Sunday, November 21, 2021
Pastor Arne Bergland
Lesson: Isaiah 9:1-7
It is the end of the church year, a Sunday known as Christ the King Sunday. Each season and every Sunday of the year has a name and a purpose. This ordering helps us to tell the story, the whole story of God’s promise for the world. From the hope of advent to the birth of Christ, through Epiphany and Lent to Easter and beyond the grand scheme of salvation history is laid out,, Today is the end of the year and the end of the long season of Pentecost. Those who gave shape to the church year decided it best to end it with a bang by lifting-up the reign of Christ as the Lord of the universe.
We do that and yet it may not be quite the celebration that you might expect. In just a matter of a few weeks we will recall how this king, resting in a rough-hewn manger arrives in the darkness of a Palestinian night to a broken world in need of fixing. This king is not a warrior king as some might hope for. God in Christ turns that idea upside down.
Isaiah suggests that peace and prosperity will come through trusting God. The child, Isaiah speaks of is the Messiah of God not the warrior that King Ahaz expected. King Ahaz did not understand and relied on the wisdom of the world. That was his reality and yet God had a different plan. Isaiah speaks to the gloom and darkness of a people living apart from trust in God.
Throughout history the church has used darkness and/or black as symbol of evil and desolation. Conversely light is pure and good. We understand this clearly as it is a part of our culture as well. The good guys wear a white hat, the bad guys wear a black hat. In our time as our culture is more sensitive to issues of racism one must be careful with how we use words. Without question Scripture suggest that darkness is seen as the opposite of light, and that light symbolizes God’s purity. The Bible does use darkness to symbolize depravity, wickedness, and disobedience to God. and yet, these scripture uses these words in other ways as well. We need to be careful with our words. Remember that it was from darkness and nothingness that God spoke the words that formed creation. Also, you might recall that it was in the still quiet darkness of night that the Bethlehem star led the magi to the Christ child. These words are not so clear cut as we commonly use them. Current sensitivity to the power of words and our understandings of race gives us cause to be careful.
Today we use the words of prophet Isaiah. He speaks of a people who have lived in great darkness. And yet as we continue many of us instantly recognize the soaring melody form Handel’s Messiah. ”Wonderful Counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.… Is it any wonder that from the earliest Church fathers on the church has looked to the Old Testament in general and Isaiah in particular as a predictor of the birth of the Christ child?
What is the darkness that Isaiah speaks of? The people of Judah who the prophet is addressing were living in difficult times. They had just emerged from a series of wars with Israel and felt the hot breath of the warring Assyrians. This is a grieving people. A people in the throes of decline with no reason to hope. More than that, they are a people who are stuck. Foreign domination and the faithless king Ahaz left them in despair. Our lesson is found sandwiched between this reality and a curse from God because of their rebellion and faithlessness.
Isaiah spoke to a people without hope. He offered a was hope of deliverance. They longed for a leader who was wise, appointed by God who would bring peace to their conflicted reality.
Hoping for an earthly king was not working for them. Hoping for an earthly king has never worked. Human leaders fall short of their promise. Isaiah offers God’s promise that there is an end to darkness and a great light that will usher in peace and joy. This is God’s divine will. It is a promise both now and not yet. While we wait for the promise to be fulfilled we can pursue peace, we can work for justice, we can bear witness to the promise of God in a world that continues to be broken.
Have you ever had one of those days when you were particularly crabby? I was having one of those days. I was particularly cranky, snapping at others for no good reason. Maybe it was a lack of sleep, I am not sure. A friend of mine wished me a good morning. I looked at him and said, “I don’t know what’s so good about it .” He said, “Don’t be such a gloomy Gus!” I had never heard that before. Maybe you have, but not me. I found out that the phrase comes from an old old cartoon, and it is about a character who is constantly down. Generally, I don’t see myself like that, there are days to be sure, but that day my light was clearly not shining.
We can have those days like that, or weeks or months for that matter.
There are times when it seems like we are living under a cloud. When I lived in Tacoma months would go by without seeing the sun. The weather guessers were always delighted to be able to predict “sun breaks.” These were brief periods when the sun would come out and so would we as well, trying to soak up the days little bit of sunshine.
Professor John Holbert wrote this about our lesson today. “Isaiah 9:2-7 is another burst of energetic faith, exploding in the midst of the hard realities of a people who would rather turn their faces elsewhere than toward the God who has rescued and saved them again and again.” The nation of Judah was one big gloomy Gus, living the harsh reality of a war-torn country, trusting in earthly hope, and turning from the God who had saved their bacon time and time again. To that place Isaiah let his light shine proclaiming the certain hope of God’s will for all creation.
“Have a good day.” “What’s so good about it?” Our faith shines a light on a hope of deliverance and joy.” We are not bound to an earthly promise but rather a divine will that God is with us and for us. it is the promise of Christ.
In our baptismal service we address the baptized with words from the gospel of Matthew, “ Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Our light shines as we pursue peace, work for justice, and bear witness to the promise of God in a world that continues to be broken.
Content coming soon!