I want us all to go back in recent time for a moment. Back on the last Sunday of October as we celebrated 75 years and Stewardship Sunday, we all came forward to place our pledges in the Joash box (shameless reminder, we are still in need of your pledges so we can adopt a healthy and sustainable 2018 budget). Along with those pledges we asked you to write down some of the hopes and dreams you had for the future of this congregation. Some of the responses included the following:
“Growth, compassion, love-based messages, diversity & inclusion.”
“My prayer for Valley Church is that each current and former member of Valley would grow to know Christ and the power of his love more and more.”
“Love abundant for both those who are easy to love and more importantly for those who challenge the norm.”
“Each person attending will find a mission to enthusiastically participate in. Each person unable to attend will recognize their worth.”
“That Valley will continue to grow and nurture future generations.”
Today, as we worship on this fourth Sunday of Advent, we journey together in the expectation of the coming Messiah. We have walked through the darkness with hope, peace, joy, and now love. But as we celebrate the coming Messiah, what is our message? What do we share with our neighbors and friends? What do we tell one another sitting in the pews right next to us? What do we tell ourselves?
Today we read from the prophet Isaiah once again; this time not from the closing chapters, but from the opening chapters. What amazes me about the book of Isaiah is how it is often both a historical, and at the same time, a timeless piece of literature. Yes, historians will argue about who, exactly is the child figure, for example, here in chapter 9. But we can also read this text beyond the historical accounts presented, as we listen for God’s eternal voice and message.
Last week I spoke about a challenging week for both the congregation and myself. Today, Isaiah speaks to similar experiences for the people of Israel. However, on this day, the darkness has passed. We often use the metaphor of light and dark to speak of the human condition and the world’s affairs. This week, during the darkest days of the entire year, we speak of God’s light shining into the darkness!
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.
We hear in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus speak of providing a yoke to carry our burdens, so that we may find rest for our weary souls. Jesus, and the authors of the Gospels, often used the words and images of Isaiah to share the message of God’s presence in the world. On this day, after the years of violence and oppression by their enemies, the people of Israel are given rest.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
So all of you biblical scholars out there this morning, here is the question for you: who is the author referring to in the following verses? The Sunday school answer we all learn as kids is simple: it’s Jesus! If we are to seek historical accuracy as it relates to the authorship and context of composition, one can make the case for these words describing the king Hezekiah, or even the young king Josiah. The words and terms used were familiar to describe just about any good king of the Israelites at such a time in their history; we also read similar terms given to King David. But here again, we also understand the timeless nature of the prophetic word, as did Jesus himself when he often quoted Isaiah, inserting himself into the words of the Messiah. And so today, on this fourth Sunday of Advent, we reflect on these timeless words as we await the coming of our king to come into our lives today.
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.
Today we celebrate the coming of the Messiah in the form of a child, the very son of God, in our lives today. We remember with reverence the experience of our faith tradition’s ancestors. We celebrate the kings of old, who faithfully led the Israelite people through some of the darkest days of their history during the Babylonian Exile. We read the words of old, and we remember.
We also remember with reverence the experience of our more recent ancestors. We celebrate the leaders of Valley Community, who led us with vision and faithfulness, from the very first days, through trials and tribulations of our own, to this very day.
And today, we read the very same words from the prophet Isaiah, as we hear the proclamation of the Christ child for the salvation of the world with fresh ears, and renewed hearts. Today we celebrate that these words speak true today just as they did in ages past, and God continues to speak to us in new ways yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Today is a new day!
And this is the Good News for us today! The words of scripture are alive! The prophet Isaiah is just as prophetic now as he was back then! We celebrate the coming of the Messiah, who brings peace, ‘…with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore’.
Today we celebrate a new day, when we, as Valley Community, as the people of God, will breathe in fresh air. We will fill our lungs with the fragrance of God’s word in our lives. We will open our eyes to see the brilliant light of God’s movement throughout this world. And we will taste the sweet message of God’s grace and love in our lives, and all whom we encounter.
This is what we celebrate as we light the Advent candle of love. And a child, the Messiah, who lived a life demonstrating the greatest love of all, will lead us!