Saturday, December 24, 2016

Darkness Will Fade

Darkness Will Fade
2016 Longest Night of the Year Sermon
December 21, 2016

Isaiah 9:2-7
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
    On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
You have made the nation great;
    you have increased its joy.
They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as those who divide plunder rejoice.
As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them,
    the staff on their shoulders,
    and the rod of their oppressor.
Because every boot of the thundering warriors,
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned, fuel for the fire.
A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
    for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
    establishing and sustaining it
    with justice and righteousness
    now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this.

To say that darkness has seeped in a bit this year would be an understatement. It seems the darkness has been busy extinguishing bits and pieces of light in my life for quite a while, and I hardly even noticed it until recently—kind of like when the light fixture in your den keeps having bulbs burn out and it’s not until you’re down to 2 and you can hardly see across the room that you realize just how dark it’s gotten in there. Sometimes, the invasion of darkness is quiet and slow and almost unrecognizable…
All of this makes me wonder if Isaiah’s “people who walked in darkness” even knew they were walking in darkness. It makes me think of my childish impressions of what people call “the dark ages”: Were there really no lights then? Did everyone just stumble around blindly, grasping for things? Did the sun not shine for a whole epoch of time?

That’s silly, but still I wonder: how do we know when we’re people who are walking in darkness? Maybe it’s not until we see the light that we realize how dark it’s gotten. Our bathroom light fixture has two bulbs in it; one had been out for quite some time—I had forgotten it was even there—and when the other one blew, we replaced both, and we were amazed at how bright it was! We could see ourselves in the mirror again!

Isaiah says,
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
    On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.”

This time of year we don’t have to imagine what walking in darkness is like. As the literal darkness comes upon us, there are many who suffer mental and emotional distress just from the lack of daylight we experience. When we set our clocks back the first of last month, we may have been surprised by the darkness that seemed to come out of nowhere, but we’ve gotten used to it by now, most days.
But no, Isaiah’s people weren’t stuck without sunlight for years and years. They seemed without guidance, without one to lead them home, without the presence of the God they had had to leave behind in Jerusalem. They walked as though they couldn’t see where they were going because God seemed so far from them. They lived through war and political maneuvering that left them without much hope for the kind of life they felt promised by the scriptures they had always read, the God they had (almost) always worshiped.
If you haven’t stumbled around in the dark recently with the threat of stepping on Legos, I’d say you’re not missing much. Though many of us seem to have a knack for finding darkness on our own, its undeniable creep gets to us all, at times. Isaiah doesn’t promise that the darkness all goes away, but he does proclaim the arrival of a light that, at the very least, holds the darkness at bay. This light makes it possible to see where one is going, to have a sense of direction and purpose, to find hope even when much of life seems uncertain.
Isaiah speaks of one who is to come, who will be called Wonderful Counselor—that is, whose decisions will be wise; Mighty God—that is, a son of God; Eternal Father—that is, one who will care for the people of Israel; and Prince of Peace—that is, one who will no longer wage violence and war but a way of life that sustains the value of the people, rather than oppressing them. For Isaiah’s first listeners, this would have been a king—a real, true king, one of David’s line. This child who was born would be an earthly ruler anointed by God to shepherd the people Israel. So many years later, we hear these words differently…
In the midst of darkness, we await a Wonderful Counselor, whose wisdom will turn our hearts to the right and set us on paths that lead to life. We await a Mighty God, whose power will not be like the grasping, insecure power of rulers who seek to dominate and control others, but whose might will deliver us from the brokenness we continue to wage upon ourselves and each other. We await an Everlasting Father, who will care for us in ways an earthly father could never even imagine—one whose protection, nurture, support, and even discipline will be life-giving and life-changing. We await a Prince of Peace, whose peace will engender freedom and wholeness for all people. In the midst of darkness, we know with Isaiah the hope that darkness will fade, that one will again come into our lives who will brighten up all the darkest corners of us and turn the deepest midnight into light. Indeed, that one has come…and will come again!
If you find yourself in darkness this season…if the darkness has crept in, just a little bit, or overwhelmingly, take heart—have hope—a child is born to us, and he is everything we’ve been waiting for in the dark. And his light makes the darkness fade—sometimes slowly, as his love gently takes us back over from darkness; sometimes dramatically, as we see what has been hidden in plain view and turn back to his ways.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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