ISAIAH 35:1-10


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             When the Messiah comes there will be light.  We looked at that two weeks ago.  Last week we looked at when the Messiah comes there will be peace.  Today, as we continue our Advent sermon series on Isaiah’s prophesies about the coming Messianic kingdom, we will see that when the Messiah comes there will be singing.

            Most of us love the music of Christmas, but not all of us are great singers.

            One woman was talking about her parents who had recently retired.  Her mom had always wanted to learn to play the piano, so her dad bought her mom a piano for her birthday.  A few weeks later, the woman asked how her mom was doing with the piano.

            “Oh, we returned the piano,” said her dad, “I persuaded her to switch to a clarinet instead.”

            “How come?” the woman asked.

            “Well,” he answered, “because with a clarinet, she can’t sing while she plays.”

            We’re not all great singers.  That’s all right.  We can still make a joyful noise.

I’m reminded of the story of a Roman Catholic Church in which the choir director had gone to a great deal of trouble preparing an excellent soprano for a solo for Sunday Mass.  As the soloist’s beautiful voice soared through the church, she was suddenly joined by a bedraggled “street person” who had wandered in and taken a seat near the choir.  The newcomer’s voice had seen better days, and it quavered along, slightly off-key, through the entire song.  The choir members kept looking frantically at the director, who made no move to interrupt the intruder.

            Afterward, some of the members of the choir asked the director why he hadn’t stopped her.  “Because,” he replied, “I wasn’t sure which song God would like better.”

            There are few passages as joyful as our passage for today.  Listen to his words,


            The wilderness and the dry land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom;  like the crocus, it will blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.  The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.  They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.  Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!  Here is your God . . . Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.  For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water . . . and the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


            It would be difficult to paint a picture in which the joy of the Lord is portrayed more vividly than that.  “They will come to Zion with singing.” 

            Music is very important to us at Christmas time.  Record producers have picked up on our hunger for holiday music.  As a result, just about every recording artist decides at one point in their career to do a Christmas album.  We can only imagine what Lady Gaga’s will sound like!

            And even though Luke in his Gospel does not actually say that the angels were singing in the heavens when Christ was born, we would like to think they were.  Here’s how the verse from Luke’s Gospel actually reads: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and SAYING, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14, emphasis added).  Luke tells us what they were saying, not singing.  Most of us, however, like to think they were singing.

            Someone defined the difference between rap music and opera like this: Opera is people singing when they should be talking, and rap music is people talking when they should be singing.  Maybe the angels were rapping out the message to the shepherds.  Probably not.  Nevertheless, we would like to think the angels were singing, singing in beautiful harmony.  If they weren’t singing, they should have been. 

            Music is a wonderful gift from God.  As people of faith music gives us so much.  First, it provides us a vehicle to express our joy and thanksgiving.  The famous preacher of another generation Charles Spurgeon once said, “I used to know an old Methodist; and the first thing in the morning, when he got up, he began singing a bit of a Methodist hymn; and if I met the old man during the day, he was always singing.  I have seen him in his little cobbler shop, with his lap stone on his knee, and he was always singing, and beating with his hammer.  When I said to him once, ‘Why do you always sing?’ he replied, ‘Because I always have something to sing about.’”[1]

            In his prophecy Isaiah promises the people that they will one day return to Zion, the symbol of Jerusalem, the symbol of the Promised Land, with singing.  Isaiah was writing during the times of the divided kingdom.  The land had been overrun numerous times by their enemies.  Prisoners of war had been carried off to become slaves in distant lands.  Isaiah promises that one day they will be able to return home to Zion.  On that day they will be filled with such great joy that they will burst out in song.

            Charles Duke, a former astronaut, recounts that after his time with NASA he lacked purpose and meaning in his life.  His wife, Dottie, was also troubled.  In fact, she contemplated suicide, but then she began to attend church where she gave her life to Christ.  Sometime later at his wife’s Bible study Charles Duke gave his life to Christ as well.  He found a new and compelling purpose for his life.  Today he offers this comment on his conversion, “Walking on the moon cannot compare with walking on earth with Jesus.”[2]

            When you feel like that you want to sing.  Music allows us to express our joy and thanksgiving.

