Sunday’s sermon: The Promise to Come

Text used – Isaiah 9:1-7

  • Does anyone else feel like we’re hanging out on the edge of something … of a lot of somethings?
    • Feels like we’re on the edge of both fall and winter
      • Weather seems to have one foot in the warmth of fall one day and another foot in the biting wind and snow flurries of winter the next day
      • Waning daylight hours and lengthening darkness of the night definitely feels like an edge
    • Liturgically on the edge of another year → liturgical year begins with Advent next week, so this week is the last Sunday of the current liturgical year
    • On the edge of another holiday season
      • Thanksgiving this Thurs.
      • Christmas right around the corner
    • On the more sobering side, it feels like we’re on the edge of a lot of pivotal moments in history … not many of which are good.
      • Feels like we’re on the edge of another COVID surge (at best … for some of us, it probably feels like we’re already in the thick of that surge)
      • Feels like we’re on the edge of human decency and dignity → so many ways in which human decency seems to be deteriorating and human dignity is being torn apart one microaggression and one social media attack at a time
      • Feels like our planet is on the edge of a major climate shift
        • “Storm of the Century” every few years
        • Massive wildfires
        • Drought across much of the U.S.
        • Sea levels rising
    • And after the last 21 months of pandemic living, political divisiveness, social injustice, and so much other personal stress and strain, I know a lot of us feel like we’re teetering on the edge of holding it together. If ever we were in need of a Savior, friends, it feels like that time might be now.
  • Feeling that Isaiah’s audience knew well → Remember, Isaiah was delivering God’s words of prophecy – God’s words of both difficult truth and hope-filled promise – to the people who had been taken from their home in Jerusalem to live in captivity in Babylon.
    • Only the best and brightest – those who made concerted contributions to Jewish society – were taken: government officials, temple officials, artists, law experts, teachers, and so on. → meant that some families found themselves divided
    • People who were taken captive were forced to live in Babylon – to assimilate into Babylonian society – for an entire generation
      • Some who were taken ended up dying in Babylon
      • Some who were taken ended up growing up in Babylon
      • Some who were taken ended up marrying in Babylon
      • Some whose families were taken ended up being born in Babylon – a whole generation who never knew the beauty and sacredness of their people’s home in Jerusalem
    • Surely a time of living on the edge → We don’t have any historical records to indicate that Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who captured the Israelites, nor any of his followers every gave the people of Israel any indication of how long they would have to remain in Babylon or if they would ever have a chance to return home again. Truly, Isaiah was delivering God’s word to the people living on the edge.
      • Hear that interwoven throughout our Scripture this morning
        • Beginning: Nonetheless, those who were in distress won’t be exhausted.[1] → Heb. “exhausted” = really complex word[2]
          • Only appears 3x in First Testament – twice in Job and here in Is
          • Connotations of pressing on and pouring out … not in a positive, up-by-the-bootstraps kind of way but in a depleting, giving-beyond-your-capabilities kind of way
          • Also includes this element of narrowness and constraint
          • Feeling depleted – completely poured out. Feeling severely restrained and confined. Does that sound like the exhaustion you’ve been experiencing lately?
        • Other element of Scripture reading that indicate the people of Israel have been dwelling on the edge
          • Is calls the people of Israel “people who walked in darkness”[3] → Think of how hard and uncertain it can be walking through your house in the dark. Even when it’s a house you’ve lived in for years – even decades! Even when you haven’t moved the furniture in who-knows-how-long. Even when you just glanced at the room before you turned the light off. When it’s dark, you still step tentatively because you’re unsure.
            • Happens in our house a lot – turning the living room lamps off at night means walking across a dark living room → And in a house with 3 kids, you never know what’s going to be on the floor … what you’re going to find with your bare feet.
            • Uncertainty captured in 2nd half of that verse: On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. → Heb. “pitch-dark” = same phrase that we find in Ps 23 when it says, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley” or, in more traditional translations, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”[4]
          • Is speaks of God having cursed the land “at an earlier time”[5]
          • Is speaks of the “yoke that burdened [the people], the staff on their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressor”[6]
