Our reading from Isaiah for Christmas Day is deep within a context which gives us a great angle into a powerful gospel proclamation. We need to see Isaiah 52:7-10 in the greater framework of Isaiah 49-54. In this new rhetorical unit starting with chapter 49, Isaiah warns Israel concerning their spiritual captivity to sin and the redemption God has for the entire world. The Lord accomplishes this salvation through His “servant” who we know is Jesus. What is striking and important within the context is that in chapter 49 the “servant” is Israel in a single person! This is the perfect Israel, in one man, who gives Himself as a substitute for sinful Israel, the nation (Isaiah 49:3, 5). The climax of this section of Isaiah comes in our pericope where the servant’s mission is depicted in a very ironic salvation song (52:7-53:12).
Speaking of ironic songs, how about the one genre of music we have been snowed-in on since Thanksgiving: Christmas Carols and Christmassy Muzak. When we are out and about, we tap our foot along to All I Want for Christmas, but only if it is Mariah Carey belting it out. You may even get drawn into your best impression of a baritone when you sing the couple of lines you know from the late Thurl Ravenscroft as he sings: You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. For me, I am noticeably annoyed when the far too pouty I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas comes on. However, if you listen, you can hear Silent Night, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, and Joy to the World as well. It is sacred music telling the salvation story. The deep irony here is that while nearly everyone around you knows these songs by heart, the carols contain a message far more profound than they may originally be considering. As people pop off with Joy to the World and sing the opening verse, the very next line is a confession of faith: “The Lord has come.” Indeed, He has, and the irony is they may not know how truthfully they are speaking. Christmas is a season of irony. The fragile human baby is more than you could have ever imagined. This babe of Bethlehem is none other than “God in flesh made manifest” (Lutheran Service Book, 394).
In Isaiah 52, we encounter some ironic words which maybe even Isaiah could not fully appreciate for what they would eventually mean, even though scripture clearly testifies how Isaiah, “Said these things because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of Him” (John 12:41), in his prophecies. When Isaiah says in verse 9, “You waste places of Jerusalem,” how could he have known and how could we not see that this brings “to mind not only the city where Jesus was later executed but even, more specifically, the desolate site outside Jerusalem where” salvation for sin would be accomplished for the whole world. The reference to “mountains” in verse 7 is almost too easy. Golgotha is the desolate place where Isaiah’s Christmas song of salvation has its crescendo. The irony is God did “bare His holy arm” (verse 10) with “beautiful feet” (verse 7) which are the very things this Isaianic servant would receive the nails into and becomes for us a powerful gospel. How could Isaiah sing this song without a certain amount of holiday irony?
How could Isaiah sing this song without a certain amount of holiday irony?
As we by faith look into the face of the Christ child today, Isaiah reminds us this one is the servant of the Lord who will accomplish a full and free salvation for all. This babe is all Israel, all humanity, in one person who would be the “Savior” we sing of in our Christmas carols today. Jesus is the Savior of all God’s people and, indeed, of the entire world. The irony that the ugliest of all things would be correctly heralded by Isaiah as truly “beautiful” and the best “glad tidings” (verse 7) we could ever receive is the Good News of the death and resurrection of the Son of God for you. Certainly, this is the ironic “good news” you get gospeled with today. So, even while you have been fretting over getting and giving the perfect gift, God has already, ironically, given the perfect gift to you. But it is only one you can receive by faith. And the chief of all ironies is Isaiah was, in fact, singing the very first Christmas carol! How, you might ask? Well, when he sings of “salvation” at the beginning (verse 7) and end (verse 10) of our reading, he is literally singing, not just about what God would do, but he is also singing the very name of Jesus (יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah). At the risk of sounding like an old, overused Alanis Morrisette song: Isn’t it ironic?
I continue to think of the multiple ironies Mary and Joseph experienced after the Messiah was born. Consider how they circumcised Him (Luke 2:21) to mark Jesus as an “Israelite” when this baby was all of Israel in one. Think about how they named Him “Jesus” just as it was foretold (Luke 2:21). I also think about how they presented the infant Jesus at the Temple to “redeem” Him according to the Law (Leviticus 12:1-8; Exodus 13:11-13) as the laws of purification and the firstborn demanded. Yet, because they were so poor that they could not even afford a lamb, which was preferred, Joseph instead went to the local park to rustle up some pigeons as the Lord would allow for those who could not provide the lamb for the purification/redemption price. How ironic that the gift they brought demonstrated their poverty, but the gift God given in the Messiah demonstrated the riches of His unfathomable grace. This baby which they brought ironically was the redeemer for them and all of Israel. They came just like we do with our poverty because of sin and, ironically, God gives us the richest redemption price (1 Peter 1:18-21) because Jesus is the Lamb of God who paid for our sin to redeem us back to God (John 1:29). That “published peace” (verse 7) is the Gospel (good news, also verse 7) of our salvation (יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah), which we get by no other name than Jesus (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:10-11).
Christmas is a season of irony and song that helps us to know the sacred past and the truth of the Gospel of our salvation.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Christmas.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Christmas
 Francis C. Rossow, Gospel Handles Finding New Connections: Old Testament Lessons (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014), 138.