Get Ready for Christmas
1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Are you ready for Christmas? It is the first Sunday of Advent. That means three more Sundays, and we are there. It is time to get ready.
There was a program on MTV called “Two-A-Days.” The show appeared in 2006 and chronicled the lives of teens at Hoover High School in Hoover, Alabama, which is a suburb of Birmingham. It focused on the members of the highly-rated Hoover Buccaneers football team, and particularly focused on what they had to do to get ready for a football game. I did not actually see the show, but I read about it. The program caused a lot of controversy and was dropped after the second year. More recently a program named “Rivals” took two high school football teams and chronicled their preparations for the game they played against each other. I saw one episode of “Rivals.” It was about two teams in Maine and the intensity and commitment that are required to win a football game: coaches pep talks, serious young faces, the commitment of the entire community.
But when it comes to getting ready, a bride can put a football team to shame. There is yet another TV show--”Say Yes to the Dress.” My wife likes this show, and so I wind up catching parts of it. I think sometimes God is punishing me for something I did. “Say Yes to the Dress” is about brides buying that dress for the big day. These women and their mothers and their grandmothers and sometimes their entire extended family—including friends and dogs—will show up at this bridal dress store and spend the entire day trying on dresses, and sometimes multiple days, and sometimes the brides come back a month later and try on more dresses. The price of the dresses is, from my admittedly cheap point of view, is astronomical. $5,000 is probably about average. $10,000 is a possibility. These brides spend a lot of time and money getting ready.
Which leads me to an observation. If anything is really important to us, be it a football game or a wedding, we will spend the time and money and energy we need to get ready for it.
So what about Christmas? Is Christmas really important to us? It ought to be, because it reminds us that God thought we were important enough to live among us. This was the greatest thing that ever happened, because it establishes our relationship with God, and it is the only way to establish this relationship. V2 says, “The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.” The mountain is the messiah, the Christ. And the point of the prophecy is that God's Messiah is supreme. There may be other mountains—other religions—but they do not compare to Christ.
This is also the point of Acts 4:12, where we read, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Jesus said the same thing in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
But who can come to the Father through Jesus? Isaiah emphasizes that all are welcome. V2 says of the mountain, “all nations will flow to it.” They will come together in the house of God as the people of God to worship God. Part of getting ready for Christmas is worship. As we worship, we come into God's presence, and that prepares us for living in God's presence forever. We worship because we love God, we adore God. This should be something we want to do. We want to be in God's house, we want to think about God. This is the central pleasure and focus of our lives. But unfortunately, it is often not that way. The news media will tell you that the pleasure and focus of our lives is Black Friday, Christmas shopping, decorations. I have the feeling Isaiah would say, forget all that stuff. That is just more materialism. You ought to be intense and serious about something more important than that. We ought to say with the people of God, “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” That is what we should want with all our heart and mind and soul. We should want it all the more because we can see this as an actual historical process that has happened and is happening. The Messiah was born in Bethlehem. The entire book of Acts tells the story of how the gospel began to go out to the world of that time, to the Roman Empire, and people of many nations began to turn to the mountain of God.
There was an old movie, entitled “Christmas Mountain,” made back in 1981, about a cowboy angel who goes around doing good deeds. In Wisconsin, there is a mountain, named Christmas Mountain. It is a ski resort. The prophet Isaiah talked about the real Christmas Mountain. Isaiah received this mystic vision from God, showing him these striking and exciting words: “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord's house will exalted and raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”
We have questions about this vision. What do these symbols of mountains and houses and nations represent? When will all this happen? How? Why? The NT tells us that today the house of God, that is the temple of God, is the church, the people of God. This temple is built on the mountain that is Jesus Christ. Thus, the last days began when the messiah was born.
The phrase “the last days” is a reference to that period that began with the first Christmas and will come to a close with Christ’s return on the “very” last day, which is sometimes called Judgment Day. Thus, we read in Hebrews, God “hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (1:2). The writer of Hebrews says, these are already the last days, because the Messiah has already come and he is already establishing his temple.
This is Isaiah's vision. The first temple, which we call Solomon's Temple probably had been built a couple of hundred years before the time of Isaiah. It would have been the most notable sight in Jerusalem. Sheathed in Gold, this gleaming temple built by David’s Son, stood on a mountaintop called Zion for about 400 years. The temple was the spiritual center of Israel and the goal of the nation’s annual pilgrimage. The Israelites believed that somehow the Lord himself was present in the “most Holy Place” of the temple. But the temple was ransacked and destroyed--First by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. The destruction of the temple symbolizes the broken relationship between God and his people.
