Today is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. We have been reading Isaiah 11:1–9 together responsively these weeks, and our exhortations have mirrored Isaiah’s forecasting of the perfect wisdom of the coming Messiah and then the perfect justice and peace that his reign would usher in.
Today we make explicit where perfect wisdom, justice, and peace lead. They are means, not ends in themselves.
- We want wisdom, but we want more than wisdom. We want wisdom to guide us somewhere.
- We pine for justice, but we don’t simply want justice. We ache for justice to make something else possible. Justice alone doesn’t satisfy our souls.
- And we long for peace, but we don’t simply want to sit around in our peace with nothing happening. We mean for peace to be a context, and justice to be a protection, and wisdom to be a pathway to come into what our souls truly long for. Which is where Isaiah 11:9 points: “The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
In the end, what our souls long, what God has made them to desire at bottom, is God himself. We were designed to know him and enjoy him and reflect him in the world. How will the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea? In and through his people who know him and delight in him and project him into his creation.
But Christmas has a vital part to play in this vision. Christmas gives us the focal point for our eternal worship. And Christmas is the hinge of our everlasting vocation. What Christmas shows us, once and for all, is that the way God means to satisfy our souls is in and through his Son, the God-man, Jesus Christ.
God has made the human heart in such a way that it will never be eternally content with that which is only human. Finitude can’t slake our thirst for the infinite. And yet, in our finite humanity, we are designed for a point of correspondence with the divine. God was glorious long before he became man in Jesus. But we are human beings, and un-incarnate deity doesn’t connect with us in the same way as the God who became human. The conception of a god who never became man (like Allah) will not satisfy the human soul like the God who did.
At Advent, we confess, Christ has come, and Christ will come again. One day soon we will see him face to face, and then we will still have an eternity’s worth of deepening in our knowing the Son of God. And in the meantime, we have so much more to know and enjoy of Jesus than we already have. And he gave us his word objectively and externally in a Book to give guidance and focus to our pursuit of him.
One sad truth about Christian publishing, I tell you as an editor, is that generally books about Jesus don’t sell all that well. It seems that Christians assume they already know about Jesus and they’re more interested to read about some other subject they don’t know as much about — or just read fiction with an intriguing made up story.
But the exhortation for us this morning is let’s not be the typical Christian market at Cities Church. Let’s be the kind of people who don’t assume we already know Jesus enough. Let’s be the kind of people who want to keep pressing on to the very foundation and source for our joy, instead of contenting ourselves downstream. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3). After all, what is eternal life? That we know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:3).
And Christmas is a golden time to recalibrate our souls on Christ and remind ourselves how much more joy there is to be had on this side of heaven in gathering up every scrap we can from the Gospels (and beyond) to know Jesus more. And to remember that one day soon our already unveiled faces will no longer see in a mirror dimly, but face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12), and we will behold the glory of our Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18) in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) and forever enjoy the ripening of one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Prayer of Confession
Father, we confess the temptation of our souls to grow bored with the most spectacular of truths. We acknowledge that one of the supreme manifestations of our ongoing sin is how uninterested we can be in the person of Christ — not just what we know, but in our paucity of desire to know him more. We have so many more morsels about Jesus to gather up. And Christmas always comes right on time to bring this to our consciousness.
Father, grant us a freshness of perspective this Christmas as we mark the coming into the world of this single more remarkable person in history. And one who is not in a grave, but conquered death, rose to new-creation life, ascended to the your right and wields all authority in heaven and on earth as he brings all his enemies under his feet, and who is coming again to consummate his kingdom and bring heaven to earth. And who bids us know him now, through his word and the ministry of his Spirit. Grant that Christmas would be a springboard into saying year-round with the apostle Paul that “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” is truly what we consider “the surpassing worth” (Philippians 3:8).
This reminds us of our need to confess our sins in the quiet of this moment. . . .