There are no series of sermons that I enjoy preparing and preaching more than Christmas sermons. Filled with promise and infused with hope, Advent sermons seem to reenergize me every year.
Perhaps even more so this year.
This year–burdened with a desire to reignite hope in the lives of the Lord’s people–I am preaching from the Servant Songs of Isaiah.
God inspired the Servant Songs against the backdrop of great suffering. Though hesitant to elevate our current world-climate to the suffering of Old Testament Israel, it is not completely dissimilar.
Most of us now know someone who has lost their life, their job, or their family due to COVID-19. We know husbands and wives who have been married for decades who cannot share a physical touch due to the glass that separates them in the nursing care facility.
We are created in the image of God. We need relationships with fellow human beings. Yet we have had to learn to recognize people through a mask. Their smile (or their sorrow) remains hidden behind a thin layer of fabric.
This (almost) Advent season I am reading God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. This work compiles Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas sermons and some of his personal letters into devotional reading. They are divided into four sequential themes: waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation.
Writing to his parents from a prison cell on November 29, 1943, Bonhoeffer seeks to encourage them to celebrate Advent despite the current circumstances:
We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us…. I think of you as you now sit together with the children and with all the Advent decorations–as in earlier years you did with us. We must do all this, even more intensively because we do not know how much longer we have.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007), 4.
It is when we least feel “Christmas-y” that we should strive to celebrate even more. Like the Psalmist, we must wrestle with our souls:
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.Psalm 42:5 NASB
Advent gives us hope because it reminds us that God is neither unaware nor unmoved by our seasons of suffering. He meets us in our suffering.
Indeed Christ has come to overcome suffering on our behalf. Kelly Kapic writes of Christ’s incarnation in relationship to our suffering,
The Son of God has taken on flesh, has felt physical pain, and has even entered the unutterable darkness of death itself. Jesus, Emmanuel, becomes the great sympathetic high priest who understands our fears, our pain, our temptations, our weaknesses (Heb 4:14-16) by making them his own. But Jesus will be more than merely sympathetic. The incarnate Son comes from the Father and in the Spirit, not merely to appreciate human suffering but to overcome it. The Creator has called to his creation, and the Word who first called the creation into existence has now entered the world of flesh and blood. He has come. The only thing that could possibly be more stunning than the fact that he comes is the discovery that he comes to die. This is no mere mission of investigation but rather of rescue and redemption. Therefore it is now time to face the darkness of the cross, but also to prepare for the sunrise of resurrection.Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering (Downers Grove: IVP Academic), 85.
My prayer is that our celebration of Christ’s advent comes at a time when we are most aware of our need for him. I pray that darkness will give way to the light of Christ for each of us (John 1:5, 9).
May this season of expectation renew our hope in Christ and fasten our gaze upon his glory. May the season of Advent uplift our hearts and fill our minds with wonder as we consider the grace of God given through Jesus Christ and the hope we possess by the presence of His Spirit.
The messages I will preach are as follows:
- The Servant’s Song of Justice (Isaiah 42:1-13)
- The Servant’s Song of Salvation (Isaiah 49:1-7)
- The Servant’s Song of Suffering and Strength (Isaiah 50:4-11)
- The Servant’s Song of Atonement (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)