            There’s a second thing music does for us: it draws us closer together as the family of Christ.  Can’t you just see that band of refugees returning to their homeland, to Zion, singing as they traveled together?  How close they must have felt to one another as they traveled and sang. sing carols.  It’s one of the touchy-feely moments that is almost sacramental.

            Rich Mullins was a beloved artist and songwriter in the world of contemporary Christian music.  Before he died in a jeep accident on September 19, 1997, he had written many beautiful worship songs that have touched the hearts of many people.

            Eric Hauck, a close friend of Rich, recalled being with him in a worship service just a few days before he died.  Some friends wanted to gather together and praise God, and everyone had brought instruments to play together.  The music sounded awful even the leaders were singing out of tune.  Rich later went up to the microphone and said, “I love to be in church. I love to listen to people sing and play from their heart.  In my profession we worry about being in tune and sounding good, but this music tonight is the most pleasing to God, because it is so real, and it comes from the hearts of the children of God.”  That was the last time Eric ever saw Rich Mullins cry.[3]

            Some of us know what he was talking about and why he was crying.  We know about the power of music to draw people together in worship.  It reaches across the boundaries of social status, and gender and race.

            Under a cultural exchange program a rabbi from Russia was visiting with a Christian family in Texas.  Since it was Christmas the family wanted to take him to some of the finest places in Houston, so they all went to a favorite Chinese restaurant. Throughout the meal the rabbi extolled the wonders of America in comparison to the bleak conditions of his homeland.  When they had finished eating the waiter brought the check, a fortune cookie, and a small brass Christmas tree ornament as a present for the rabbi.  They all laughed when the rabbi pointed out that the ornament was stamped “made in India.”

            But the laughter soon subsided when they saw that the rabbi was quietly crying. They all thought that the rabbi must have been offended by receiving a Christmas tree ornament as a gift.  But no, he smiled and shook his head and said, “Nyet, I was shedding tears of joy to be in a wonderful country, in a Chinese restaurant in which a Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu!”[4]

            Christmas reminds us that Christ came to shine his light into the heart of everyone on this earth, of whatever race or creed, and music, especially the music of Christmas, calls us together into one beautiful family. 

            When the Messiah comes there will be singing.  Singing allows us to express our joy and thanksgiving.  Singing draws us closer together.  And most importantly of all, music speaks to us of God.

            Several years ago there was an article in a Christian journal about a church in Jackson, Tennessee that used music to help at‑risk children.  They used volunteer piano teachers who gave lessons to under‑privileged kids.  The idea worked.  Pride, self‑esteem, and academic performance among these kids from disadvantaged backgrounds were all enhanced.  Not only that, but the program also caught the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation for Fine Arts in New York.  The foundation thought the program might be developed nationally.  So they sent world‑renowned pianist Lorin Hollander to go to Jackson and take a look.

            While Hollander was there he shared something significant with his audience.  He shared with them his own experience of being a battered child.  He said that there are a lot of children out there who are mortally wounded in the soul.  These are children who are battered spiritually and creatively.  And then Hollander said this.  He said that music can bring the spirit of love into the lives of these children who have become lost. By allowing them to discover creativity in music, they can begin to express the divine love of God.  Finally, Mr. Hollander had this to say: “When I was a little child and first heard Bach, I told my sister we didn’t have to be afraid of the dark anymore; someone is watching over us.  I heard it in the music.”[5]

            Music speaks to us of God.  That is why music has always been part of the church.  And, of course, that is why music is such a big part of Christmas.  So, let us prepare for the birth of Christ with songs of joy and thanksgiving.  Let us sing as God’s people with one unified voice.  And let us pray that in the music we will sense the Holy Spirit at work in our lives drawing us closer to one another and to God.  Isaiah writes about the coming messianic age, “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  That’s the promise of Christmas.

[3] Daily Grace: Devotional Reflections to Nourish Your Soul (Colorado Springs, Co: Cook Communications Ministries, 2005), p. 112.

[5] Charles Hoffman, “A Thing of Beauty,” in The United Methodist Review, 3/24/94. Cited by Rev. San Dieguito, http://www.sdumc.org/sr083103.