Christmas Day – 2022 LSB #’s 361, 357:1, 5-7; 391
Text – Isaiah 52:7
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…
DO YOU HEAR THE FOOTSTEPS?
When I was ten years old, there were five of us living in the house where I grew up. I remember that, while lying in bed at night, I could tell exactly which member of my family was up & walking around just by the sound of their footsteps.
Parents listen late at night for the sound of footsteps telling them that their teenager has arrived home safely after a night out with friends. We sit in the waiting room hoping expectantly for the sound of the doctor’s footsteps, coming out of surgery, to tell us “All went well” & our loved one will be fine.
When our cat is outside, waiting to be let in, he can tell we are approaching the door by the sound of our footsteps. In horror movies, the sound of footsteps is often used to build tension & they are normally a bad omen. On this Christmas morning have you been hearing footsteps? Can you tell whose footsteps they are?
Today, we typically get word of some important event by staying close to the television, the radio, the Internet, or cell phones. None of those communication methods existed when Isaiah was serving God as prophet. Runners were the fastest way to communicate in the days when Isaiah was speaking to the people on God’s behalf.
Often, those runners brought good news of victory in battle. In order to better capture their interest, Isaiah uses the image of a runner in order to announce God’s coming deliverance of His people from exile in Babylon, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.” (Isaiah 52:7 ESV)
News of great joy is coming to the people who trust in God, in spite of how bad things
appeared when Isaiah was making this announcement. When Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem & Solomon’s temple, & the people were led into captivity at Babylon, the nation’s faith in Yahweh was severely tested. God was at work burning away the false religions that had infested their hearts & minds & were poisoning them to death.
Now, the heavenly Father was going to be releasing them from their captivity. The sound of the messengers footsteps was meant to bring them great joy, but, if the people refused to receive & believe that good news their release would do them no good. The footsteps themselves have no power or joy. Those depend upon how the footsteps are received.
On this Christmas morning have you been hearing the footsteps of Isaiah the prophet? Is your heart filled with joy? Is your highest priority this Christmas morning to be here, in the house of God? Even American Christians have been trained to think of Christmas Day as time for family, & it’s a common excuse for not attending church or for holding services at all.
Do you remember when Mary & Joseph lost Jesus for three days? Where did they find Him? What was His answer? “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49b ESV) If you consider Jesus to be family, does it make sense to think of Christmas as family time apart from your Father’s house? Do you mean to say that Jesus is not part of your family?
Let’s be honest, few people really want to be here, now, on Christmas Day. Even some of you sitting in these seats are probably here reluctantly. Are we worshipping this day, & it’s sentimental memories, more than we worship Jesus?
During your entire life, your schedule should revolve around God, not around you nor around your feelings, not even around your earthly family. That’s what the 1st commandment is all about. And when you fail to follow that commandment you break all the rest of them. Acknowledging the depth of your sin it should bring great joy to hear the footsteps of God’s messenger. By God’s design, this is the primary place for you to be; here with your eternal family to hear the footsteps which bring the joyous news that Christ has come to save you from the loneliness & despair of this broken world. No matter how bad things might appear in our world & our nation & our homes, Jesus has come to bring us victory over them all.
It may not look that way, as you leave home on a cold wintry morning to come to church again! How many times have you been here already this month? However, true joy, in a world corrupted by sin, begins in only one place. It begins as we abide in the Vine, which is Jesus Christ. If you receive His blessings, they bring joy no matter how life appears to you.
For now, God’s answer to sin is that we live by faith, not by sight. No king has invaded our land & hauled us off as prisoners, yet increasingly we feel like captives today in a culture gone absolutely mad.
Then, Satan tempts us to circle the wagons to keep out the evil. He tempts us to make family our highest priority even on the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But there is no family without Jesus. Just look at the way our culture is defining family today. Satan’s definition of it has nothing to do with our heavenly Father’s design.
And the further we get away from our heavenly Father, the further we get from true peace & joy, but Satan doesn’t ask much of us. Just take one step away from God. Family is important. Later, he asks us to take just one more step. Eventually, we’ve drifted so far that we no longer hear the footsteps of God’s messengers. Or, we no longer believe them.
Sadly, all of us know people whose footsteps we have heard as they depart from God. Here, in God’s house, is where families should be gathering to find safety. And if some of your family won’t follow – you should leave them behind, because you can’t do anything to help them if you are not abiding in Jesus first. The only way to love your family members is for you to remain in Christ. Only there do you have any possibility of showing them the life that Jesus gives to anyone who follows Him.
When God’s people were exiled to Babylon, His reign seemed to be nonexistent. It may seem that way in our lives as well, whether it’s the footsteps of our government, or the footsteps of family & friends, who are leaving God behind. But following Jesus is not like following the Detroit Lions. Jesus does not fail in the end. In fact, He already rules the world right now.
He has a strange way of doing so, to our way of thinking. Ruling through a cross on Golgotha does not seem to be accomplishing much. There is so much rebellion, suffering & death going on, but that is what sin does. And as mean as it seems to say this, putting family before God falls into the same category of sin. God has to rescue us or we are damned.
So, He sends His messengers to call us home. Are you listening, or is our culture drowning out the sound of God’s footsteps? Yahweh is directing all of history steadily toward His goals of peace & salvation for sinners like us. True life is always & only centered in God & His activity to save. The surest way to love our family members is to entrust them to the Lord.
That too requires living by faith & not by sight. And sight is really tempting at this time of year, with the Christmas decorations, the joyful lights & the multitudes of presents. Living by sight is extra tempting when family arrives from across the country, or just down the road. We’re tempted to believe that quality time with our loved ones makes everything all right.
Chapter 52 of Isaiah begins with the words, “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion.” (52:1a ESV) Isaiah is calling the people to put on the strength of God because nothing else will save them. In our day & age the same is true, nothing else but God’s mighty arm can save us from the power of Satan to steal, kill & destroy.
In Mark 1:15, Jesus echoes the words of Isaiah, “The reign of God is near. Repent &
believe the Gospel.” Jesus too is calling us to wake up & put on the strength of God. One day the footsteps of Judgment will also be heard. Do not be caught sleeping in your sins, but also do not despair because of them. The OT reading assures you that you may begin to celebrate even now. In spite of what Satan says, you are not bound or chained by your present circumstances.
The return of the exiles from Babylon, under King Cyrus, did not produce the far-reaching results anticipated in this OT text. Thus, the fulfillment of the vision extends into the future. King Cyrus gave the exiles worldly freedom, yet the victory of Christ produces freedom from bondage to sin & all the corruption, decay & misery that it brings.
That good news is illustrated by a well-known poem that is related to footsteps.
One night a man dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. As scenes of his life flashed before him, he noticed that there were two sets of footprints in the sand. He also noticed at his saddest, lowest times there was but one set of footprints. This bothered the man. He asked the Lord, “Did you not promise that if I gave my heart to You that You’d be with me all the way? Then why is there but one set of footprints during my most troublesome times?” The Lord replied, “My precious child, I love you & would never forsake you. During those times of trial & suffering, when you could see only one set of footprints, it was then I carried you.”
Isaiah 63:9 relates the same concept: “In His love & mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up & carried them all the days of old.” So, the next time you hear the singing of Silent Night, listen carefully & you will also hear the footsteps of Jesus. He is coming to bring you good news of great joy. Receive that gift & you will be free. Amen.
O come, Thou Key of David, come, & open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, & close the path to misery. O come, Thou Dayspring from on high, & cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, & death’s dark shadows put to flight. O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid Thou our sad divisions cease, & be Thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! Amen. LSB 357:5-7.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet