OH HOLY NIGHT: CHAINS SHALL HE BREAK  Isaiah 61 & Luke 4:16-21

Anybody have one of these (paper chain) things going on in their house right now?  I used to think this was a nice, cute art project that we allowed kids to do during Christmas time.  This is a Christmas chain.  Everyday you wake up and you rip one link of the chain off and you get closer and closer to Christmas and there’s one for every day, until you get up to Christmas morning.  I used to think it was a nice, cute art project, but really what this is is a representation of sanity for parents!  Here’s the question you’re hearing if you are a parent right now:  How many days until Christmas???  Instead of having to do quick math in your head, you get to say go check the chain.  Count the links on the chain.  We’ve got four days until Christmas.  This isn’t a cute art project.  This is sanity for every parent.

It’s a cute way to get ready for Christmas and a way to build anticipation as we see Christmas morning approaching.  But not every chain is all that cute, is it?  One of the things noticed in this great Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, was this phrase: And chains shall he (Jesus) break for the slave is our brother and in His name all oppression shall cease.  What a day that will be!  Even though he was born—this Christ child, this Messiah—2000 years ago, and he purchased freedom for humanity, you and I both know that this isn’t fully realized yet, is it? The poem was written in 1847 and in the mid-1800’s, a man by the name of John Sullivan Dwight got ahold of Placide Cappeau’s poem.  It was written in French and he (Dwight) translated it into English.  One of the things that stood out to Dwight was this line:  Chains shall He break.  John Sullivan Dwight was an abolitionist.  He was a freedom fighter in the North, preceding the Civil War.  He read these lines and they just exploded in his heart and soul and he translated this Christmas carol into English primarily because of that line.  And it started to blow up, not just in America, but world-wide as humanity grasped the dream of this day.  Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother.  What a day that will be.

We’ve come a long way here in the States, haven’t we?  Let’s be clear.  We have a long way to go.  But we’ve come a long way.  Slavery doesn’t look the same way that it did back in the 1850’s.  It’s starting to change.  It’s starting to develop.  It doesn’t look the same as it did here, but make no mistake about it, this is still an issue world-wide.  You may or may not be aware that world-wide, right now, there are (the best estimate we have) 27 million enslaved.  There’s two industries, primarily, that people who are in slavery find themselves in.  One is forced labor.  They’re sold, maybe by their parents, or they’re stolen by somebody and forced to work with either little pay or no pay at all.  The other industry is sex slavery. You have a family in a third world country that has no other way of making an income and if they have a daughter they’ll sell her into slavery.  Can we agree as a people of God that this is not okay.  Maybe God will continue to use this church in a new and fresh way to be a prophetic voice into this number — 27 million.  Only 1-2% of those 27 million slaves world wide today are rescued.  Maybe the most heartbreaking statistic of all is that the average age of these 27 million slaves is 12 years old.

Chains shall He break. And if we don’t get anything else from today, may be pray over 27 million, 1% and 12 years old and ask that God would start to move in an unprecedented way, as He has throughout history, to use His church as a prophetic voice into the wrong that this is. But here’s the thing, you’re not in those numbers and it’s easy to disassociate with that reality because we’re not in the numbers; we don’t see the faces; we don’t know a lot of the stories that go along with it.  The truth of the matter is, friend, is that my guess is if I were to be able to climb into your head and into your heart, that although you’re not one of the 27 million who’s either in forced labor or sex slavery, that there’s some chains that are wrapped around your heart, too.  There’s some things that you wish you could get loose from that are just holding you down.  I know there’s people that walk in every single week and we sing songs like “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God….” and we might as well be holding our chains above our head saying we’re singing it, but it’s not true for us.  There’s these cycles in our head and in our heart, where we’d go yeah, we’re not part of the 27 million….our slavery looks just a little bit different, but it’s no less true.  The Christmas story….the story of this little baby born in a corner of a house, 2000 years ago, laid in a manger because there was no room for them to find solace in an inn or hotel….this little baby doesn’t just declare it’s a time to give presents…..this baby, this king, declares it’s a time to step into freedom.  Christmas isn’t about giving or getting presents, it’s about breaking chains.  That’s the story we celebrate.  That’s the story we step into is this already not-yet reality.  Chains shall He (look up at me for just a second) and has He broken.  That’s the story we get to circle our hearts and minds around this morning.

If you have your Bible, turn to Luke 4:16.  We’re going to look at a famous teaching of Jesus.  It’s one of His first public teachings.  Jesus the Messiah steps onto the scene and says my birth isn’t about giving presents, but my birth is about walking in freedom.  Here’s how he says it: And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. {Every Sabbath, the Jewish people would gather in synagogue.  Their order of service would be to open with Shema; they would pray “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  They would move into a time of prayer. They would read from the Old Testament law.  There would be a second reading from the prophets.  It’s during this second reading that Jesus stands up and he says I’ll take the scroll.}  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written…  {There’s a lot of debate about whether or not this was the normal liturgy for the day, that Jesus is going to read what’s given to him, or that Jesus intentionally goes and finds this prophetic section of Scripture in Isaiah 61 that definitively points to the work of the Messiah.  I take the latter view to say Jesus found it. I think that’s what Luke is saying when he says he found the place where it was written.  If it were the chosen section of Scripture, they would have handed it to him opened.  I think Jesus unrolls it and looks through it and finds Isaiah 61.  Here’s what he reads.}   ..”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me {This is king-type language here.  In the Old Testament, the anointing was for the coming Messiah.  It was for the Christ.  It was for the Savior.} ..he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”    At that point, everybody in the Jewish synagogue would have known, when they read this line  “the year of the Lord’s favor,” there was two things going on.  One, if you go back into Isaiah 61:2, what you’re going to find is that there was a second thing added on to that line.  Everybody in the audience would have known it. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.   Only Jesus doesn’t read this part.  Jesus doesn’t read “the day of vengeance.”  He closes the scroll, rolls it up and sits down after He says it’s the year of the Lord’s favor.

The second thing everybody would have known is that when Jesus read “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” it would have been a declaration of jubilee.  All throughout the Old Testament, there’s a pointing to this day that happened once every 50 years where slaves would have been set free, where property would have been returned to the original owner, where the nation of Israel would have taken an entire year to sit and rest and watch their fields produce a bounty that they didn’t work to get.  Sound familiar.  It sounds a little bit like the gospel to me.  We receive without working.  That we’re blessed.  That God’s favor is on us regardless of what we’ve done, regardless of who we are, regardless of what our story says and the way that our lives have gone.  It was called the Year of Jubilee.  If you go to Leviticus 25:10-12, you can read all about the Year of Jubilee.  Ironically, the nation of Israel (most scholars would agree) never celebrated the Year of Jubilee.  Let’s be honest.  The people who owned the land at the time had the power and it’s hard to give up power, isn’t it? Jesus steps onto the scene and says no, no, no, no, no, the day that you’ve refused to celebrate for hundreds of thousands of years is here.  Ironically, the early Americans, on the Liberty Bell inscribed the words “Liberty Throughout the Land to All of Its Inhabitants.”  As if to say this is the place where the jubilee of God is walked in and where freedom is realized.  Jesus makes the claim that the year of jubilee is here.  On Tuesday, we had, what I would consider, a year of jubilee experience.  Especially if you are a kid who was going to go to school. For parents it may not have been a year of jubilee.  You woke up Tuesday morning to about a foot of snow, checked your phone and realized school’s out!  No school!  Snow day!  Let’s do this.  Here’s what you experienced: the Year of Jubilee!  This is a freedom moment.  You’re going to wake up and go oh no, it’s due today and what you recognized is I don’t have to go to school, praise God!  This is the feeling of jubilee.  Luke 4 takes a picture of jubilee—freedom for the slaves, release of the captives, lands being returned—to show what God is going to do (don’t miss this, please catch this) spiritually and physically through the anointed one, Jesus the Messiah.

