Picture this. My two friends and I were on a road trip through the Great Lakes during the summer of 2005. We packed up my 2003 Toyota Corolla, fully loaded with roll down windows and a cassette deck, and headed west from our home town of Cleveland, Ohio. We were headed to Chicago to visit some friends, but along the way we would make a few stops. First stop: a Detroit Tigers game. The stadium was beautiful. The only things more beautiful were the early summer days in Michigan. Our next stop was a bit of a surprise for my friends; I headed north.
‘Where in the world are we going?’ they asked as we continued to pass highway mile posts, the landscape became less and less industrial, and more and more natural. I told them we were going to visit an old college buddy of mine who was working at a camp up north. After a few hours of driving in what now seemed like wilderness to these city slickers, we pulled up to Crystalaire Camp, where we were met by a gruff, tall smiling beard of a man; my college friend Mike was there to greet us with enthusiastic hugs for these fish out of water.
We would spend the rest of the afternoon visiting and touring the camp as the sun set beyond the western horizon. It was getting late…and dark. For my college friend Mike and I, we were pleasantly in our element: under the stars, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the sounds of nature. For my two urbanite friends from Cleveland, they were growing more and more uncomfortable with their new surroundings.
Finally, Mike said to us, ‘Ok. I’ve got a surprise for us. Grab your stuff.’ All of a sudden, there we were, the four of us, standing in the dark of the northern Michigan woods, backpacks and sleeping bags in hand, not knowing what this surprise may be. Mike turned on his headlamp, and said, ‘Follow me.’ My friends and I followed close, as he was literally the only light for what seemed like miles. (My friend would later tell me that he questioned whether his life was in danger several times that night). We traveled for what seemed like miles in the dark night, made even darker by the overarching trees and growing clouded skies (in fact it was only a few minutes). Finally, we found ourselves on a beach of some kind. Mike lit a campfire on the sand, we shared a snack and laughed about the whole experience, and then slowly each of us climbed into our sleeping bag (except for my one friend who only brought a blanket…rookie mistake).
After a few hours of restful sleep on the beach (my friends would say that they didn’t sleep for longer than 20 minutes at a time before being woken up by what they thought were animals waiting to eat them), I awoke to a most amazing sight. In the early dawn hours, I found myself on what seemed like an endless beach along Lake Michigan. And in the sky above the blue waters was the largest and brightest rainbow I had ever seen, spanning what seemed like the entirety of the early morning sky. I would rush to wake the rest of our party that morning, and we would enjoy a simple breakfast at Lake Michigan Beach at Camp Lookout as we took in the majesty of God’s Creation. The clouds had parted, and morning had come; from darkness to light.
We all have our stories of darkness and light to share. The words of Isaiah echo a similar narrative as he shares with the people of Israel a message of hope to a people that have been living through what must have seemed like endless stumbling through the night.
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish… in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
Many of us in ministry, whether in camping ministry, congregational, or otherwise, have found ourselves in these moments of darkness. Some of us may be in those moments right now. I would like for you to think about these moments, find another person in the room, and share some of this experience. We won’t have time to maybe hear the whole story, but this can at least be the beginning of the story to be shared.
As we hear these stories, I want us to get back to our Scripture text for a moment. I wonder just how often the people of Israel found themselves in the darkness of their experience during what would later be the Babylonian captivity and exile during this time. Yet despite all of this darkness, there would be words of hope to embrace.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
God is ever present. Whether we find ourselves in the darkness of the night, or in the light of the dawn, God is not just the moon, or the stars, or the clouds, or the bow, or the sun. God is the sky. God is always and will forever be. Tonight let us celebrate the God of Creation in whom we know, trust, and hope. Amen.