Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen
How can we sing the Lord’s song, while we are captive in a foreign land?
How can we leap for joy, while our legs are still in shackles?
And what good news is there that could lighten the load of our suffering and oppression.
Two weeks ago Isaiah sang a song of peace.
Last week it was of righteousness that Isaiah wrote, of reconciling all creation.
And today Isaiah’s vision is of rejoicing and healing.
Isaiah goes back and forth.
Much of his message is one of judgment and stern warning about the disaster that was looming on the horizon.
The earliest writings of Isaiah come from about the year 600 BC, just prior to the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah and the deportation of the people into exile in Babylon.
But remarkably, even while the impending disaster is still on the horizon, he sings these songs of hope and rejoicing.
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. . .
10And 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’s a mixed message that Isaiah brings.
Imagine, for example, that Isaiah is speaking to a group of young recruits prior to being sent off to war.
As these soldiers hear the words, “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” there are two messages:
1. They will be blinded, lose their hearing, be wounded and lame, and be left speechless for the ordeal; and
2. There will be an end to their suffering, and at that time, in spite of being blind, deaf, lame, and speechless they shall rejoice.
Or to put it differently, it’s like promising a young soldier heading off to Iraq or Afghanistan that they need not worry because the Veteran’s Administration runs hospitals all across the country they can be fitted with prosthesis when they get home.
In the years that followed, Judah was conquered and its people taken into captivity in Babylon for a generation.
Then Persia conquered Babylon, and allowed the people to return to Israel to rebuild the nation.
In Ezra we hear the story of the return from Exile and the mixed emotions surrounding that:
And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
They could not distinguish between the laughter and the weeping.
Again, it’s this mixed message that runs throughout Isaiah.
It’s like hearing that we will be healed, prior to knowing that we were even sick.
Our response is “Wait, what?”
To celebrate the coming of a Savior, is also to admit the reality that we need saving.
We live in interesting, troubling times. Much like Judah during the time of Isaiah. Or at least it seems like it.
On the one hand, we are enjoying a long period of economic growth and prosperity. This began following the “Great Recession” of 2008 and continues to this day.
And yet even in the midst of our prosperity there are those who are sounding warnings, who speak like Amos did when he said “Alas, for those who are at ease in Zion. . .”
Some of those warnings come regarding the environment.
Greta Thunberg, the sixteen year old environmentalist activist, was named Time Magazine’s “person of the year”.
The message that we hear from climatologists around the globe is that if we don’t act now, and decisively, there will be hell to pay in the future.
In the political arena, we hear voices of warning coming from all sides.
Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” resonated with those people who were deeply concerned that our country had gone astray and was not so great anymore.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic candidates are working diligently at casting a vision for our country, their own version of what it would be to “make America greater than it’s ever been.”
The common thread weaved through the messages of both the right and the left, is that “all is not well”. That in spite of the prosperity, all is not well.
Economically there is a disconnect. On the one hand, the stock market is at an all time high. On the other hand, wages of many Americans, especially in the lower economic brackets, are stagnant or even declining.
Others would warn us about the sustainability of our healthcare system. We have an incredible health care system, but the cost is an ever increasing issue.
Others would warn us about the overreach of government into our lives.
Still others would warn us about our country losing its status as the leader of the free world.
And all these warnings, warnings from every end of the social/political spectrum, come at a time of prosperity.
For all the warnings, life is good. Or to put it in a Norwegian sort of way, it could be a whole lot worse.
But going back to the promises of Isaiah, that eventually there will be a time of great rejoicing, and the words of Jesus answering John the Baptist’s question, there is reason to hope and rejoice, but that will come to us after a period of great suffering.
During Advent, the whole point is that we look forward in anticipation of the birth of our Savior, and his coming again – but it is always with an acknowledgment that we NEED a savior.
On a personal level, we believe that the Savior has come and is coming to forgive our sins.
Good news. Our sins are forgiven. Rejoice. Dance. Leap for joy.
But to get to that point of rejoicing, we must first deal with the reality of our sin and repent.
There is no point in celebrating the birth of a savior if we do not acknowledge our need of a savior.
That’s the two edge sword of the Gospel.
Likewise, when Jesus comes to us proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand, we rejoice, but, only in as much as we also confess that the Kingdom in which we live is NOT the Kingdom of God.
In the Lord’s prayer we pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Every time we pray that prayer we implicitly admit, confess, that the Kingdom has not yet come and God’s will is not being done.
And so we wait for a savior.
We long for Jesus.
And we wonder when, and how this world will be redeemed as has been promised.
The message of the Gospel is that it will be redeemed, and it will get better, much better, but that there will be times of suffering and great ordeals before that happens.
What we hope for is that we will be sustained by the love of God through those difficult times and be able to wake one day to the redemption that is coming.
And so we light the candle of hope.
And we look forward to the day of rejoicing.
And we trust Jesus.