So he declares the year of the Lord’s favor. Verse 20.  And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.    {This word “fixed,” in the Greek, would carry with it this idea of emotion and intensity.  He sits down and every eye (vroooot!) right on Jesus going……well??  And???  Because there’s a time of teaching that would have come after this.  Not only that but he left out “the day of vengeance of our God,” which is really what Israel was hoping for in the Roman Empire.  He leaves it off.  He goes no, no, no, this is the day of favor.  This is a day of mercy.  This is a day of grace. This is a day of blessing that God isn’t angry, He’s coming to redeem and save, not destroy and punish. And he sits down and he looks around.  And after, what I imagine was a long, awkward pause……} …he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled… {Now the picture of this word “fulfilled” is if you take a cup and just pour the ocean into it.  Overflowing.}  ….has been fulfilled in your hearing.”     Wow!  He just sits back and says I’ve fulfilled this.  Thank you very much.  Can you imagine the angst of the people sitting in this synagogue waiting on this Messiah for 600 years and he finally comes and he shows up and he looks like a normal guy and he doesn’t dethrone the Roman Empire and he doesn’t purchase the political power and freedom that they were hoping and it sure looks like they’re still enslaved and he says I’ve fulfilled this today.  Jesus, out!  Mic drop, I’m gone.

Here’s the word I wrestle with most:  Today.  Here’s what Jesus is saying to every single person sitting in that room and every single person sitting in this room.  Is that it’s not someday that Jesus comes to redeem.  It’s not someday that Jesus comes to offer freedom.  As if to say, you don’t need to clean up your life in order to experience his freedom.  And you don’t need to solve all the problems that you have and you don’t need to resolve all the hurts that you have, in fact, it’s just the opposite.  The only way you can experience the freedom of God in your life is if you come TODAY.  You only receive the freedom of God in the present.  And typically it’s before you ever clean up your life and start to “work” on things.  A lot of us are waiting for a day somewhere off in the future where we resolve some of the things that have hurt us, resolve some of the wrongs that we’ve been a part of.  That we forgive some of the people that we need to forgive.  Maybe then, maybe, we’ll be able to walk in the freedom that he’s purchased for us.  He goes no, no, no, no, no, that’s not the way it works.  The freedom that I purchase, the breaking of chains that I bring happens today, happens right now.  I love the way Eugene Peterson, the great pastor and author, puts it when he says: “The refusal or the inability to fully experience the present, to receive into our lives by faith what is handed to us by God in the present, is a refusal to live freely.  For the present is the only time in which freedom can be exercised or experienced.”  Look up at me a second.  I understand you walked in with some chains.  I get that you have a past that’s shady and that it’s uncomfortable to come to God and have to say God, here’s who I am and I admit this is what I’ve been a part of….it’s a lot more comfortable to get a few of these things behind us first and then go have that conversation.  Let’s heal a few of the hurts.  Let’s break a few of the links on our chain and then we’ll come.  His invitation is listen, I only give freedom in the present.  You can only receive it right now.  In this moment.  To allow Him to break in and say I love you and I’m for you.  Chains shall I, and have broken.  Will you, by faith, step into my favor and walk in my freedom.  That’s his question for you.  Because Christmas is far more about breaking chains than it is about giving presents.  In this little sermonette, here is what Jesus says:  That God’s favor—the favor of the Lord, the jubilee of the Lord, the release of the Lord, the breaking of chains that only God brings—purchases your freedom, purchases my freedom, and it’s available when?  Now.  Today.  This is the Christmas story, friends.  This is what we celebrate when we celebrate Christmas.  I love seeing our culture celebrate this little baby born in Bethlehem, 2000 years ago, because what they’re subversively declaring is He is the King and the King has set us free!  Whether they know it or not.  That is the Christmas story.

Listen to the declaration of the angels: Glory to God in the highest.   {They’re giving weight and splendor and majesty back to the creator.}  Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…  {This is the idea of shalom.  This wholeness and healing, this favor of God.} …..peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14 NIV)   The question has to be then on whom does his favor rest?  You don’t have to go back all that far in the Gospel of Luke to read the declaration to the shepherds from the angels.  The angel said to the shepherds:  Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  On whom does His favor rest?  Well, on all people.  The people who receive His favor and walk in His freedom are those who by faith come to Him and say only You can break these chains.  Here’s the problem with freedom.  We’re used to fighting for our freedom, aren’t we?  We’re used to saying we’ve got to take our freedom.  We carry that over into our walk with Jesus, into our spiritual lives where we go listen, I’ve got to solve this problem on my own.  I can’t count on anybody else.  I’ve gotta work harder on being an impatient person.  I’d love to meet somebody that worked for.  I’ve gotta work harder on being humble.  Good luck!  I’ve gotta work harder on getting rid of my anger and bitterness and I’ve gotta work…I’ve gotta work…I’ve gotta work.  In gospel economy, what God says is you’ve got to receive, not work!  You’ve got to position your life to receive from the King of kings and Lord of lords who says my favor is on you.  You’ve got to hear His voice saying I love you and I’m for you and I’m with you and I’m in this.  The only way you walk in freedom is if you invite Jesus into your pain.  That’s why I have such a hard time with freedom, with walking in favor.  We want to work on it on our own and what the gospel declares and what the Christmas message is is you couldn’t do it on your own, if you could, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come.  Right?  The Christmas story is you needed somebody to come in, you couldn’t break the chains on your own, He had to step in and with His very body broken and blood shed said you have freedom.  I’m declaring it over you.  I fulfilled this today.  It’s available for you.  A lot of us are way more comfortable with the gospel being some good advice.  A good plan.  That at Christmas Jesus comes and makes a good plan and if you follow it you’re going to be set.  The gospel is not good advice.  It’s a good announcement.  Favor is on you, is over you, right now.  Today.  You’re invited to walk in it.  Praise God.

