What would you like to receive for Christmas?
You are by now familiar with the wish lists of the important people in your life—a spouse, children, siblings, friends. But what does the Lord’s Christmas list include, the gifts that God intends to give his people? How about this? How about a big branch from Israel?
Here is how the Prophet Jeremiah described it: “The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
‘In those days,
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line…
Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior’ (33:14-16).”
Picture this—a red bow tied around a large branch, featuring your name. Wouldn’t that delight your heart!
It’s a simple fact that our Christmas lists are different from the divine list. We tend to want the latest pleasures and amusements, and we hope to receive them by avoiding the “naughty” list, belonging instead to the “nice” side of God’s ledger. However, the Lord’s concern is greater than simply making us “nice.”
In Jeremiah’s branch, the Lord promises to sprout a new and fresh limb, straightening that which is crooked, making it upright and true. I learned something about this one day when my sons were practicing archery. We visited Blackwell Forest Preserve, lined up before the targets, and proceeded to launch our arrows. Unlike the people around me, however, I was unable to hit the (big round) target. At one point, during a break, a kind gentleman explained that much of the archer’s success comes down to his equipment—to the straightness of his projectile. “You simply can’t hit a target with a crooked arrow,” he explained. I immediately decided that was my problem—I obviously had crooked arrows. The only solution was to obtain straight ones; unfortunately, there was no such quiver to be had (at least by me).
This illustration highlights the importance of God’s gift. The Lord’s promise in Jeremiah 33:15 would be fulfilled some 580 years later in the birth of a baby to a pair of David’s descendants. The Son of Mary and Joseph—whose name would be called Jesus—would become the straight and true branch. To fulfill the demands of God’s holiness—an upright standard that we could never achieve on our own—this branch would eventually allow himself to be crucified upon a tree—the perfect One suffering for those who are crooked.
But in demonstration of the fact that this branch was indeed upright, God raised Jesus from the dead, and seated him in the heavenly heights, a victory that is of singular importance to us, men and women who recognize the crooked contours of our soul—who seek to straighten ourselves out, but simply can’t do it on our own.
This, my friends, is the message of Christmas that instills great joy.
God often gives us what we want, but he ALWAYS gives us what we need. And he’s done just that, in giving his Son, so that we, whose souls are knurly and bent, can be made right before God—no matter how crooked we may be.
So this Advent, let’s not settle for the latest earthbound pleasures and amusements. Let’s lift our sights higher, and receive the greatest gift of all: the blessed branch who is “the Lord, Our Righteous Savior,” the One who doesn’t simply make us nice, but who cleanses us from all our sin, and by his grace makes us whole. To him be glory, now and forevermore. Amen.