“THERE WILL BE LIGHT”

ISAIAH 2:1-5

 

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                        This morning we begin our Advent sermon series, albeit one week late as Advent actually began last Sunday.  I’ve titled the series When the Messiah Comes based upon Isaiah’s prophesies about the Messiah.  In fact, what Isaiah writes about the coming Messiah is the primary reason Isaiah comes first in the list of the biblical prophets.  It comes first not because of the sheer size of his prophesy, rather it’s because the early church fathers, people like Eusebius and Jerome regarded Isaiah not just as the most prolific Old Testament prophet, but as the first evangelist of Jesus Christ.  New Testament writers quote Isaiah more than any other Old Testament book, and more than any other Old Testament book, Isaiah speaks the most about the coming Messiah.  This Advent we will explore five passages from Isaiah where he speaks about the Messiah and the coming Messianic age.  Open your bible and follow along with me as I read the first of those five passages.  Isaiah 2:1-5. 

 

            The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  (Before I read further, note the word saw.  He’s describing a vision he saw of the future.  A vision he saw about Judah and Jerusalem.  He’s putting this vision into words.)

            In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

            Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”  For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  (One more quick aside.  We often say that we live in the greatest nation in the world.  Isaiah foresees a time when Israel, not the United States, will hold that position; when people of other nations will make their way to Zion and be taught in God’s ways.)

            He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

            O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

 

            Seven hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah previewed a world  to come, a world of peace and a world of light.  Next week we will deal with the Messiah bringing peace.  Today, we want to talk about the Messiah bringing light.

            If there is one theme that is appropriate for this season of the year it is light.  Some of us have already gotten out the lights for our Christmas tree.  Some of us will light up the entire inside and outside of our homes.  A few people will go hog-wild, go Clark Griswold on their neighborhood, when it comes to their Christmas lights.  They will strain every utility plant for miles around with their addiction to brightening up their homes.  That’s alright, as long as we understand what Isaiah meant when he said, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” 

            Come back with me to the night of May 5, 1942.  Europe is mired in the brutal violence of World War II.  The Nazis are slaughtering millions of Jews throughout Europe.  On the night of May 5, 1942, a small band of Ukrainian Jews from the town of Korolówka decided to hide out from the Nazis in an underground cave.  Thirty-eight people, ranging in age from a toddler to a seventy-five year-old woman, created a home underground.  They had no advanced equipment, only some lanterns, cooking pots, firewood, and food.  For 344 days, almost one full year, none of these cave-dwellers saw the light of day.  Some of the men would emerge from the cave at night to search for food or firewood, but no one came out during the daylight hours.  Finally, on April 12, 1943, after receiving news that the Germans had retreated, the cave dwellers emerged from underground to see the sun for the first time in almost a year.[1]

            How eagerly those cave dwellers awaited being able to leave the darkness and walk in the light.  One writer has said that, if you really want to appreciate the contrast between darkness and light today, all you have to do is view nighttime satellite images of North and South Korea.  South Korea is bathed in light, with its cities gleaming in the blackness, while North Korea, still primitive in so many ways, is dark.

            But it’s more than just the lack of visible light that makes North Korea a place of darkness.  The North Korean government is one of the most repressive governments on earth.  Radio and television sets are hardwired to receive only government propaganda. In 2004, the government banned cell phones.  North Koreans still have no access to the Internet a source of information readily available in almost every other country.

            There is another significant contrast, however, between the two: the North is officially atheist, the last remaining “Stalinist” communist society.  The South, on the other hand, has known Christian influence for more than a century.  In fact, one of the largest Christian churches in the world is in South Korea.

            As Isaiah writes these words the people of Judah and Jerusalem are facing dark days.   Isaiah prophesied for roughly forty years, best estimates say from 740 B.C. to 700 B.C.  In the middle of that time the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians.  One hundred and twenty years after Isaiah, the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and it’s capital, Jerusalem, fell to the Babylonians.  After the fall of the Northern Kingdom, the Southern Kingdom new its days were numbered, and in the midst of these dark days Isaiah has a vision about light, and let me make some comments about that.

            Comment Number One: Darkness is a very potent symbol of sin and estrangement in the Bible.  Author Bruce Larson tells of driving on a highway near Scranton, Pennsylvania years ago in the middle of the night.  As he was driving along, he took the wrapper off some candy.  Finding the ashtrays in the car full, he absentmindedly opened the car window and threw the wrapper out onto the ground. Suddenly he realized what he had done.  He also realized that he would never have done this in the daylight.  Somehow, the very darkness encouraged him to litter, a thing he deplores. 