A number of years ago I read a story that just stuck with me.  It was a story about a man named Wilfredo Garza. Wilfredo Garza was born in Mexico and he spent the first 35 years of his life going from one side of the border to the other.  He worked a number of years in Texas as an undocumented worker and he would get sent back to Mexico.  He would try to get back across the border.  When he was 35 years old and crossed the border and in that moment decided to risk everything and go meet with an immigration lawyer to see how to live in the U.S. as a free person.  He went in and sat down with this lawyer.  The lawyer typed in his name and his mom’s name and his dad’s name.  This information about Wilfredo Garza popped up.  He’d been told his whole life that he was born in Mexico.  He was actually born in Texas.  He was a citizen of the United States and he was living as though he was an undocumented worker, there illegally.  What a moment!  I think a lot of us walk in here and we go “My chains are gone.  I’ve been set free.”  We walk in with this same idea where I’m here but if anybody knew my story and if anybody knew my pain and if anybody knew my hurt, they would kick me out in a second, because the favor of God is for somebody but it’s definitely not for me.  Until we understand that His blessing rests on us, we’ll never walk in the freedom he purchased for us.  So much of this takes place in your head and in your heart and today Jesus is declaring over you the Christmas story isn’t so much about the giving of presents as it is about the breaking of chains.  It’s for you!!!  There’s no footnote after “all” that says “except you.”  In every translation I looked there’s no footnote.  It’s for you!  Not someday.  It’s for you TOday!!  Merry Christmas to you!  I pray that we would be people who take good news seriously!

Flip back with me to Isaiah 61:1-2.  I want to spend the rest of our few minutes together unpacking this passage that Jesus read from and the way that Jesus breaks chains and the chains that Jesus breaks.   The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…  {The poor were people who lacked resources; they lacked money, but they were also people, in the Scriptures, that had this disposition towards God of saying we don’t bring anything in and of ourselves to you that would be valuable and able to save ourselves….we know we need you.  The poor was a declaration back to God….hey, we find ourselves in your story and we have sinned and we fractured relationship with you and we need you to step in. All of us are poor here today.  Welcome to the party.}  …he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,  {Does that resonate with anyone here today?  This is Jesus stepping on the scene and saying I’m fulfilling this.  If you’ll invite me into your pain, I’ll break your chains.  To bind up.  To care for….the brokenhearted.} …to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God. {We already discussed that He didn’t say that part.  To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Good news for the poor.  Hope for the brokenhearted, because in the Messiah we find he takes on all of our sin and all of our shame, that by His wounds we are healed.}  ….to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion……and praise instead of a faint spirit. {Or heaviness.}  This release language is said to captives.  It’s said to people, depending on how you date the book of Isaiah, who either ARE in exile or are GOING into exile.  What God declares over them are the things that you’ve lost and the way that you’ve been confined.  I’m going to break in and I am going to set you free.  Here’s Jesus’ declaration.  The first chain that breaks; the first chain he says does not confine you any more because I’ve appeared on the scene, by personal work I’ve fulfilled what Isaiah promised was going to be true of the Messiah. He replaces your captivity with release.  He speaks into the places in your life where you’re going God, I can’t get beyond this.  This sin that so easily entangles has got me.  You know what He speaks into that?  He speaks into that the reality that you are no longer a slave to sin.  Listen to the way Romans 6:6,18 says it: We know that our old self (body) was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.    Friend, He set you free!  What I know about you and what I know about me is we will never walk in it until we believe it.  So much of the battle takes place in our head where we go listen, there’s no way I could ever get beyond that.  I have my past and I have my guilt and you have no idea, Paulson, who I am and you have no idea what I’ve done and I want to say as clearly as I can.  I have absolutely no clue who you are, what you’ve done and the past that you have, I ONLY know the Jesus who declares there’s freedom if you follow me.  That’s what I know.  That’s what I stand on.

