Text: Isaiah 61

Santa Claus, sleigh bells, reindeer. Snow falling, icicles forming, Christmas music playing. Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas presents. Shopping, planning, cooking, eating, visiting with friends and family. This is what Christmas is all about... isn't it? Somewhere in the midst of the hustle and bustle of all the festivities, the real meaning of Christmas is lost.

What's it all about?  We all know the Christmas story — the birth of Jesus. But is that it? Is the real meaning of Christmas reduced to a sweet story about a baby that we faintly hear through the noise of the lights, the packages and the ribbons? What is the true meaning of Christmas?  In Luke 4:16-21 Jesus answers our question. He quotes Isaiah 61 and defines his ministry. Surely this is what Christmas is all about.  Not just a birth story, but the celebration of one whose ministry sets people free!

The ministry of Isaiah 61, which Jesus applies to himself is a ministry of liberation, offering a joy-filled existence to its recipients. The joy of salvation is echoed again in 61:8-11. But what does this have to do with Christmas? Christmas is the celebration of the One whose life and ministry changes others. As followers of Jesus, we are the recipients of this grace as well as the body of Christ which bestows this grace on others. 

I once heard a story of a missionary who angrily chased thieves out of his pineapple field almost every day. One day, his anger, yelling and chasing stopped. Curious, one of the thieves inquired about this and was told that the missionary-farmer realized that God owned the pineapple field and it did not belong to him.  In awe, the thief responded, "Oh... he became a Christian!" You see, he was claiming Christ all along, but not living Christ.

Are we experiencing the joy-filled existence that characterizes the ministry of Jesus? Are we allowing the life of Jesus to touch others through us? Or, are we too caught up in the commercialism of it all this Christmas season? How can we experience and express the real meaning of Christmas as defined by Isaiah 61 and Luke 4?  Let's take a look at specific verses in Isaiah 61.

Isaiah 61:1. Verse 1 makes it clear that we must first begin by surrendering to the leadership of the Spirit of the Lord each day.  Through prayer, we can also ask the Lord to reveal areas of our lives where we need healing and deliverance, and commit those to His care. We can also ask for opportunities to bestow healing and deliverance upon others.

Isaiah 61:2-3, 10-11.  How can we experience joy versus mourning? We need to put on the "garment of praise." Spend time each day singing praise songs and hymns either acappella or with accompaniment. Wonderful, worshipful CD's are available in Christian book stores and on line. Praise sets us free from ourselves and our problems and focuses our attention on the Lord, empowering us to be vessels of light and love for others. 

Isaiah 61:4.  While the returning exiles were to rebuild their cities, we can rebuild our ruined lives and help others to do so.  We can begin by putting basic biblical principles into practice, such as those found in Psalms 37 or Colossians 3.

Isaiah 61:8-9.  What are we doing to fight for justice? The OT covenant was a covenant that upheld truth and justice. Are there ways in which we can make a difference in local, state, national and global decisions that uphold justice and truth? Countless websites provide information and opportunities to take action.  You may also wish to contact your denominational headquarters for information.

Do you want to experience the true meaning of Christmas this year? Let's begin by following Jesus' example and putting Isaiah's "to do" list into practice.

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Sermon brief provided by: Paula Fontana Qualls, Associate Professor of Religion at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC.

Original publication date: September 1, 2005