In the lead up to Christmas we’ve been looking at some well-known Christmas Carols and finding out what they mean in our Sunday teaching. So I thought we’d post a couple of the talks here.
The first Carol we looked at was Oh Come all ye faithful. It was originally written in Latin as Adeste Fideles (don’t worry that’s about the only time you’ll hear any Latin in one of my sermons we didn’t get taught it at Buttershaw Comprehensive School!)
If you like a good who dunnit then we have one here because no-one’s quite sure who wrote the original words but the English translation was by a Catholic Priest, Frederick Oakley in 1841. It has become one of the most popular carols around the World. There’s actually 8 verses in Latin but we won’t be singing them all.
I want to look specifically at the words of the Chorus. What do we mean when we sing “Oh Come let us adore him”? Do we mean anything at all or are we just caught up in the emotion of the music? And that’s where our two Bible readings Isaiah 42:1-8 and Isaiah 53:1-3 come in.
1. We come to praise and adore the Great Covenant keeping God
Isaiah 42:8 says “I am the Lord, that is my name. I will not give my glory to another, or my praise to idols.”
Here we discover that it is God who deserves praise, honour and adoration. He will not allow any rivals to this. In other words, we shouldn’t have other gods.
Idols are false gods. They are either attempts to make an image of the one true God or aspects of creation that we worship instead of God. The point is this. An idol cannot really capture who God really is. It might take one or two good things and put them on a pedestal but it cannot capture the whole character of God. Isaiah wrote at a time when the people of Israel had started to worship the gods of the nations around them. God warned them through the prophet that he would not permit this to continue. There was a warning that judgement would come. Eventually the people who chose to worship other gods in their own land would end up serving them in exile as they were invaded and taken captive to serve the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians.
Do you have any idols? Some of us may literally have idols. We may paintings or images of deities around the home, we may wear lucky charms to win the favour of spirits and angels. These things tell us that we have not yet put our trust fully in the one true God.
We are all tempted to make idols. These are the things that become more precious than God in our lives. These can be good things like family, relationships, health, work, entertainment. It’s good to value and enjoy these things but when we start to believe that we cannot live without them, when they take up most of our time at the expense of everything else and at the expense of God ten they have become idols.
Recently I led a session on apologetics (defending our faith) at OM. One person asked “What do I say to the person who believes they are happy. They have everything they want and they do not need God.” We talked about how those things were temporary, how we could not build our lives on them. We remembered Jesus’s story about the man who built his house on the sand, the storm came and washed the sand away. One day you will be robbed of your health, beauty, family, work etc. Age will rob you of those things unless tragedy gets there first. That’s the reality of life. Don’t rely on them. Don’t worship them. Find the solid rock to build your life on.
Idols can be more obviously sinister. Some physical idols are beautifully made, you can understand why someone might be tempted to worship them. I’ve seen some hideous looking gods too. Imagine my surprise when I found out that they were meant to look ugly and frightening. These gods represent the things we fear. That might be the nightmares that wake us at 3 o’clock in the morning or a specific person who has controlled and abused us. For some of us the idol is a persistent, habitual sin. We’ve begun to believe that we can never be free from these things. Idol worship is often about appeasing these types of gods to stop them being angry with us. We end up believing that God has no power over them.
God here is worthy of praise and adoration because he is the creator God (v5-6) but more than that. He announces his name The Lord or Yahweh. This is the name he used to reveal himself to Moses. It has the idea of God being eternal and completely independent “I am who I am” –God was not created, he is without beginning. He does not owe his existence to another. The name was quickly associated with God’s determination to make a covenant with his people to love them protect them, rule them and rescue them from danger. This covenant was based on grace. God acted even though the people of Israel did not deserve his love and protection. It was a one sided deal!
This takes us to the second reason for coming to worship and adore him because God’s covenant with Israel was pointing to an even greater covenant, the promise to rescue people not just from physical enemies and not just for one nation but people from all nations would find a rescuer, protector, King (A Saviour, a Messiah) who would defeat death and deal with the problem of sin. You see as we have already noted, idolatry cannot go unpunished. Just as Israelite idolatry led to exile, our choice to rebel against God and choose our own gods means that we deserve exile from God’s loving presence, we deserve death, we deserve Hell.
2. We come to praise and adore the one who has acted to rescue and forgive us
So look at the rest of this passage. Isaiah 42:1-4 tells us that God has chosen his servant, put his Spirit in him and called him to bring justice. Who is this servant? Well some people think that it refers to the people of Israel or one of their leaders at the time. Some think Isaiah was pointing to Cyrus, a Persian Emperor and the one who would let the Jews return and rebuild the temple. Elsewhere Isaiah does talk about Cyrus as being God’s chosen servant but the overall theme suggests that God has someone greater than a human emperor in mind. Cyrus certainly does not fulfil Isaiah 53 which we will come to in minute.
Matthew 12:15-21 takes these verses and says “Look they are pointing to Jesus.” Look at how they describe him.
“He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the street.” (42:2)
He’s not a rabble rouser, not a trouble causer. He is someone who is gentle, kind, loving .
“A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” (42:3)
Bruised reeds and smouldering wicks make us think of fragile things, a reed that is bruised is close to snapping, a candle that is smouldering is close to being extinguished. Here is his gentleness at work. Do those words describe you? Close to breaking point, losing hope, feeling like light and hope is about to be extinguished? And then you come into church fearful. You are at breaking point and people are good at breaking other people aren’t they? Sadly, religious people are good at breaking people, they put a burden of condemnation and guilt on them.
Well Jesus does not do that. Jesus is the one who invites those who are weary and heavy laden to come to him and find rest. He promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He offers refreshment and nourishment to those who are spiritually hungry and emotionally thirsty.
And so we have our other reading. Isaiah 53 is the famous Bible passage that talks about Jesus willingly taking the burden of our guilt and shame on himself. It’s the bible passage that shows how he stepped in to receive the punishment of death that we deserved.
And so we have this great paradox. Imagine getting a Valentines card. You open it and it says.
“”You have no beauty to attract me to you.
The way you look is quite frankly off putting.
There’s nothing desirable about you at all.”
….Will you marry me?
We are attracted to beauty –or at least to shiny pretty things!
But Isaiah’s prophecy tells us to come and adore someone who does not capture us with what we would call beauty. It’s not even the sentimental, cute baby in the manger that we are called to adore.
Here is somebody, whipped, beaten, spat at, carrying the instrument of his own torture and execution on his back, stumbling under the weight of his cross, the ugly cries of mockery ringing in his ears. Then he is hung up to die. He does not deserve to be there. He has the power to stop it happening. Crushed, cut off, and killed – for me and for you.
This is the one we come to adore. We come to say thank you Jesus, you have brought forgiveness and healing into my life. You have taken away my guilt and shame. You have given me eternal life.
For many of us there’s the joy of singing this carol again this year. We are thankful to God for what he has done for us in Jesus.
For some of us there’s still a decision to make. Will you come and adore him, will you come and worship. The Cross is ugly because it deals with the ugly mess in our own lives. This morning you are deeply aware of that ugliness, you know that you are far away from God; you know the hurt and damage you have caused to others. You know the great burden of shame and guilt that you carry. This morning will you allow him to take that from you, to forgive you to tell you that you are loved and precious to him?
Oh come let us adore him
Christ the Lord