form His creative act with the creation of the world, the animals, and humanity. Then comes God’s saving act. Wrapped in a blanket of holy vengeance and retribution, God tells us that we don’t have to fear. God comes to save us, like a little child wrapped in a blanket safe and secure.
What do we do about these statements of God’s vengeance and retribution? It is not our problem. It’s God’s problem. See who owns the vengeance and retribution? God comes to save us. He exacts His vengeance, His retribution, His judgment for those who don’t follow His way. We don’t have to exact God’s judgment on people. He can do it all by Himself. Instead, we work on the transforming part of our lives. God comes to save us and transform us. All of this work of transforming work hinges on God who comes and God who saves. He does His transforming work. He transforms creation. He transforms humanity. He transforms me.
“Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1–2, HCSB)
God is in the transforming business. This is the work of God. When I don’t have to fear anything, it opens up possibilities in my life. When I know that God is taking care of things, I can spend less time worrying and more time doing what He wants me to do.
Sing: O Holy Night (last verse)
Which leads me to the next shift that happens. Since I can experience the glory of God, and I can trust the work of God, I learn to follow the way of God.
The way of God changes my path.
The holy way begins with Christ
“A road will be there and a way; it will be called the Holy Way. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks the path. Even the fool will not go astray.” (Isaiah 35:8, HCSB)
It is a holy way. What God wants me to share is that Happy Holidays are happy not because there are happy things, but because there are holy things.
The path which God wants me to follow is a holy path. It is the “high road.” It is a different road than everyone else. When God changes my perspective and my possibilities, He also changes my path.
It is a clean path because the unclean don’t walk it.
It is a wise path because even the foolish don’t stray from it.
It is a safe path because no enemy can walk it.
It is a joyous path because only God’s people can walk it.
“Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6, HCSB)
Jesus is the way to the Father. We are called to be people of the Way who point people to Jesus Christ.
“A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert.” (Isaiah 40:3, HCSB)
This holy way is a high way. It a way that is not walked alone. Instead, we walk it together.
“There will be no lion there, and no vicious beast will go up on it; they will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk on it,” (Isaiah 35:9, HCSB)
The Way is obviously not an easy way. As we see in the Book of Acts, people who followed the Way were persecuted. The Holy Way, the highway, is a path which few take. The few who take it.
““Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.” (Matthew 7:13–14, HCSB)
““Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and won’t be able” (Luke 13:24, HCSB)
The path of the Holy Way starts at Christmas, takes a turn at Easter, but ends in Zion.
The holy way ends in joy.
“and the redeemed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.” (Isaiah 35:10, HCSB)
Joy is the end result of following the way of God. Joy is what we share to others around us to prove that we walk this holy way.
Sing: Joy the World
1 Aisha Harris. “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore”, Slate, [http://www.slate.com/articles/life/holidays/2013/12/santa_claus_an_old_white_man_not_anymore_meet_santa_the_penguin_a_new_christmas.html] Accessed on 10 December 2013.
2 David McKenna and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Isaiah 1–39, vol. 17, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1993), 324.
3 Frank Yamanda. “Commentary on Isaiah 35:4-7a” at Working Preacher https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=412. Accessed 13 December 2013.
4 James E. Smith, The Major Prophets, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1992), Is 35:1–10.
5 Eric Fistler and Robb McCoy. Pulpit Fiction. http://www.pulpitfiction.us/2/post/2013/12/ep-41-we-know-kung-fu-or-advent-3a.html Accessed on 13 December 2013.