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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
It is a time of darkness! For you and your family! Isaiah describes this long winter without light. Imagine now that you live in the northern kingdom in the land of Zebulun, later to be called Galilee. It is about 732 BC and you sit and wait. You watch in fear as the enemy comes to your home, to your city, comes to you! Comes to take control of your life! To oppress and enslave you. The army of Tiglath-Pileser comes to your town to your home and now you become an exile in your own home. It is a dark, dark day!
To you and those who sit in the darkness of that enemy, held hostage in your homes, comes a word of Promise and a word of HOPE: a light will shine in your darkness. Listen to these wonderful words of promise from Isaiah to those held hostage in Galilee: The people who waked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation. You have increased its joy. They rejoice before you as with joy before the harvest. 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.
Then this most memorable word of hope in Isaiah 9:6: "For a child has been born to us, a son given to us!"
There is the promise of light coming in the midst of the darkness. There will be a defeat of the enemy who has camped out in your community in your own home. The enemy who has held you hostage! The days of darkness will end. The light of freedom is dawning! And surprisingly that light comes in the form of a child, the Son of God, who is Emmanuel (God with you) called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of peace!
Now more than 700 years later the people in that very same land of Zebulun, again will hear those words of promise! It is in Matthew's Gospel, after he describes Our Lord's defeat of the Satan in the wilderness, Jesus now will begin his public ministry! He moves from Nazareth to Galilee, the former territory of Zebulun and Napthtali, and the prophesy of Isaiah nine is fulfilled!
Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned!
So Jesus begins his ministry in a place, and for a people, rooted in darkness. Jesus is indeed the Son of God who comes into our darkness and brings the light of divine freedom. We who are held hostage in our own homes. We who sit in the darkness oppressed by the enemy of sin, death and the power of the devil, are taken from our dark cells, like a prisoner of war, whose blindfold is removed and sees the light of day! Tears of joy! No more dark cell! Light and freedom!
Yes, for all of you listening today, receive this central truth about Jesus, who fulfills the Promise of Isaiah. He comes to dispel the darkness in your life! The darkness of guilt! Of regret. The darkness of resentment and anger. The darkness of broken relations. The darkness of fear, anxiety. The darkness of self-indulgence. The darkness of sadness and despair. Darkness of grief and loss, the darkness of addiction, the darkness of boredom.
Like the folks Isaiah talks about, who sat in the darkness of home, where they lived, so also with us! Are you sitting in the dark today? Then hear this word of hope and promise.
Just as the Word of God in creation said, "Let there be light, and there was light." And that light of God separated and dispelled the darkness. So also does, (as we hear in the Gospel of John) that same Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, comes full of grace and truth, and is indeed the true light which enlightens everyone. "The light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness did not and will not overcome it!" Jesus says of himself in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Light! This fall I spent some time with a man, 36 years of age. He had been using drugs since Junior High School. Shooting heroin and taking uppers and downers in high school. Now at age 36 his veins in his arms are collapsed and weakened from drug use. He has lost his spouse, family, friends, many jobs. Now he says, "I feel like I am in a dark, deep hole and I can't climb out of this. I don't want to die here alone." As part of his spiritual journey he has come to know Christ in a way he never did before. Through the darkness of denial, resentment, and physical need to get high, the light of Christ has shown! Blinding and hot, yet leading and warm! In his dark moment the light of Christ came to him! And I learned a lesson myself this fall; never give up on those in their darkness! There is always hope! The light of Christ is stronger than the darkest soul!
Light! When a friend of mine learned that her troubled teen-aged daughter was pregnant, she looked for answers, f or direction, for strength. "What should I do?" In the end she decided to take a path many would not have the courage to tread. She decided to raise the child herself. "I do believe," she said, "it was the Lord who guided me to make this decision. I know in my heart this is the right thing for this baby!" When she said this I thought of that wonderful verse from Psalms 119: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path!"
Light! A man loses his wife after 30 years of marriage, and goes into a deep and dark depression. He could not work, stopped seeing his friends, stayed at home with the blinds shut. In the darkness he would sit for hours, even thinking about ending his own life. But in that dark hour of his soul, a friend knocked at his door, and in the cold of a winter's afternoon they went out for coffee. That friend too had known the dark shadow of death after losing a son in a car accident. After coffee, as they left the little corner restaurant, the sun broke through the clouds in a single shaft of light and he said, "maybe God is trying to tell me something." And God was trying to tell him something. In his dark hour of grief, as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God was walking with him, and would lead him to the light and strengthen him. And there is another kind of darkness. One of my favorite poems is from Gerhard Frost, called the demon of self-doubt.
Light! I have always thought that the longer I lived, the more self-assured I would become, confident in who I am and what I do. But the older I get the more I know, I do not know. The more I cannot do, I get those feelings like I was five again. The demon of self-doubt, Frost calls it. It is a demon that drags me, and maybe you too, into a very dark place. And it's like wearing headphones and listening to music. But it is not music of the light but music of the darkness. Then all of a sudden, it seems, God comes and removes the headphones, and I hear the voice of the Saints of Light. "No one can do your job like you can!" "Today you changed my life! I heard the Gospel!
I truly believe that the great challenge of faith is to really and truly grasp what Jesus tells us about the power of light over darkness.
If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of light. I have come as light into the world so that everyone who believes in me, should not remain in the darkness. Amen!
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