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Dec 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 1, 2019

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphatali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them the light has shown.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forever more.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this
Isaiah 9:1-7

Intro: Should we celebrate Christmas?
– irritable Christians who write blogs or post on social media,
• remind us that it’s not likely Jesus was born in December
◦ that the “church” took over a pagan holiday,
◦ and to this day much of the Christmas celebration is still pagan (1)
• if that’s so, should we not celebrate the birth of Jesus?
◦ not return to the old, old narrative of announcements, angels, stable, shepherds, star and magi?
◦ should we, like the Gospels of Mark and John skip over all that?
– God entered our world – that is an event worth celebrating
• we don’t want to forget what our lives were like without him
◦ or that Israel spent long years waiting, looking, hoping
• and what better time to celebrate his first coming
◦ than in the cold, dark days of winter?
◦ at Christmas we reconnect with a sacred moment in time

Advent season is four weeks of preparation
– our attention is focused on the first and second coming of Jesus
• but it’s more than remembering he came once and will come again
• we prepare ourselves for Jesus,
◦ as if he were to return at any time – next week. tomorrow, tonight
◦ or in this present moment

Isaiah 9 is one of the standard texts for first Sunday of Advent

The first word in chapter 9 is a conjunction, “but”
– it joins two ideas, but indicates a difference – a turn
• so what came before this turn?
– at that time, Ahaz was the king of Judah–he was not a good man
• two other nations had allied themselves to invade Judah
• everything Ahaz did to prepare for the invasion was wrong
◦ instead of turning to Israel’s God,
◦ he turned to another nation and its gods
In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the LORD—this same King Ahaz. For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel (2 Chr. 28:22-23)

God sent Isaiah to the people of Judah with a message of doom
And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness (Isa. 8:23)
– hearing this, Isaiah’s audience would feel,
• the utter hopelessness of their situation
– this is the point where Isaiah’s message turns
• the gloom does not spread everywhere
◦ and it’s not for all time
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish

Are you familiar with the lands named, Zebulun and Naphtali?

It’s okay if you aren’t–in fact, this is the only place in Isaiah where they are mentioned
– they were two of Israel’s tribes who settled on the northeast border
• we are more familiar with “the Jordan” and “Galilee”
◦ here, Galilee is associated with “the nations”–i.e., Gentiles
• the point is, this region was considered compromised
– these territories were far from the capital city of Samaria
• they were the least likely places to find God at work
• so it is shocking that Isaiah would point to them and say,
◦ “This is where God’s salvation will be revealed first”

If we jump to the New Testament, Zechariah, father of John the Baptist,
– prophesied that John’s mission would be to
go before the Lord to prepare his ways and
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (Lk 1:76-79)
• and in Matthew, when Jesus began his ministry, he began in Galilee

And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoke by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned
(Mt. 4:12-16)

◦ Jesus began his ministry in these most unlikeliest of places
– Isaiah said God was going to turn the fate of his people around
• and he was going to do in their darkest moment and darkest places
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light

In the Hebrew Scriptures, light is associated with glory

A brilliant radiance appeared on Mt. Sinai, over the sacred tent and in the temple
– if you want a visual image, think back to a brilliant sunrise
• this light was how God revealed his immediate presence to them
As soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud (Ex. 16:10)
• this is what Isaiah announced was on its way,
◦ the glory of God’s presence
– it is as if Isaiah could see it happening already
• already he could feel the joy of it – hear the rejoicing (v. 3)
• to be set free is a wonderful feeling
◦ whether we’re liberated from an oppressive situation or from our own small selves — our bad habits and addictions
◦ the joy of salvation is the kind of joy that celebrates

The heart of this hope is verse 6 (we’ll come back to it)

There is a key statement at the end of verse 7
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this
– Israel’s salvation would not result from human ambition or be a human achievement
• God is not neutral when it comes to his people
◦ to talk about his zeal or his jealousy, is to say that he is passionate
• of course, in a unique way, because he is God
◦ but, still, we can understand – he cares – and deeply
◦ and God’s passion is a powerful force
– God makes things happen – the things he wants to happen

Now verse 6, and I want to read this with Jesus in mind

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
– my dad liked to stress that a child was born, but the Son was given
• the Son, who had been with the Father from eternity, was given to us
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16)
in the previous chapter, a name was given to the child
• in a previous chapter, a name was give to the child born of a virgin
Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), which Matthew translates for us, “God with us” (Mt. 1:22-23)
and the government will rest on his shoulders
• this was Isaiah’s vision and Israel’s hope
• a new government in which God’s will would be done on earth as in heaven

And then, that blessed list of titles:
Wonderful Counselor – no more wrong turns for the nation
– no more guessing, no more mistakes, or foolish decisions

Mighty God – the power Israel’s Savior wields is unlimited
– this is the might that liberated Israel from Egypt

