Last week, we spent some time talking about the fact that the role of the prophet was to keep the King aligned with God’s law. We looked at the way Nathan used a story to help David see the ways that he had sinned, which led to David’s confessing and repenting of that sin. We also saw that even with confession and repentance, there are consequences.
David’s choices were not undone when he confessed. Uriah was still dead, and David was no longer able to rationalize away his part in it. Bathsheba was still his wife, and still the mother of a child who should never have been conceived through their union. God then punished David with consequences that rippled through his family and the kingdom.
The reality is that as the Kings of Israel and Judah became less godly, as they relied more on their own wisdom or cleverness, they led the people into the same sin… the sin of separation from the leadership and guidance of God. They led the people out of a right relationship with God.
The passage we read from Isaiah this morning was from the second part of the scroll. What we think of as a single book called Isaiah actually is a scroll in two parts. Most scholars agree that chapters 1-39 were written pre-exile, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
From Chapter 40 onward, where we started reading this morning, the perspective is post-exile. The writings assume that the readers know why the Hebrew people are in exile. We don’t know why the story of Jerusalem’s destruction it isn’t included or explicitly described, as it was in 2 Kings.
Perhaps the editors, the compilers of the scrolls, couldn’t bear to talk about that time, couldn’t bear to recall and retell the circumstances as God’s beloved Daughter Zion was given over to the hands of the Babylonians… a vicious foreign army.
But exiled they were. Separated from home, separated from one another, seemingly separated from God.No longer feeling like a chosen people in a promised land. These were the consequences of the choices already made, the sins of the past. Consequences of choices that compound over time.
As we lose connection with God, we lose the sense that God has a purpose and plan for us and that God will speak to us as clearly as God spoke Abraham and Jacob, Isaac and Joseph, David and Solomon…
It is in our human nature to stop listening to God and to allow other ideas, other pursuits to take God’s place in our hearts. John Calvin famously said “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”
And when greed, despair and hate replace faith, hope and love, we simply cannot maintain right relationships with neighbors, friends or family. We disengage from them or engage by way of conflict and violence.
You see, when Jesus spoke to his followers about specific sins, it was so that they might have clear examples of the ways that we break the bonds of love that are at the very heart of God’s commandments…
The chains we forge in life are, when we get down to it, the weight of all of the ways we fail to love God and love our neighbors. The only comfort we can look toward, our hope of breaking free from those chains is our coming joy – the risen and returning Christ.
Here in Isaiah 40, God is speaking first, calling the messengers in Heaven to carry a word of comfort to the people. Jerusalem has served her time, her penalty has been paid. Now a voice is crying out to them, commanding them to prepare the way of the Lord.
There is a road construction project in the wilderness, raising up the valleys, lowering the mountains, straightening the paths, smoothing the rough places so that what was uneven terrain becomes smooth as a plain.
This concept is one we are all too familiar with in Central Florida as highways and tollways and streets are added, moved and adapted almost constantly. The work is hard and long, but when that smooth, new path to our destination is finished, there is always much rejoicing.
In Isaiah’s message, the rejoicing comes when the glory of the Lord is be revealed – when everyone comes together, sees and worships.
Looking backward, reading Isaiah through the lens of the gospels we hear John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness and we see the glory of the Lord revealed in the coming of Jesus, the Christ. The one who came because of God’s great love for all people.
But In the darkness of their despair, as the people of Israel and Judah waited in exile, these words from Isaiah would have been heard with an understood “One of these days…” tacked onto the end. Yes, the God’s glory will be revealed… one of these days. God will hold us in his arms like a shepherd holds his sheep… one of these days.
This is not unlike our own experience reading and watching the news, aware of our own dark days, as we await the promised return of our Lord, thinking “One of these days…” Or as I am apt to say aloud now and then “Come Lord Jesus! Any day now would be great.”
Marley’s Ghost came to Scrooge in the darkness of night, a clear reminder of the darkness in our own hearts, the darkness into which the Light of the World must dawn. And then the Ghost of Christmas past arrives in this second segment of our book.
This spirit begins to offer some light to Scrooge. In fact, it seems to be made of or filled with light…(read excerpt describing the light at the crown of its head, as well as the cap)
As the visited the places and people of Scrooge’s past, did you notice a pattern?
At the schoolhouse, Scrooge sees all the people walking about greeting one another and gets swept up in their joy as they leave for Christmas Holiday and the building empties.
Until the Spirit reminds him… excerpt – not completely abandoned, Scrooge sees himself alone and sobs.
