Advent Series #3
This will be my third and last message for this sermon series which I titled, “Someone’s Coming.” Next Sunday the Chancel Choir and Handbell Choir will be leading and presenting us a paired down version of their program which they will be presenting this Thursday here in the Sanctuary which includes three pianists, Choir, Hand Bell Choir and our organ.
Ed Robb, in his book, Making Room, which has been my Advent study wrote about light and darkness, which I have been reading and studying quite a bit over the past few weeks and will present a little of on Christmas Eve. He speaks about going to the Carlsbad Caverns as a child and how dark it was inside when the guide turned out the lights.
He wrote about how our world has been walking around in darkness since the fall from grace in the garden of Eden, which I will touch on later in this message.
He writes: “As we read through the Gospel accounts, it becomes evident that Jesus came to bring His light to everyone, for we are all precious in His sight. He came for the lonely in our neighborhoods, the ones we know and, especially, the ones we don’t know. He came for the strangers, lonely and isolated in a strange land. And He came for the marginalized, the outcasts. And that is some of the darkest territory in which we find people. Those who are ostracized and pushed aside by their own communities, people who feel like they don’t belong anywhere.”
We don’t have to look far in the story of Jesus’ birth to find this. Think about who the angels announced the birth to; the shepherds in the field watching their flocks. Not the Temple, or the authorities, but to the lowest of the low, the shepherds.
And then he shares about the old Motel 6 commercials that ended with that phrase, “I’m Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and we’ll leave the light on for you.”
As followers of Jesus Christ is this what we are supposed to be doing? Letting our lights shine in a world covered in darkness?
This 35th chapter from the Prophet Isaiah is one of the greatest chapters of the entire Bible. A poem of rare and superb beauty. It presents a picture of the last times—when the redeemed—after log suffering—finally shine forth in all the radiance of their heavenly glory. Returning exiles travelling along a highway offer a marvelous image of the redeemed travelling home to God.
One theme for this Third Sunday of Advent is music: “They will enter Zion with singing.”
In a small town in Pennsylvania, on Christmas night in 2018, a man got into an armed standoff with the police. He was acting erratically and shooting at the officers. Members of the local SWAT team surrounded him and tried to talk him into surrendering, but he wouldn’t listen. This standoff lasted for about ten hours, and it could have ended tragically. But it didn’t.
A police negotiator with the SWAT team gave up talking to the suspect. Instead, he began singing. The song he sang was the old Bing Crosby song, White Christmas. You know how it goes: “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas….”
Then something dramatic happened. The song soothed the armed man so much that he gave himself up to the police without anyone getting hurt. That’s a message all by itself!
If you spend some time in the 34th chapter of Isaiah, you’ll read about such things as the stench of death—falling stars—burning sulfur—a blazing fire—and the desolate land. Replacing those thoughts here in Isaiah 35 are a re-created world—fields bright with blossoms—water gushing in the wilderness—streams in the desert—and a highway that leads to God. This garden land is the home which the Lord has prepared for His returning people. It will be like, well, like paradise (hold on to that thought for a moment).
Droughts are something we are accustomed to here in Georgia and it always seems like its flooding somewhere else in the country at the same time. Droughts come in all kinds of ways. There are physical droughts and spiritual droughts. Let’s be honest here, sometimes we out ourselves in the desert. There are droughts of our own making. Grief and sorrow, discouragement and disappointment cause us to go into isolation—to separate ourselves from the very source of our strength.
Do you remember the story of Elijah? That’s what he did. He won the battle of the gods on Mt. Carmel but became terrified by the threats of Queen Jezebel. He started feeling sorry for himself—became exhausted at always being in the public eye—of challenging the status quo—so he ran to the desert. He hid in a cave and wished he was dead. Life had become too complicated, and he’d had enough. But God found him in the desert—asked him what he was doing there—and told him to get up and get out of there!
Do you ever feel like Elijah? Nobody understands—nobody cares. I’m all alone facing this difficulty. You need to stop complaining long enough to listen because there’s another voice in the wilderness. It’s God and He’s coming to get you—to lead you to higher ground—because God is right there in the desert with you my friends!