Everlasting Father – before King Ahaz, Israel had a good king
– Ahaz was not good, but after him King Hezekiah was good
• but after Hezekiah, his son, Manasseh was Judah’s worst king ever
• there was no consistency in the succession of kings from one generation to the next
◦ but with God’s Savior, there would no longer be a a succession of unreliable rulers
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7:14)
– when we are given the Son, we have the Father also
Jesus said, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (Jn. 14:9)

Prince of peace – history tells the story of this war-torn planet
– political candidates can promise peace and try to pursue peace,
• but none of them can deliver peace
– Jesus is the “prince” of peace
• he makes the promise and he delivers

Verse 7 combines the last two themes, “everlasting” and “peace”
– his government of peace will continue to spread, expand, and never end
• again, this is something God is passionate about
• his zeal will make it happen
– do not forget, God begins his work in the unlikeliest of places

When Jesus’ ministry got underway, one of his first followers ran to tell his friend Nathanael that he had found the One, whom Moses and the prophets had written about, Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael answered, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). He was expressing the common opinion that northern Israel was less devout and further from the spiritual heart of the nation.
When the Pharisees first tried to arrest Jesus, Nicodemus spoke up in his defense, that they should not condemn him without a fair trial. Their response was, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” (Jn. 7:52).
God is pleased to shine his light into these dark corners. God’s work begins where his light is most needed and can do the most good–places like my own dark heart.

Conclusion: What is it that shines in the darkness?

In a word: Hope – even a wire-thin ray of hope can keep a life going
– in recent years a lot of people have written books and essays on hope
• most of it is common-sense wisdom
◦ they offer a number of things we can do to ignite hope and keep it alive
◦ they all say the same thing: hope is something we have to crank out for ourselves
• but Christmas is about gift — we are given a hope
◦ or better, we are given a hope
◦ it’s like a life preserver that has been tossed to us
– we do not create hope for ourselves
• what we do is hold on to the hope that is given to us (Heb. 3:6)

The Christmas promise is as lovely and life-changing as ever
But it won’t do us any good unless we personalize it
It is a matter of getting beyond our thoughts,
whether intensely rational or devotional,
and going down deeper than our emotions
It is about being there
in that dark place where the baby is born,
and the strangers adore,
and the light now shines.
For Jesus has shown us a Father who cares
and who has dropped us a ray of hope,
hope that is ours,
hope that can anchor itself in God,
a hope that holds onto us and will never pass away

__________________
(1) Frequently, the Roman Catholic Church is blamed for setting the date for the annual celebration of Christmas. However, in the fourth century, there was no distinction between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant church (the later two did not yet exist)–there was only one Church and all Christians belonged to it.

One Comment

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  1. Ed Northen / Dec 5 2019

    Chuck thank you for your insightful words. They are gifts which enlighten and challenge us with fresh perspective and insights. As I considered this reflexion a couple things spoke to me. 1: No matter how sincere we are, we can be blinded by our orthodoxy or paradigms. It is easy to think somehow we have the truth and close ourselves off to the Spirit’s work because it does not fit into our established belief structure. When we look at God’s work in the world it is often done in unexpected places and ways. The whole birth of the Christ is the antithesis of what was expected. We must be wise but also pliable and open, knowing our God is a living God and while he does not change, our understanding of Him does as He continues to reveal Himself to the world in new ways. 2. God’s love and passion for his creation is what is going to bring about change in people’s lives and in this world. It is his Spirit moving on people’s hearts to accomplish his purposes and through that also transform their lives. Nicodemus was one of these people. While most of his counterparts were stuck in their dogma, Nicodemus went and sought truth. He was open to a new paradigm and it resulted in in new life for Him as he followed Jesus. God’s Spirit is what will do the work and draw us to Himself. He is the one who brings life and light into the dark places of our lives.

    Last night I attended a gathering of people from our community who are addressing hunger issues through a great organization called The Hunger Coalition. This organization does not just hand out food, it teaches people about good nutrition, lets teenagers be involved by working in a community garden, engages elderly people who are isolated, with other people, by using food as something they have in common. This community of people, is from every segment of society; rich and poor, atheist and orthodox, gay and straight, white and Hispanic, all gathered to contribute as they could, to help combat hunger. This is God’s work to feed the poor and the compassion of doing this together unites us, builds relationships and bridges where there could be divides and helps bring the kingdom of God present in a tangible way. I believe God can and does use organizations like this (though some would call them secular) to share his love and it is an opportunity for us, as followers of Jesus to be his light, bring His hope and to do his work in this world.

    In this advent season, not only do we celebrate God becoming incarnate in the Jesus, we can also celebrate the God who is incarnate in us. As we contemplate, celebrate and serve our amazing God who has poured out his extravagant love upon us and the world, may he fill our hearts with his peace and presence.

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