Sermon preached for the third midweek Advent service at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Two Rivers, WI on December 19, 2012. Sermon text: Isaiah 53:5
Remember the Sacrifice
Christmas is now less than a week away. Are you ready? Are you ready to celebrate again the birth of a Savior? I hope it’s something you’re looking forward to. I hope it’s something you’re anticipating. Because after all, Christmas is good news! Right? Or, does Christmas also contain a little bad news?
We don’t usually like having bad news mixed in with our good news. One of the board games my children like to play is Chutes and Ladders. You might’ve played it before, too. Usually, taking this game out is greeted by cheers from my kids. They like games and they think it’s good news to play it. But anyone who has played a game like this with little kids know there’s the possibility of bad news, too.
You see, as you advance in Chutes and Ladders, you win the game by getting to the end first. But on the way there, there are ladders, which let you get closer to the end faster, and there are chutes, which send you down away from the goal. Well, as you can imagine, little kids (and adults) don’t really like the bad news of landing on a chute and going backwards. More than one child has shed a few tears over the years at landing on a chute, especially the biggest chute that’s so close to the goal.
That chute used to be bigger. On older versions of the game, the chute right near the goal would take you almost to the bottom of the board. It doesn’t go as far now. That’s how much people didn’t like the bad news of that chute.
Other things have changed a bit to try to avoid bad news. Do you all know the common bedtime prayer that many young people say every night? “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” Now the original version that I grew up with ends, “If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Now, that’s a pretty harsh prayer that contains the “bad news” that we’re going to die someday, possibly even tonight! So there’s another, newer version of the prayer that ends, “the angels watch me through the night until I wake in morning light.” Now there’s nothing wrong with that ending, but notice how it avoids mentioning death or anything that could be considered bad.
Does that mean we should avoid a text like our sermon text for tonight. After all, there’s plenty of potential for bad news here. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Is. 53:5)
This text, though written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, takes us right to Jesus on the cross. It’s filled with things that are kind of hard to look at, that could be thought of us bad news. He was “pierced”, he was “crushed”, he had a “punishment” and a lot of “wounds.” This is not pretty stuff.
The cross is offensive in a lot of ways. We’re used to seeing it here at church. I wear a cross over my robe here. A lot of you probably have some kind of cross jewelry on tonight. I have other crosses displayed throughout my home. We’re used to crosses; we might even think they’re pretty. But they show death. A cross is an instrument of torture and execution. Is that really pretty? It’s probably not surprising that some Christian churches have decided not to display any crosses inside their sanctuary.
And then to take the cross into Christmas, too? We like to think of Christmas as being all good news, as having nothing the least bit negative associated with it. A baby is born. Everyone is happy. Angels sing. The baby is so meek and so mild. And they all live happily ever after. Put it on a colorful painting. Slap it on a Christmas card. And we all get a warm, fuzzy feeling in our heart.
But the cross changes things. The cross reminds us of things. The cross tells us, this isn’t just the story of a baby being born. This baby was born to die. You can’t think of the beginning of the Christmas story without thinking of this once-baby’s blood being shed, his life going out from him. That’s not as pretty a picture.
But maybe it’s easier to take if we think of a bad guy in the story, a villain to root against. I suppose you could say the bad guy is the devil, kind of. You could say the bad guy is Pilate who gave the go-ahead for the execution, or the leaders who accused Jesus, or the crowd that shouted, “Crucify him.”
But the real villain here isn’t just those. The real villain is you. Every one of you here tonight brought Jesus to the cross. Myself included. Our text tells us. Why was Jesus pierced? For our transgressions. Why was he crushed? For our iniquities. Our sins brought Jesus to that cross. It was because of us that he suffered so much.
So maybe that’s why we don’t want to connect the cross to Christmas. Maybe we’d just rather keep it looking like a nice picture, something pretty. No blood, no suffering, no death, certainly no hell. No, just keep it a pretty baby born in a pretty stable on a picturesque night.
But friends, a savior who was just born to live happily ever after is really no savior at all. Jesus’ birth without Jesus’ death is worth nothing to us. Without his death, Jesus’ birth could only still leave us cold. It could only leave us in our sins. It could only leave us as objects of God’s wrath, destined for his punishment, destined for hell forever. That would be the worst news possible.
Friends, let’s never separate Christmas, the birth of Jesus, with Good Friday, the death of Jesus. Both are incomplete without the other; they are two sides of the same coin. We needed Jesus to be born to die, because we were sinful, because we deserved God’s wrath, because we deserved to die forever.
But when Jesus suffered and died, when he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He was suffering the ultimate punishment — hell itself — so we wouldn’t have to.
The punishment that brought us peace was on him. Jesus was born to die so that he could take our punishment. So he could pay our price so that we would have peace with God. Yes, because Jesus suffered and died, you are forgiven, you are an heir of heaven, you are a child of God.
By his wounds you are healed. Because Jesus got hurt and suffered and died, you won’t die forever. No, you will live forever. Your sins, the wounds that sin left on your soul have been healed forever.
So, when you think of Christmas, when you celebrate it again in a few days. Remember the sacrifice. Sometimes people might want to even hang a nail somewhere on the Christmas tree. The tree will still look pretty. It can still fit on a Christmas card easily enough, but if you look closely enough, you can see the nail. You can remember how he was pierced, for your transgressions.
Don’t shy away from remembering Jesus’ death when you think of Jesus’ birth. Because in Jesus’ death we find our life. There, on the cross is our forgiveness, our salvation, our reason to live with hope now and the reason we’ll have life forever.
Our life is not a game like chutes and ladders, but we’ll have lots of good and bad things in it. But in Christ, no matter what happens. Even when the worst news of death itself seems to take us; we still win. We win because of Jesus. We win because he was born in Bethlehem. We win because he died on Golgotha. We win because he rose and he forgives, and he loves. So, these last days of Advent and on the Christmas coming soon. Celebrate Jesus’ birth. But never forget his death. Remember his sacrifice. That’s where your life is found now and forever.