Isaiah 61;10-11                “Spring Up”

 

            My first question for this morning is not out to all of you in the congregation, but rather to Jesus himself! Excuse me as I talk directly to Jesus: “Jesus, do you know how much joy you have given me in my life? Do you know how much joy and happiness there is in the world because of you?” Okay, Jesus, you must know, because you know everything, that you are my greatest joy.

            My wife has given me great joy. My children have given me great joy. My friends and wider family have given me joy. My pets have given me joy—especially Nikos the dog. Every once in a long while I get joy from the server at Burger King. Am I forgetting anyone? Ha ha, of course, all of you, the church, has given me great joy. Do you remember when Prince Harry and Megan Merkle were having their first little baby? Nah, that did not give me joy—I still don’t know why people get excited about royalty! Just kidding—I am happy for them too.

            Our scripture for this morning starts with the idea of “greatly rejoicing.” I just want to share with you, as an aside almost, that the words “I rejoice greatly” in Hebrew are exclaimed as “soos asees”! These words were used in Hebrew also to describe the most beautiful flower, which accordingly is a rose. You will recall that last week was rose Sunday. The name “Susan” or “Susannah” comes from this idea of a rejoicing blossom or rose. So, if you know somebody named “Susie,” in perhaps your daily wandering you happen across such a soul, “rejoice greatly”! Now, you can remember your Hebrew lecture for this Sunday by remembering “Susies.”

            When did you rejoice greatly last time in your life? Wait. That certainly is the wrong question because Christians are not supposed to rely on circumstances to have joy! I can talk about times when I was joyful because of circumstances. However, that is not where Christian joy stems from! We know that “joy” is a gift of the Spirit. We read that in Galatians 5:22. See, the joy we have in our lives is a gift of the Holy Spirit! The joy we have comes from God—not because we won the lottery or finally got that gift at Christmas that we had been longing after years of only getting underwear.

            Likewise, we can still have joy even when the circumstances would not warrant our having joy. Many times in my life I have had people come up to me with a sneer on their lips, saying: “And what are you so happy about?” This strange scene has happened often enough in my life that I have developed a patterned response: I stare blankly and state: “I think I am emotionally aphasic.” Or, if I am feeling more bold, I will state that my joy comes from the Lord.

            The Prophet Isaiah was writing to a time when the people who had been held in captivity were now free to go back to Jerusalem to worship. The one who restarted the worship in that time was the prophet Ezra. The one who built the temple back up again was the Prophet Nehemiah. We have been talking about these two these last three weeks, so now for the first time, we will read a piece from Nehemiah’s Book in the Old Testament. You see, when the people came back and saw all that was ruined in Judea, they were sad and their worship took on the air of mourning their losses. So, in Nehemiah 8:9-12 we read, “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them. ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions them to those whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to the Lord. And do not be grieved , for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ So the Levite stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’ And all the people went their was to east and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing (soos asees) because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”

            But, like any good prophecy in the Bible, it is not just about the past or the present, but also the future—which we must count from the time of Isaiah when he was writing this. Please think about the fact that Joseph and Mary had to make a long trek to Bethlehem because of a bureaucratic decree from an imposed government while Mary was quite pregnant and about to give birth. They were denied accommodations upon arrival. They had to go keep warm with the animals. A whole bunch of stinky shepherds came to watch! And, yet, to this day, we know that there was great rejoicing for we still celebrate Christmas.

            Just as an historical note, although the entire creation is said to rejoice at the time of Jesus birth, we know that there were still those who were saying that “Bah humbug” from Charles Dicken’s writings. The innkeeper obviously missed the whole event. And, King Herod was also not rejoicing because he was all into politics.

 

            This point is my bridge to the next part of our scripture for this morning that talks about “wearing garments of salvation.” I wish you to consider that what we wear more often than not is a reaction to the environment we find ourselves in. If you live in a cold environment, you will wear warm clothes such as a heavy jacket and boots. If you live in a warm environment than the t-shirt and shorts with slippers makes the most sense. As a German, I will just point out that wearing Lederhosen in that environment never made any sense at all! Sometimes we just get it wrong! 

            So, at Christmas time we see that all of creation is celebrating the birth of Jesus, then we should probably wear “garments of salvation.” What is that? At Christmas time you see some people wearing red Santa hats, reindeer antlers, or even a red nose like Rudolph; yet, these are not what we need to wear at Christmas. As a child I was forced to attend church in a formal jacket and tie. Was that my garment of salvation?

            Nah. The garment of salvation is what the Apostle Paul was telling the church in Rome in Romans 13:14 “to put on Christ.” You take in so much of the magic of Christmas into your soul that it shines back out for all to see. People should notice as you are walking down the street this radiant glow of godliness around you. This is like when Moses was before the Lord on Mt. Sinai and came back down glowing so much that he had to cover his face. So now we are all wearing face coverings because of the pandemic—people should still see that glory emanating from us.

            Last week I watched another church’s Christmas pageant on line. They had one child dressed up as the Christmas star. The child wore a big yellow star costume. We should all want to be the star in the Christmas play, showing the way for others to find Jesus. Showing the universal light of Christmas!

 

            Verse 11 speaks of the earth bringing forth its shoots. We usually equate this imagery with Easter rather than Christmas. However, I need to point out that the bible seems to make it rather clear that Jesus was probably born in early Spring. After all, the census was being taken. We know when that happened. The celebration of the birth of Christ got moved in the calendar to coincide with the old Roman festival celebrating the Equinox and the idea of the coming light. We can be honest about that right? We know that the Christmas tree, for instance, has really no foundation from the biblical text. So, when the Prophet Isaiah foresees the birth of Jesus, it seems that his foresight might be better than our hindsight.

            The important thing is that just as all of creation reacts to the birth of Jesus, righteous and praise will spring up from all creation. All the angels were singing at the time of Christ birth, we still sing today for the birth of the Lord, and we will be singing when we are with Jesus again in the time to come. So, let us spring up and sing praises!

 

Amen.