I love the way that the great hymn writer, Horatio Spafford, put it: “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!  My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”  Jesus comes as the great chain-breaker as one who says the things that hold you captive, I’m speaking freedom into.  In a spiritual way and in a physical way, you see the gospel declared through the life of Jesus.  You don’t have to go down too far in Luke 4 to see Jesus driving out demons.  He heals the sick and the afflicted.  All of it is to declare your life has favor over it because of the work of Christ.  You are, friend…I am no longer a slave to sin!

And you are no longer a slave to fear as the great passage in Romans 8:15 says:  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…  {If that’s where you’re living this morning, I want to invite you to Jesus.  Because He says that’s not the spirit I giveth.  I break chains by the favor I declare over your life.} …But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…    Aww, come on, church, say amen!  That’s good news! Adoption as sons and daughters of the Most High God.  YES!  The problem is we have a hard time learning to live in our freedom.  We have a hard time embracing it.  One of my favorite movies is Shawshank Redemption.  In the movie there’s this character whose name is Brooks.  Brooks has been incarcerated for decades.  He’s coming up on a time of parole.  Instead of being excited for this, he’s terrified of it, because he has no idea how to live on the outside anymore.  Instead of embracing it, he attacks a fellow prisoner so that he can stay in prison, because that’s the world he knows and that’s the life he’s used to.  Even once he gets out, he wrestles with how to live as a free person because it’s way more comfortable and he knows way more about life inside than he does about outside.  At one point, he takes his own life, because he doesn’t know how to live as a free person.  I think a lot of followers of Jesus keep going back, keep going back, keep going back, even when the chains are broken because we have no clue how to live under grace and mercy that declares you’re free.  Maybe today, your simple prayer is God, teach me how to walk in the freedom that you already purchased.

Here’s the way the prophet continues in Isaiah 61:3-4:  …to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes… {They put ashes on their face as a way to mourn a loss, typically.  These are people who’ve lost a loved one or a friend, and as a way to symbolically display “this stinks!” they would cover their face in ashes.  What Isaiah speaks into this prophetically is a day is coming when God himself is going to speak into our pain and into our brokenness.  Instead of ashes, there will be a beautiful headdress.} ….the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.   {Or a spirit of heaviness.  Anyone have that this morning?  He says I want to speak into that.}  …that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.  They shall build up the ancient ruins… {So cities that lay desolate and had nobody living in them.  It’s this word picture of God bringing about restoration.  God bringing about transformation.  God speaking into death and raising new life.  This is resurrection imagery in Isaiah 61.}  …they  shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.   Here’s what Jesus wants to say.  One of the chains that often confines us is this way of thinking….the way it is today is the way it will always be.  It’s called fatalism.  We just assume that life is going to be terrible and that life is going to continue to be riddled with and filled with pain and heartache and hurt.  What Isaiah speaks into the people of God is that a day is coming when your ashes are going to turn into a beautiful headdress.  When your mourning is going to be met with comforting.  When the leaves that fell off your tree will come back to life and you’ll be an oak of righteousness.  He speaks into our fatalism with this reversal, with this renewal.  It’s not the end of the story.  Whatever you’re going through today where you go the darkness is so dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face…..the declaration of Isaiah 61 over your life is God’s not done!  The story’s not over!  Transformation is possible.  Resurrection is on the way.  But in order for resurrection to happen, death has to precede it.  THAT’S the Christmas story Jesus is speaking into our world.  Entering into our world and saying listen, it’s not always going to be the way that you thought it was going to be.  It’s not always going to be pain.  It’s not always going to be sorrow.  It’s not always going to be heartache.  There’s a dawning of a new day on the horizon.  Amen!

