A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on December 5, 2010 by Pastor Dale Raether Let the Grinch Steal Christmas!  Isaiah 11:1-10Do you recognize this character?  In case any of you aren’t familiar with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Grinch hated the who’s.  He hated it even more that the who’s loved Christmas.  So, the Grinch came up with a plan to keep Christmas from coming to Whosville.  He stole all the who’s Christmas food, decorations and presents.  But Christmas came anyway, and the who’s were happy even without all their Christmas things.  This warmed the Grinch’s heart.  He returned the who’s things and then they all enjoyed Christmas together.  Why is this story so popular?  Why do we see elements of this plot in almost every holiday movie?  Deep down everyone knows that happiness is not in things, it’s in being nice to others; and many hope that holiday traditions will bring that out in people at least for awhile.   Does it really work that way?  What if a real life Grinch made it so you couldn’t buy any presents for your family?  Or what if this Grinch kept you and yours from going to any parties?  Or what if this great big Grinch made it illegal for anyone to ever say “Merry Christmas”?  If all our Christmas traditions were taken from us, what would be left?  Well, let the Grinch steal Christmas, because we would still have Jesus, and Jesus is all we need.  1.  No one can stop Him from giving us His presents.  2.  His presents are the best. Last week I told you how well off Old Testament Israel was.  Even the middle class had big houses, chariots, and too much time on their hands.  However the money for their lavish lifestyle had to come from someone.  It came from the poor people.  The poor had to work long hours for low wages, and even at that employers would look for excuses not to pay them.  So, they’d take them to court, but the rich owned the courts.  When the poor then couldn’t pay their bills, they would be sold into slavery.  Incidentally the full price of a slave then was 30 pieces of silver.  But there were so many who had fallen behind and desperate to eat, that the price for a slave had dropped to the price of a pair of shoes.  If you were among the poor then, what hope would you have of your life getting better?  Not much – but in a moment I’ll share with you what they did look to for hope.     And now think about the wealthier, who were sticking it to the poor and were guilty of idolatry and adultery and all kinds of bad things.  What could they look to for hope that God wasn’t going to punish them?  Oddly enough the same thing the poor looked to – the temple in Jerusalem.  The rich reasoned that since the Temple symbolized God’s presence on earth, there was no way He’d let anything happen to it or to them.  The poor on the other hand, when they looked to the temple, would pray that God send the deliverer, He had promised.  This deliverer would be a descendent of King David’s royal line and would make all things new again.  But not everyone believed that or cared about the temple.  They instead trusted the government of Babylon for help, which wasn’t just dumb, it was idolatry.  And so, God would use the Babylonians to punish the nation.  In 586 BC, they came and took the rich peoples’ toys, burned their houses, and then took them as slaves to Babylon. And now put yourself into the shoes of the poor people.  As hard as your life had been up that point, it suddenly got harder; because the Babylonians had taken everything.  Also, before this you could have at least looked to the temple for a feeling of hope.  Now you’re staring at a pile of rubble.  A man of God comes up to you, opens to Isaiah 11, which was written a 50 years before any of this happened, and he reads, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit – Isaiah 11:1.”  The Hebrew emphasizes that God made this shoot grow.  He did this, when Mary, who was a  descendent of King David conceived by the Holy Spirit.  This tender shoot didn’t appear to be strong enough to deliver anyone.  In fact as a baby He Himself had to be rescued from a King, who was trying to kill Him.  However, when He was grown, God sent John to Baptist, and through that washing, poured out the Holy Spirit on Him.   We read, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD – Isaiah 11:2-3.”  Again, if we were among the poor in 586 BC, we might wonder how God could release His people from mighty Babylon and bring them back to Judea, so that the tender shoot could be born there.  On the other hand, maybe we wouldn’t even want them back, after the way they had treated us?  And so, the issue wasn’t just moving people around and rebuilding bricks and mortar.  Those things were impossible enough in that setting.  But the real issue was changing hearts, so that rich and poor, and even Jews and Gentiles could live together in genuine love for each other.  