The people who walked in darknessIsaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NRSV)
have seen a great light;
Those who lived in a land of deep darkness-
on them a light has shined.
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.
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.
Have you ever received a birth announcement from a friend or family member? What kind of information does it usually include? Sometimes a picture of the baby. The day and place and time the child was born. The baby’s name and gender. Maybe even its length and weight.
Our scripture reading today is kind of like a birth announcement, but it doesn’t include a picture of the baby or the day and time and the place that the child was born. It doesn’t tell the child’s length or weight, though the child is referred to as a male and he is given several names. It’s a pretty strange birth announcement, isn’t it? Well, to be honest, that’s not even close to the strangest part. This baby, the one that Isaiah says is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, at the time of the announcement, this baby wouldn’t be born for another seven hundred years!
I know that today’s scripture lesson can be a little confusing because it sounded as though Christmas had already happened, didn’t it? That Jesus, the Wonderful Councilor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, had already been born? But let’s take another look at what really happened.
The confusing part is that today’s scripture has lots of layers to it. It’s important that we understand what it really means. You see, today’s reading takes us way back to about 734 BC, which was before Jesus. That was generations before Mary and Joseph were even born. In our reading, we hear from the prophet Isaiah who foretells the birth of the Messiah, putting hope in the hearts of, as he calls them, “the people who walked in darkness.”
Now there are a few interesting parts in today’s reading. First, did you notice how Isaiah used the present tense? Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; 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.”
You see, in 734 BC, the people had no idea that Isaiah was foretelling the birth of the Messiah. The truth is that wasn’t all that he was telling them. Because even then, with the help of God, Isaiah was giving the people the hope that they needed to hear at that time. He was assuring them that there was good news on the horizon that something wonderful was coming and that there was light about to break forth.
Obviously, the ancient Israelites did not celebrate Christmas as we do, but they did celebrate the birth of a new king. And that is probably what Isaiah was talking about in the Scripture passage that we read. You see, the empire of Assyria was on the rise. It was a Mesopotamian power that was working to conquer all of its neighbors in the Middle and Near East. Unfortunately, as often happens in war, many people were killed and many were led off into captivity. And because of that, the people longed for peace. Isaiah, referred to them as a “people who walked in darkness” because the Northern Kingdom was devastated. The ten tribes of Israel were lost, and there did not seem to be any hope or peace for any of them. Yet the situation suddenly seemed to change with the birth of a new king in Israel, probably a king named Hezekiah.
For Isaiah, this little baby boy Hezekiah made all the difference, offering hope and peace to his people, in a dark moment. And so, Isaiah announces, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has shined.” So, the people in Isaiah’s time heard these words in response to the birth of their new king, when in fact it was a messianic prophecy, one that promised the birth of Jesus, hundreds of years later.
Friends, just like back in Isaiah’s time, we still face hardship and struggle. We see the effects of war and hate and injustice in our world. And it’s our job, not to fix it all single-handedly, but to bring the light of peace out into the world so that the light itself might offer comfort, harmony, reconciliation, and love.
As many of you know, Matthew Dix, joined the Navy this summer, and just before Thanksgiving, he headed off to boot camp. As you can imagine, being away from home and being challenged by the rigors of his training, he wrote a letter to his mom, telling her how much he loved to receive cards and letters from home.
So, as a way of shining the light of peace for Matthew, during Household Huddle, we made encouraging posters for him. And we are hoping after worship to take an Oldtown family picture with the posters to send off to Matthew in a card so that he knows how much his church family loves him and that he is in our thoughts and prayers. His address was in our Friday email this past Friday, and there are also copies of his address out back in Maxcy Hall if you would like to send him a note or a Christmas card
Friends, the truth is there are lots of ways that we can share peace. I recently found a poem titled “Peace is an Offering.” Now I had never really heard of anyone describing Peace as an offering before, but the more I think about it, the more I like it.
Every week as a part of our worship here in Oldtown, we have a time of offering. And what happens during our offering time? We share some of what we have with others. Right? Sometimes, that is our time, or our talent, or our treasure. But no matter what we give, it is always a gift that we share.
Now I’m not going to read the whole poem, because it’s kind of long. But I invite you to close your eyes if you’re are comfortable doing so, and I encourage you to listen. Listen for the simple things that we so many times overlook. Listen for the actions that make a difference in the lives of others. And listen for ways that you might bring the light of peace out into the world this week.
Peace is an offering
A muffin or a peach
A birthday invitation
Or a trip to the beach.
Peace is a gratitude
For simple things
Light through a leaf,
Or a dragonfly’s wings.
A kiss on the cheek
Raindrops and dew
A walk in the park
A bowl of hot stew.
Peace is holding on to another
Peace is the words that you say to a brother
Will you stay with me?
Will you be my friend?
Will you listen to my story to the very end?
Will you wait when I’m slow?
Will you calm my fears?
Will you sing to the sun to dry my tears?
Will you keep me company with I’m alone?
Will you give me shelter when I lost my home?
Peace is joining, not pulling apart.
It’s the courage to bear a wounded heart
It’s a safe place to live
It’s a freedom from fear.
So, offer a cookie
Comfort a friend
And may peace walk beside you ‘til the very end.
(Selections from “Peace is an Offering” by Annette LeBox)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, will you choose to carry the light of peace out into the world, sharing a sense of comfort, and harmony, and hope? Or will you add to the darkness sharing hate, struggle, pain, and injustice? The choice is yours, my friends. I hope and pray that you will chose wisely.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!