In Genesis 50:20, I love this passage because it paints for us this picture of God’s reversal.  This God who says I’m able to do far more abundantly than all you could ever ask, think, dream or imagine as you walk with me.  Speaking about the story of Joseph, and this is Joseph speaking to his brothers:  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive,as they are today.    This is God working reversal in the midst of what felt like fatalism.  It’s the way it’s always going to be.  You know how long this took?  About 70 years.  And that’s the problem we have about the way God works, isn’t it?  That his time frame is often a lot longer than ours.  He says things and we go I know it’s a promise, God, and I know you’re working it, but it just feels like you’re taking your sweet time.  So we start to believe the marriage is always going to be the way the marriage is, there’s nothing that can change that.  He goes I’ll step into your pain.  The job situation is always going to be the way that it is, there’s nothing that’s going to change that.  He goes listen, I’ll take ancient ruins and build glorious cities if you’ll give them to me.  That the pain is always going to be so dark that I don’t feel like I can get out of it and what He says over your life today, if you’ll receive it, is I turn ashes into beauty.  Come to me!  Christmas isn’t about giving presents, it’s about walking in freedom.

He says (in Isaiah 61:5-7):  Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks…. {Not only are they not in exile anymore, but they’ve come back and people are working for them!  This is the great reversal.} ….foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast.  Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion….. {This is speaking a blessing over the people of God, not just a little blessing, but Isaiah says a double portion.  It means just a tidal wave of grace.}  …instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.    The next chain that He breaks….the chain He wants to speak into every single life in this room today is the chain that we often carry around of shame.  It creeps up on us subtly, at least in my life.  It’s harder to identify.  Guilt is I feel bad about what I’ve done.  Shame is I feel bad about who I am.  When I carry that I’m unable to carry joy.  He says listen, I’m going to replace shame with joy, I’m not adding to it.  I’m not just speaking joy into your shame, I’m going to take away your shame and give you joy.  You know why?  Because you can’t hold onto shame and joy at the same time.  You’re going to hold one or the other.  One or the other is going to define your life.  The beauty of the Christmas story…the beauty of what Jesus does…the beauty of the favor of God that purchases our freedom is that rejoicing displaces shame.  Listen, friend.  Grace not only covers your sin, it also redeems your shame.  It speaks into the very core of who you are…..gospel…that Jesus is for you, that He loves you, that He’s come to your rescue, that He values your life. You don’t need to walk in shame anymore and because you don’t need to walk in shame, you can walk in joy. I just get this feeling today that God wants to do that in somebody’s life today.  That He wants to speak joy into your life but you’ve gotta first let go of your shame.  We can’t let go of our shame in ignorance.  We can’t just hope it goes away.  We have to stare our shame in the face.  Admit who we’ve been.  Admit where we’ve been.  Admit what we’ve done and what we believe about ourself and then, just as honestly, we have to look ourself in the mirror and say the King of kings and the Lord of lords has come to my rescue.  He’s redeemed me with His very life.  He speaks into my shame and allows me to walk in joy.  It’s not running away from it, it’s staring at it and preaching the gospel over your life.  I love the way the great author/researcher, Brene Brown, puts it when she says:  “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion.  It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”  You know what the gospel says?  You aren’t!!!  That’s why He came.  Because you aren’t and because He came, He speaks into you worth and value and joy, where you go I don’t have to define myself….that’s the chain we often carry. I’ve gotta achieve.  I’ve gotta make a way.  I’ve gotta make a name.  In the Christmas story, we find we couldn’t do it on our own and God came to our rescue.  He declares by my blood, by my grace, by my mercy that cover your life, you are good enough.  Redeemed.  Holy.  Made right.  Made righteous in the King of kings and Lord of lords and by His blood.  Merry Christmas!!  The Christmas story is filled with joy.  The angel said to them: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.  You can hold onto fear, you can hold onto joy, but you can’t hold onto both.  You can hold onto shame or you can hold onto joy, but you can’t hold onto both.  The invitation this year is a savior has been born.  Hold on to joy!!  His favor’s on your life.  Not tomorrow…TODAY.