            There is something about light that reminds us of our responsibility to other people and helps us to do the right thing.  “People who do not live in fellowship with others,” writes Larson, “live in perpetual darkness and continually do things of which they are ashamed. But people who live in a fellowship where they know and are known live in the light and are encouraged to be and to do those things of which they can be proud.”[2]

            The Apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the Romans (13:12):  “The night is nearly far gone, the day is near.  Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

            Comment Number Two: Just as darkness symbolizes sin and estrangement, light represents grace and love.

            In 1973, Margaret Craven wrote a book titled I Heard the Owl Call My Name.  It is a book where the central character, Mark Brian, is a young priest who has only three years to live.  The bishop sends Mark to a remote Native-American village called Kingcome.  The bishop believes that in this small community Mark will be able to find enough of the meaning of life, so that when the time comes he will be ready to die.

            In his first Christmas Eve in the village Mark heads to church.  He is alone, in the sanctuary waiting in the hushed silence with the candlelight shining on the statue that stands in the front of the church, a statue of Christ holding a little lamb.  The young priest walks slowly down the center aisle.  Not wanting to open the door until the very last minute for fear of losing the precious heat, he walks to the window at the left of the door and looks outside.

            The snow lays thick on the ground.  He sees the lights of the houses go out, one by one, and the lanterns begin to flicker as the members of the local tribe come slowly, single file, along the path to the church.  How many times had the people of his parish traveled this path, he wonders.  He goes to the door and opens it, and then steps out into the soft white night, the snow whispering now under the footfalls.

            For the first time he feels he knows the people making their way to his church and he feels a deep sense of commitment to them.  When the first of the tribe reaches the steps, he holds out his hand to greet each of them by name.

            In this story Margaret Craven captures the meaning of this season of the year. The darkness of winter and the faithful villagers lighting their lanterns and walking to the little church where light will flood every heart and they will be united in the love of the Bethlehem babe is a picture of Advent.  Darkness is a potent symbol of sin and estrangement.  Light is an even more potent symbol of grace and love.

            Comment Number Three: Walking in the light points others to the light. 

            I was amused to read that in Fort Collins, CO, sometime back a civic task force recommended that red and green lights be banned from the city’s holiday display.  Why? It was deemed that red and green lights are too religious, so they should not be part of a civic celebration.  Later, cooler heads on the City Council prevailed and the lights were allowed to remain.

            I doubt that most of us would think of Christmas lights as being too religious, but it reminds us of how potent a symbol light can be.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” writes John in the prologue to his Gospel (John 1:5).  And it’s true.  Light overpowers dark.  Love overpowers hate.  Faith overpowers fear.

            The month of December is one of the darkest months of the year.  When we put up our Christmas lights we affirm that the darkness shall never overcome the light.  We affirm the values of peace and justice and love and hope.  Most of all we affirm the presence of God in our world.

            As people of the light, our job is to make sure the light of Christ shines brightly in this world of darkness.  How do we do that?  By living a life of integrity and love.  By continually walking in the light ourselves.

            There is a story that has been circulating on the web about a church Christmas pageant.  The day of the presentation had arrived.  A young girl named Jana was so excited about her part that her parents thought she was to be one of the main characters, though she had not told them what she was to do.

            The parents of the children in the pageant were all there and one by one the children took their places.  Jana’s parents could see the shepherds fidgeting in one corner of the stage which was evidently intended to be a field.  Mary and Joseph stood solemnly behind the manger.  In the back three young wise men waited impatiently, but still little Jana sat quietly and confidently.

            Then the teacher began: “A long time ago, Mary and Joseph had a baby and they named Him Jesus,” she said. “And when Jesus was born, a bright star appeared over the stable.”

            At that cue, Jana got up from her chair, picked up a large tin-foil star, walked behind Mary and Joseph and held the star up high for everyone to see.

            When the teacher told about the shepherds coming to see the baby, the three young shepherds came forward and Jana jiggled the star up and down excitedly to show them where to come.  When the wise men responded to their cue, she went forward a little to meet them and to lead the way, her face as alight as the real star might have been.

            The pageant ended.  They had refreshments.  On the way home Jana said, with great satisfaction, “I had the main part!”

            You did?” her Mom asked, wondering why she thought that.

            “Yes,” she said, “’cause I showed everybody how to find Jesus!”

            And ultimately that is what it means to walk in the light.  It is to show the world how to find Jesus.  It is to so live that people see in us year round the love of the Bethlehem babe.  That is our part and it is the main part to show the world how to find Jesus.



[1] “The Cave Dwellers” by Peter Lane Taylor from “National Geographic Adventure,” published in Reader’s Digest, January 2005, pp. 134-141.

[2] Ask Me To Dance (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972), pg. 52.