What Does God Want This Christmas?
At a time when Job’s life had come unraveled at every critical seam - his children gone, possessions vanished, personal health robbed, Job was pulling his hair out in frustration with God who was way too quiet and had yet to admit that he treated Job unfairly. But the Almighty didn’t answer Job directly about that. Instead he walked him bit by bit through the universe with a repetitious refrain: “Job, did you make this?” God found a way to do more than just put Job in his place.
Imagine walking with God himself over to a long post and rail fence bordering a horse pasture, just to marvel for a moment as God offers his own commentary on his creature:
“Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength, and charges into the fray. It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; it does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against its side, along with the flashing spear and lance. In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground; it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.” (Job 39:19–25)
The answers to every question were all the same and painfully obvious: “No, God, I don’t do that or that or that.” Over and over again Job listened to God’s questions and knew one thing: “You do that.”
“You give perfect purpose at your fingertips. It’s all too wonderful for me. What is my thinking next to yours?” The book of Job is a wisdom book. Job didn’t get what he wanted in the end - a direct answer from God; but he did get what God wanted - a faith that grew in the wisdom that fears, loves and trusts in God more than anything else.
So, it got me thinking about that question we quietly ask each other leading up to Christmas - “what do you want?” we ask - just so we can gain some ideas for gifts that would hopefully move the needle of happiness in someone’s life just a little bit. But it’s way too normal for us, isn’t it, such a juicy topic to hang around the “what I want” category. Just like my Job-like wisdom makes me think I have a right to be angry, a reason I’m going to take offense at you, your poor choice of words, your failure to understand what I meant; yes, I will argue my point, I will defend my behavior; I will carefully justify my course of action long before I will confess anything about it. Actually, don’t you agree it wise that we focus more on your wrongdoing, your wicked contribution to this frustration right now. I’m not the problem, you are!
Let’s expand it a little bit - every year pastors hear from someone asking what God thinks of them now because of some tragedy - when God took too much away too fast, when our big dreams for a family or great effort for success find an extremely disappointing end. How many years pass by with ongoing financial frustration or relationship messes or medical fears or other personal traumas? And so the Christmas services can ring as loud as they want, but they get tuned out because I’m not getting what I want. God, did you change on me? Pastors too can share feelings of disappointment and discontentment that run wild with such a “what I want” sinful nature.
We could talk about this for a long time, but right now, let’s remove the king’s crown we put on our heads and be empty and still as we know there is a better wisdom out there, as God himself walks us to a stable gate and speaks softly to us of something too wonderful for our imagination - what he wants.
Listen to this incredible quote here in Hebrews 10 of verses from Psalm 40, spoken by Christ himself, when he came into the world - a reference to when God became man, his incarnation - it’s called. We get to hear this Babe talk through this psalm - and speak to what God wants. when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’ ”
As we lean on the stable gate and listen to God the Son speak to God the Father manger-side, notice how learn both what God doesn’t want and what he does. We cross some things off the list and circle others. Sacrifices and offerings you did not desire, with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Cross those off. BUT a body you prepared for me and here I am, you wrote about me in your scroll, in your book, in your promises and prophecies (which we review in the Christmas services), I have come to do your will, my God.” So if we’re going to answer what God wants this Christmas - you’d have to say, Baby Jesus - the Son of God born with a body as true man!
But why is this his thing? His big want? Here, Jesus, God and man in one person, is the counterpart to sacrifices and sin offerings. It’s the writing on the wall that God has prepared for him a body in part for one ultimate sacrifice to pay for sins. As for all the others, all the blood shed that took the life of lambs, bulls, goats...God was not pleased by them, meaning they didn’t pay for the punishment of sin, didn’t satisfy his anger. It’s like playing the game of Life with fake money and a pretend retirement at the end in Millionaire Estates - good for you, but it’s not real.
By commanding over 1200 public bloody animal sacrifices every year, God was teaching both the penalty for sin as the destruction of life, the shedding of blood to death, but also that these were not human sacrifices, he used substitutes that pointed to how someday the ultimate substitute would come, the promise of God for THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE that would one day be given on sinners’ behalf.
One past Lutheran teacher and dogmatician called sin the murder of God. Not to say that God actually ceases to exist, but to teach the type of violation sin is, the kind of horrible thing that has taken place when we sin, no matter what it is. It’s the murder of God. Like you may have heard some say that every sin breaks the first commandment that we shouldn’t have other gods. If you thought it was easy for you to not be an idolater, any sin in a sense is the idolatry of fearing, loving or trusting something more than the one true God.
This is what makes Mary a lowly servant in a humble state. This was makes Bethlehem a truly little town. It’s the great reason you and I stop and consider that Christmas isn’t cute, but costly. God didn’t record the Christmas story just to give us enough Christmas characters for all our kids to have a role. This baby was wrapped in prophecies and promises long before cloths - and they were not cozy and comfortable words: A body you prepared for me - “body” here has more than just a normal configuration of cells. Jesus knew more about his purpose in the will of his Father than the mere fact he would go from single cell to multiple in a successful pregnancy within the Virgin’s womb. He knew “the cup”. This script, this will of God, was written in his heart from eternity before it found a scroll, and yet this horse, too, would never flinch in the face of the battle, but ever and only say, “Not my will but yours...I have come to do yours, O God!”
Laid in a manger AND in a tomb. Lowly crib to cursed cross! Let’s not have a cheap celebration of a most expensive gift. If your Christmas carol has no cost, it’s a sorry excuse for caroling. But “mild, he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth”...Yes, like Mary now we know the magnitude of God made flesh and what it means for our humble estate.
Luther once wrote that there is no greater comfort than to hear that God knows our way. What he meant was, that God knew us so well and what we truly needed, and he demonstrated that that’s true by this - by wanting and willing what was best for our souls.
By this birth and the perfect life of obedience the Son would give to the Father for us and the perfect obedience in suffering and death for our sins, God has cleared the way for himself to be fully able to declare you holy. by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. He has cleared the way to be fully able to catch your soul when you die and keep you forever. He is fully able to spread the cheer of forgiveness to any person anywhere! He’s cleared the way to show his power and mercy that sends his Spirit to give you faith and second birth in newness of life, new wanting and willing as the Spirit’s continual fruit in your heart.
It’s going to be another great couple of days right here. Let us grow in our wisdom to silence all our fears, to put to death our sinful wants and ways, to never stop rejoicing, pure, delighted rejoicing in the presence of our God. Why? Because we learned Another year with the Lord? How do I know?...I’ve learned from my fence post time here the answer to what God wants this Christmas. Just listen to what he says, the body he prepared, what he became for us, what he came to buy this Christmas with his own blood and what he will soon come again to bring home to himself forever - you know the answer what God wants this Christmas. You are the answer. You made pure. You made holy by this Holy One, you rejoicing with him in all his works forever. Amen.