In 586 BC, that had to seem totally impossible.  However nothing was going to stop Jesus from giving His presents to mankind.   Looking again at the verse on the screen, the word wisdom in this verse is knowing in a practical way how to deal with a problem.  Understanding is the ability to see every little detail in the context of the big picture.  In the next line, counsel is the ability to make plans that will solve the problem, and might emphasizes that He’s able to follow through on His plans.  Finally because of His knowledge, His plans are in line with in line with the eternal will of the Father; and the fear of the Lord means that He would never go against that will, no matter what it might cost Him.  We think here of the Garden of Gethsemane.     And now let’s think about the root cause of all the problems the people in Jerusalem had.  The root cause was Adam’s sin and the sinful nature we all inherited.  According to this nature, man is always looking for substitutes for God – something that will make his life here fun and worthwhile, or when bad times comes, something that will keep him safe. As I mentioned before, the rich peoples’ answer was “things.”  And then when they started to feel consequences for how they lived (and sin always has consequences), they turned to popular, but false, religions.  And when that didn’t work, they turned to the Babylonians, who destroyed them.  But why wouldn’t they just turn to God?  Because that would mean facing their guilt.  Yet rather than do that, they kept covering up their guilt with more pleasure and more rationalizations, and ultimately with more layers of guilt.   We can’t say the poor people weren’t guilty of these things too, if they had the chance.  So, getting back to that tender shoot, even with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, how could He turn things around?  He would remove men’s guilt, and He would do this the only way possible.  He would live a holy life for all, and then he would take everyone’s guilt on Himself.  With guilt gone, we can turn from sin, because we can turn to God.  And then as we turn to God and learn of His Wisdom, and how He cares for us and directs our lives, we can feel truly safe.  And finally free of guilt and safe in His care, we can rejoice in whatever He give us to do, and so our lives do have true meaning and purpose, and can even be fun.   However, sometimes it might seem like this tender shoot isn’t able to do these things for our lives, because He hasn’t yet.  He will!  Life here is a daily walk of faith, but Jesus is with us with His wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel and might in order to keep us in the Word and in this faith, till we receive the fullness of all of His Christmas presents. We read on in our text, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.   The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea – Isaiah 11:6-9.” This is picture language, but we can understand it on a number of levels.  Wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, lions and calves, toddlers and poisonous snakes don’t go together.  In our text they do, because this pictures the perfect peace sinners have with God through all that the tender shoot did in our place.       However, there’s even more to this picture.  The wolf, leopard, lion and bear, were the symbols of governments that at one time or another oppressed God’s people.  We don’t have to fear that anymore, for though governments may still try to oppress God’s people and keep the Gospel from spreading, the tender shoot would preserve His Church, for He is forever the Lord of the nations.   There’s one more way we can take this picture.  Are you a wolf or a lamb, a leopard or a goat, a bear or a calf, – maybe we take turns being both.  But this is a picture us getting along with all our brothers and sisters in Christ.   So, then, who’s the biggest Grinch in your life?  Who’s the one person you’d least want to sit next to in heaven?  Assuming your Grinch makes it to heaven, which is what God wants, that person may well be the one you do sit next to in heaven.  If that sounds repulsive to you, who’s being the Grinch? But if you want Jesus to change your heart, during this Advent time, stop thinking about that other person and just focus on Jesus – see His love for you.  Then as His love moves you to want to do His will, slowly turn your eyes toward that other person.  Finally, keep on doing this until you can say to your Grinch with genuine warmth and humility, “Merry Christmas.”  Isn’t this the best Christmas gift of all – not that we have all the “stuff” of Christmas, which is fine if we do or don’t, but that we have peace with God and are at peace with one another.  And this peace no one can ever take away.  Merry Christmas!   Amen.   

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