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Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but it is also one of the most difficult times of the year.  Unfortunately tragedy, violence, fear, and hatred never take a break and we are constantly barraged with bad news.  Our sermon in the Christmas series is All I want for Christmas is … Strength.  All of the bad news demands our attention and focus.  In our own hearts, as we hear the Christmas carols we also sense the “ghosts” of Christmas past sucking out of our spirits the joy and celebration of the season.  All of these things draw us into a web of regret, despair, and darkness. How will we break free of the web to find the incredible hope of Christmas that God has come to us to free us from the curse of sin?  We turn to Isaiah 40:1-11.  We are reminded of these words through Handle’s great musical work, Messiah. This passage contains an alternative vision that God is building for all humanity: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain… (Isaiah 40:4, KJV).  In these words, we not only find a hopeful alternative vision for our lives, but we also find the strength to break free from the web of darkness and move toward the light of grace and love.  As you read these words, we pray that you will lift your eyes and see the glory and power of God at work to give you strength, to heal your brokenness, and to fill your cup to overflowing!  Isaiah 40:1-11 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” 9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.  (NIV)