They visit another Christmas at the school when Scrooge’s sister Fan arrived to take Scrooge home. The loneliness of the schoolhouse would be traded in for family and a job… at Old Fezziwig’s.
The dancing and celebrating at the Fezziwigs on Christmas Eve brought tremendous joy to Scrooge as an apprentice and as an old man watching from the sidelines. Scrooge remembered the way that Old Fezziwig and his wife offered a bit of their profits and their hearts to their employees and others… It was a small thing, but it meant the world to Ebenezer and Dick.
The last two visits involved a young woman… Belle. And unlike the joy he felt observing the night of the part, both of these reflections leave Scrooge distraught. In the first, we learn that they were engaged to be married. They had made plans when both had very little, but now Scrooge was doing quite well and has no intention of stopping in his pursuit of wealth. Belle chooses to end the relationship with these words… excerpt of the breakup and then these… excerpt of her hoping he remembers the joy they did have, even if it pains him.
The final scene shows Scrooge what might have been, as Belle sits with her daughter and grandchildren. The women watch the children play and then revel in the children’s delight when their father and grandfather arrive with Christmas gifts. Scrooge’s self-imposed exile could not have been more honestly and plainly described than here: excerpt about Scrooge being alone in his office, alone in the world
In his sorrow and anger and frustration with the Spirit, Scrooge attempts to extinguish the light, pressing its cap down over its head. excerpt as Scrooge attempts to stifle the light.
But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness – even in the form of Scrooge – did not overcome it. (John 1:5)
Scrooge experiences more than just joy and sorrow, and at times he is moved to action, or at least to consider action.
At the schoolhouse… He remembers a time that someone came dressed as Ali Baba, bringing such joy… both in the past and in the present moment with the Ghost. Then suddenly, this man with no interest in frivolity, especially at Christmas time, has a desire to connect with the young caroler he had sent away with no kind words, and definitely without a coin in thanks.
Seeing Fan reminded him of her son, Fred… whom he had dismissed earlier in the day without accepting the invitation to Christmas dinner. Again.
After seeing Fezziwig’s party… he considers his conversation with Bob Cratchit and how cross he had been about giving Bob a single holiday with pay.
These joy-filled memories seemed to heal his heart, even as they rip it open again, prompting him to reach out, perhaps even to reconnect with others. Which makes sense, as the memories that prompted the greatest sorrow, evoked the greatest pain, were those of separation, of isolation, of loneliness.
I go on and on about being commanded to love one another… from this pulpit and in my benedictions. But I don’t always remind you of this… Loving is not only for the benefit of those who receive, but also for those who give, AND for the glory of God!\
Listen to this description from 133rd Psalm:
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
There is little in life that is more precious, that the Lord has given a higher status and standing, than the love that is made manifest in unity.
And in 1 John, chapter 4, we read…
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
The hard work of loving, the hard work of caring for others more than ourselves, of keeping promises, of making sure no one is left behind or forgotten…
In these days- the not yet days – the days before the Glory of the Lord is again revealed…The work of love is the work of proclamation. It is the construction work of raising valleys and flattening mountains, of making straight a highway for our God to reveal the fullness of his glory.
Like Fan and Fezziwig, we have the power to bring joy into the lives of those around us through small acts of kindness and love. And just as we are more apt to repent when we name our sins, we are more apt to act in love, when we consider and name our opportunities.
So… here is your task for today…
You should have snowpeople at your seats. At least one snowperson each. Using a pen or pencil, on the front, I want you to make it you. If you’re feeling fancy and artistic, you can add an accessory or a bit of clothing. Or if you are feeling less inclined to draw, a name or initials will do fine as well.
Next, I want you to think about 2 people…
First – Someone who brings you joy when you are with them… on the phone, in person, facetime… however it is that you connect. This is a person that offers light and love in a way that makes you smile to think of them.
Second – Someone to whom might you bring joy… someone that you might have hurt or ignored in the past… someone that maybe is so different from you that it’s a lot harder for you to offer them love than to the first person you thought of…or perhaps it is someone you have fallen out of touch with because of distance or busyness.
OK – on the back of your snowperson… you’re going to draw 2 hearts, each big enough to write a word in. In one of them, write the name or initials of the person who brings you joy. In the other, write the initials for that second person, the one that is not a source of joy for you, but could be an opportunity to offer joy.
Now, I am going to guide us in a time of prayer to close the sermon. As I pray, I want you to think specifically about these people AND be open to other names the Lord might put on your heart.
When the offering plates come around, I’ll also send around this basket to gather up our snow people.
They will become part of this little group of people connected by hope, joy and love. Because we are called be a community of faith, hope and love, not just individuals.