Isaiah 61:10—I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.    Here’s the final chain He breaks…the Messiah breaks in coming, redeeming, declaring favor over us is our righteousness supersedes our wretchedness.  He’s clothed you.  He’s made a way where you couldn’t make one on your own.  Clothed with garments of salvation, covered in the robe of righteousness.  Thank you, Lord!  This is the Christmas story, friends, that Jesus enters into our story and enters into our pain and from the inside out, He spreads His light and His favor over your life.  You can hold on to captivity.  You can hold on to fatalism.  You can hold on to shame. You can hold on to your wretchedness.  You can give God a couple of reasons on top of this why you don’t deserve His favor.  I’ll say back to you I’ve got a hundred more than you.  But the Christmas story isn’t about whether you’ve earned His favor or not.  The Christmas story is whether or not he’s given it to you.  What we celebrate this time of year is that the God of the universe entered into our story…entered into your story and mine to declare favor and blessing over our lives and in doing so, by faith, allowing us to walk in freedom.  And that freedom is here and available today, right now.  He became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

I’m not going to skip verses 8 and 9, because they’re this beautiful invitation and we’re going to land the plane here.  For I the Lord love justice {I’m a God who loves rightness.  I love equity.  I love when people aren’t taken advantage of.  I love when people aren’t abused.  I love when there are zero slaves instead of 27 million.  Your God loves that.}  ..I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.  Here’s what Isaiah’s saying.  Righteousness is not just a declaration over your life.  It’s a calling on your life.  We don’t just receive righteousness, we’re people who give it.  We’ll say it like this.  Here’s what Isaiah’s painting a picture of:  of release, of reversal, of rejoicing, of righteousness that frees us to be people who speak freedom into the lives of other people.  Because freed people free people.  In my study this week, I was reminded of the beautiful life of Harriet Tubman.  She was born in 1822 into a life of slavery, but in this really masterful way she escaped that life of slavery.  She became a freedom fighter.  She was a soldier in the Union Army and worked for a slave.  You probably recognize her name because she helped both develop and run the Underground Railroad.  She went on thirteen different missions on the Underground Railroad, mostly directed towards her own family and her friends, but thousands and thousands of people found their freedom because this lady was willing to stand up and say freed people free people.  She was interviewed towards the end of her life and what she said really stuck with me.  “I freed a thousand slaves.  I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”  I think maybe the King of kings and the Lord of lords is saying to you and me today that unless we’re honest about the chains that shackle us, we’ll never walk in the freedom that’s been purchased for us.  Maybe today we ask the King of Kings and the Lord of lords to step in and once again say: It’s been fulfilled TODAY in your hearing.  Come, walk under my favor and receive my freedom.  Let’s pray.

I don’t know where you’re at this morning, but in the craziness of this time of year, I just want to invite you to pause.  Maybe there’s something you’re holding onto in your head and your heart that’s just got its claws in you and it’s causing you to walk in slavery that Jesus wants to set you free from.  Maybe it’s this declaration for the first time….God, by faith, I’m stepping into relationship and life with you.  I want your favor that would lead to my freedom.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe there’s just slavery to sin that you’re saying God, I am just caught in this mess and I can’t, on my own, break the cycle.  What I believe Jesus would say back to you is I don’t heal from a distance, I heal from within.  Invite me into your pain and I’ll break your chains.  Maybe you’re just caught in the lie “this is just the way it’s always going to be” and I just gotta get used to it.  Jesus loves to resurrect dead things.  The end of the story isn’t the end of the story.  Maybe today you carried chains in this door and I want to tell you that you can carry joy out.  He is not holding your sins against you.  He speaks grace over you.  You live under a waterfall of it every single day.  Wake up and receive.  Quit fighting for what’s being given to you freely.  Maybe you wrestle with your past going God, there’s no way you could love somebody like me.  And he says somebody like you?  Somebody like you who wears the garments of salvation?  Somebody like you who I’ve clothed in my righteousness?  That someone like you?  Because I’ve taken your sin and I’ve given you my righteousness.  Absolutely I can love someone like you because Jesus has purchased your redemption.  Walk in this freedom.  So, Lord, we come to you asking would you help us in a supernatural, mysterious, beautiful and real way to walk under the weight of the gospel.  That by your favor you’ve purchased our freedom.  So, Lord, we surrender to that freedom today, not to fight for it, but to walk in it…You’ve freely give it.  It’s in Jesus’ name that we say thank you.  We praise you for this season that isn’t about presents.  It’s about freedom.  We praise you for that, King of kings and Lord of lords.  Amen.