Saturday, December 06, 2008

We Were Born Ready (Isaiah 40:1-11)

Advent is a season of preparing for Christmas in the same way that Lent is a season of preparing for Easter, but don’t try to tell someone to give up chocolate for Advent. Some things are more sacred than others.

But during Advent we do try to make ourselves ready for the coming of the King. So it may be confusing when I say that the point of the Isaiah passage is that we are in fact ready for a savior. Obviously, I’m doing something funny with the words.

And yes, I am. We use “ready for” in a lot of different ways. In one, we talk about getting ready for something, meaning we’re preparing for it. That’s the normal sense of Advent, and Advent itself is a symbol for how we should always be making ourselves ready for the coming of the King.

Another meaning of being ready for something refers to really wanting or needing it to happen. We talk like this about vacations or meals or a cold drink after a working outside in the heat. “I’m really ready for a vacation” means “I really want and need a vacation right now.”

The Christmas stories of Matthew and Luke can help teach us how we get ready for Christmas in the first sense of the word “ready.” Isaiah’s prophecies can teach us how we’re ready for a savior in the second sense.

Many people know that the primary objection many people in Jesus’ day made to his being the Messiah was that he didn’t do what they expected the Messiah to do. They expected him to be a political and perhaps military leader who would overthrow their current oppressors, the Romans, and reestablish Israel as an independent nation, under its own king. The Messiah would be that king, a descendant of David, and through him and the nation of Israel, God would renew his direct relationship with humanity.

Jews held the desire for this kind of Messiah for a long time. When Isaiah wrote, the Messiah would overthrow the Babylonians. Later on, it would be the Persians, then the Greeks, Seleucids and finally the Romans, with a brief period of independence under the Maccabee family mixed in there.

These people believed that if they could just get rid of their oppressor du jour, then they could run things themselves again and they would follow God the way that they were always supposed to, and had long ago promised that they would. Today, we might not use the word “oppressor” and we’d give them different names – the Seleucids haven’t caused problems for a long time for anyone but students trying to identify them on quizzes, for example – but we don’t have a vastly different mindset.

If I didn’t have this mortgage, or this car payment or these bills, if I didn’t have to put in so much time at work, if I didn’t have to do this or that, then my time could be my own, we might say. If church didn’t have so many people who just aren’t very spiritual, if the pastor had a clue, if we just sang the kind of music I like all the time…you see where I’m going. If only I could somehow get saved from all of this other stuff going on, then I could handle things on my own.

We understand, though, that the point of Christ’s coming was that we can’t handle things on our own. If every external thing I figure is holding me back somehow disappeared, I’d pick up new ones pretty quick, because I need saving from something inside me more than I need saving from something outside me.

Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the people still had a hard time figuring out that his plan and his work was a lot bigger than they had ever thought. Gradually, they came to understand what Jesus had taught them about the Messiah working out the salvation of the people through his sacrifice, rather than through his great power. They looked to Isaiah’s prophecies to help flesh this out, among others.

We may think that whatever jeopardizes our spiritual health or growth puts us in need of salvation and makes us ready for a savior, meaning that we need one. Nope. We weren’t made ready. We were born ready.

And unto us who were born ready for a savior, a Savior is born.

Good news to all, not to mention tidings of great joy.

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