          • Is references warriors and garments rolled in blood[7]
          • Clearly, the people of Israel are living on the edge.
  • Into that edge-dwelling, Isaiah speaks words of hope-filled promise – promise of a Savior, a Messiah.
    • Promise is woven throughout this whole section of text just as the uncertainty and edge-ness is
      • Is affirms that those people who walked in darkness “have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned[8]
      • Despite being formerly cursed, Is also affirms that God has “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.”[9]
      • That yoke and that staff and that oppressor’s rod that Is mentions have been “shattered” by God
    • Also a hope-filled promise boldly and unconditionally declared at the end of our passage this morning: 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.[10] → This is the promise of salvation, of deliverance, of someone who is coming to relieve the people of the stress and strain of life on the edges forevermore. This is the promise of a Messiah: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
  • Good news of the gospel = two-fold this morning
    • FIRST: a Savior born not into center of things – the golden thrones of royalty or the hallowed halls of governmental power or even the learned podiums of the temple priests → No, this coming Savior – this Wonderful Counselor, this Prince of Peace – was a Savior born on the edges. This coming Savior was a Savior who lived on the edges, who called disciples on the edges, who taught and healed and ministered on the edges. This coming Savior was a Savior who loved and died and rose again and saved people on the edges.
      • Wasn’t looking for perfection
      • Wasn’t looking for power
      • Wasn’t looking for people who had it all together
    • SECOND: this same Savior of the edges is the same Savior that we still wait for → I know that in mainline traditions, we don’t often talk about the returning of Christ. We don’t often talk about how the resurrected Jesus will return someday to bring God’s peace and God’s kingdom to earth. And there’s a good, Scripturally-based reason we don’t spend a lot of time preoccupied with this idea of the Second Coming.
      • Jesus in Mk (in a conversation with his disciples): They will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven. … But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows.[11] → Jesus makes two things pretty clear here. 1) The Human One (Jesus himself) will return … someday. 2) Only God knows when that day will be. The angels don’t know. Not even Jesus himself knows. Only God knows when that return will be, and we are certainly not God!
      • So when we celebrate the season of Advent in the church, we are celebrating the coming birth of the Christ child on Christmas Eve, yes, but we’re also holding sacred space for the return of Christ to bring heaven and earth together. We’re holding out hope for the everlasting grace and peace and unconditional love of God to in-dwell every part of this world – every community, every society, every heart.
        • Dr. Don Saliers (theologian, liturgical musician, retired prof. of Theology and Worship at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, father of Indigo Girls’ member Emily Saliers): Isaiah here speaks of future events in the past tense, but this is how the eternal intention to save comes to this temporal world. … This “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” is for all time and will be the light until all manner of things will be well.[12]
        • Further reading of that same conversation btwn. Jesus/disciples in Mk: Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. … Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert![13] → Again, Jesus is clear: be ready for the promise to come again. That’s where we find the 2nd element of our good news this morning: while we continue to wait for the coming again of our Savior, we have work to do. We have hearts to prepare. We have good news to share. Because of that 1st coming with the baby and the manger and the angels and everything else that followed, we once again have access to a relationship with God that we can continue to develop and deepen … even from the edges (whatever edges we’re currently inhabiting), even as we await the return of the promise to come. Yes, God waits with us in the edges. Yes, God’s love surrounds us in the edges. And yes, God calls us to witness to the good news of the gospel – of the coming Savior, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace – even from the edges. Because we never know who else may need the light of that good news to brighten their own edge spaces. Amen.

[1] Is 9:1a.

[2] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/isaiah-91-7/.

[3] Is 9:2.

[4] Levy.

[5] Is 9:1b.

[6] Is 9:4.

[7] Is 9:5.

[8] Is 9:2 (emphasis added).

[9] Is 9:3.

[10] Is 9:6-7.

[11] Mk 13:26-27, 32.

[12] Don E. Saliers. “Christmas Eve – Isaiah 9:2-7, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 102.

[13] Mk 13:33, 36-37.

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