But Isaiah looks toward a time in the last days when the temple Mountain will be the greatest permanent fixture in the world, raised above all other Mountains. By the way, Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the temple mount, is not a particularly high mountain. I have been there. It is more like a hill. It certainly does not compared to Mount Mitchell or to any of the high points in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But that is not the point, Isaiah is not talking about a physical mountain or a physical temple.
Christ is the mountain. The temple is the church. God is present with his people. This vision is fulfilled right before our eyes. The time is now. The last days are now. Christmas Mountain is here and ready.
God has established his church as the greatest of all religions. Christianity, the one religion led by the Savior, will not go away. It is immovable and permanent. It is the one religion above all religions that overcomes death and the devil, that brings forgiveness and eternal life. The Son of God came to establish peace between God and man. Remember what the message of the Angels was to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born. The angel said, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” then the angelic choir sang: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
The shepherds reaction to the angelic message about the coming of the messiah was what you would have thought. They said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing which the Lord has told us about.” and we read in Luke 2:17-18, “When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”
I can not help but compare the shepherds of the gospel of Luke with verse 3 of Isaiah’s vision of Christmas Mountain, “Many peoples will say, “Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
And this learning “his ways,” learning to “walk in his paths,” changes everything. Isaiah speaks of weapons becoming garden tools. In the last days, swords are pounded into the iron tips that were placed on wooden plows. Spears have their blades bent and are used for pruning trees. No more soldiers are drilling and training for battle. We do not need them. We do not have anything to fight about. The LORD's people live in love and settle their disputes with love and kindness.
People at Isaiah’s time dreamed of a world like that, but reality was exactly the opposite. In Isaiah’s day people were making weapons out of anything they could find. War was a fact of life and they had to be ready. In Isaiah’s day, the world was dominated by two superpowers: Egypt, and Assyria. Israel was conveniently located between them, and the day would soon come when Assyria would destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and lay siege to Jerusalem. In Isaiah's time, war was everywhere, it was constant, and there was no relief in sight.
And we might say that so many centuries later not much has changed. True, the world is no longer balanced between two superpowers. The cold war ended. The Berlin Wall came down. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed. When all that happened, some commentator confidently called it the end of history, and the dawn of a new age of peace. But that did not happen Let’s just mention a few names: Iraq, Somalia, Chechnya, Bosnia, Rwanda, Afghanistan. It might look like we are no nearer to lasting, world peace today than Isaiah was, but really, we are. Real peace, lasting peace, is on the way; in fact, it is here now. This is not a peace that people negotiate. It is a peace God inaugurates. God did that when he sent the Messiah. That peace began with the coming of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Jesus, by his coming, ended the oldest, most expensive, and most tragic war of all—the war between humankind and God. Jesus was the great peacemaker. Through Christ we are now friends of God.
And if that is true, what do true Christians have to fight about? Are we going to argue to see who is better or more spiritual or closer to God? God’s Word says we are all "one in Christ Jesus"--we’re all sinful, but we are all saved, and all valuable members of God’s family. Are we going to fight about wealth, or power, or status? We all already have spiritual wealth beyond our wildest dreams, and we have status that truly means something. We are God’s beloved children. As for earthly wealth, we know that none of that matters anymore. God has promised us that we will always have all we need--and whatever we have beyond that simply is not worth fighting about. Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of peace. The members of Christ’s kingdom are like the spokes on a wheel. They have been put in a right relationship to God, who is the hub of the wheel, and so they, believers, automatically line up in a right relationship with each other.
But it does not always look that way, does it? You certainly do not see that harmony, that peace, in the world, and you do not always see it in the church, either. That is true because most of this world still wants no part of Christ and his kingdom, and a part of our own hearts feels the same way. We are still in this world. God is not finished with us yet. His work is an ongoing project, but it is ongoing. It is moving toward its goal, just as surely as a river flows, God’s kingdom will reach God's goal—which is a brand new people in a brand new world, a peaceable people in a world of peace. Jesus’ coming into the world at Bethlehem set all that in motion. Thanks to that coming, we are now on our way. So that is what we are getting ready for, when we get ready for Christmas. Are you ready?
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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