These wonderful promises in Isaiah’s vision are directed to the people of God, to us, but when will they happen? Well, in one way, they already have. This vision points to the deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Babylon, which was an immediate concern for Isaiah.
But this vision also points forward to the Messiah and becomes fulfilled prophecy. In Matthew 11:2-11, John the Baptist is in prison and sends some of his disciples to inquire of Jesus if He is truly the One to come or would there be another. Jesus answered: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” These are the things that will take place according to Isaiah’s vision.
But this vision points somewhere else as well. Remember I told you to hang on to that thought of Paradise. Adam and Eve lived in Paradise but because of some poor choices with the fruit thing they were kicked out of the Garden and forced to live on their own. They had it made, all they needed to do was follow one simple rule, but they wanted to be like God—they paid the consequences—and it led to what we call the “great fall of mankind.”
Our vision today is pointing us to a time when we will be welcomed back into that Garden—to paradise—to the end of the world. Where did Jesus go on the night of His arrest? The Garden of Gethsemane. These same promises—the physical and spiritual healings are the perfect and wonderful fulfillments that await us in eternity!
I need to testify to something here: the older I get the more I love Isaiah’s idea about weak hands that are strengthened—feeble knees made firm—and the anxious heart no longer afraid as it is made stronger. Throw in something for back pain and we are straight! But beyond that, this vision points toward a road that leads to God that not even we can miss and will lead us to everlasting gladness and joy as all sorrow and sighing flee away.
One can only imagine what Isaiah would think if he saw a cataract surgery that today can correct vision. Or a knee or hip replacement which may enable the lame to walk; or a by-pass surgery where the heart is made stronger. Or a transplant surgery that gives someone a new heart and a new lease on life. In my last appointment I walked down that path with a church member. I was there in the waiting room as he was given a new heart and a new life.
You see, there is a highway that leads to God. When we follow Jesus and learn what it means to truly love God and neighbor as we love ourselves, when we risk using the gifts God has given us to reach out in the love of God: the blind do see—the lame are able to walk—the deaf can hear—and the land that was once called wilderness and desert can spring to life again.
The answer to all of our problems lies in the hope offered in the salvation of God. Who else can give sight—or voice (the story of Zechariah losing his voice because of his doubt that he and Elizabeth would have a child)—or life to lame limbs? Who else can bring fruit from dry land? The promise of what is to come is great enough to sustain us, for who else can provide in this way? No one but God can fulfill the earth in this way, and in that is good news. We have learned time and time again that God keeps His promises, maybe not in our time but in His time. We are encouraged to remain faithful in waiting without fear and with strength, until the day of restoration arrives. It is coming—it is promised—it will come to pass—and when it does, just as Isaiah’s vision tells us, we will enter Zion with singing.
This season of Christmas reminds us that Christ came to shine into the heart of everyone on this earth—whatever race or creed. When we sing, we sing as the family of God. Have you ever wondered why God created us with voices that are so different? The soprano can hit such high notes—the bass can get so low—and some of us can go in neither direction. But then those voices blend into one glorious sound. Music calls us together into one beautiful family, especially at Christmas—adding more proof of God’s existence. When the Messiah comes there will be singing. Singing allows us to express our joy and thanksgiving, even if it’s only a joyful noise. Singing draws us closer together—and singing draws us closer to God.
In January of 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Island of Haiti. It destroyed buildings and killed or maimed tens of thousands of people. As hope for the victims began to fade, the discovery of a survivor in the wreckage of a grocery store renewed the resolve of many. Rescuers pulled Wismond Exantus from the rubble eleven days after the earthquake. Exantus told reporters from his hospital bed that the first thing he wanted to do was find a church to give thanks. What was his experience like? He said he spent his time under the rubble praying, reciting psalms, and sleeping.
He summed up his experience saying, “I wasn’t afraid because I knew they were searching and would come for me.”
Our message today from Isaiah and the message of Jesus at Christmas is the same: God is searching for you and will come for you. God is searching for you and HAS come for you.
No matter how dry your desert is—no matter how hot the fire is—no matter what you are facing today of tomorrow—there is hope because God walks through the desert with us! “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” It is coming—it is promised—and it will come to pass.
Thanks be to God!