Text: Isaiah 8:11-9:7
Every Christmas season carries its own mood. Some years are jubilant. Some carry with them great anticipation and excitement. Some Christmases are like an unopened present under the tree, mysterious and inviting. Some Christmases are peaceful, like softly falling snow the season quietly sneaks up on us.Some Christmases seem rushed, business and tinsel and lights and rushing around running errands.Some Christmases are loud! Some are more somber. One thing I try to do as a pastor is to try and discern the mood of Christmas and speak to that mood in my Christmas messages.
This year, I have taken the title for my sermon from last’s weeks #1 movie in North America, The Day the Earth Stood Stood Still. In that movie, an alien named Klaatu lands on earth with a message for its inhabitants. The day his spacecraft lands in New York, the world is gripped with fear. What is going to happen? Has he come to destroy them? Will this be the end of the earth? Paralyzed by fear, people’s lives come to a screeching halt. Businesses close, Wall Street tumbles, school is cancelled. The earth stands still as it awaits its fate. Temporary relief is provided when Klaatu states his mission: “I have come to save the earth,” yet the relief only gives way to terror as his mission is more fully revealed. “I have come to save the earth” Klaatu later chillingly explains, “from humanity. If humanity lives, the earth dies and humanity dies. If humanity dies, the earth lives.”
Canadian film reviewer Katherine Monk suggests that the film carries such resonance with the audience “largely silent fear that we've already passed the climatic tipping point” in regards to the global ecological crisis. What makes the movie truly terrifying, then, is the fact that we are already afraid.
If I had to summarize the mood of our society as we approach Christmas 2008 in one word, it may indeed be that word, “fear”. We are afraid that we have killed our planet. The polar ice caps are melting and the soil is eroding and the rainforests are burning and the oceans are dying. We are afraid that we have destroyed our economy. People are losing their jobs, their homes, their retirements, their confidence, their savings, their dignity. We are afraid that we are losing the war on terrorism. We are afraid that our society is deteriorating. We turn to political leaders to save us, but then see them more dedicated to throwing the other parties our of power than actually addressing any substantial issues. For many of us the fear is very personal. We are afraid that we won’t be able to send our kids to university. We are afraid that our marriage is over. We are afraid that we’ll never find someone who will love us. In light of the challenges that face our nation and our personal lives, fear paralyzes us. The earth is standing still.
The Gathering Darkness (Isaiah 8:11-22)
The prophet Isaiah spoke into a climate of fear very similar to our own. His nation was at war. The economic systems were faltering. The people were turning en masse away from the Lord, scrambling to live in light of imminent disaster.
It is in this fearful time that Isaiah received the word of the Lord. Isaiah was called to be a prophet of hope in a time of fear. Listen to Isaiah’s fearless call in Isaiah 8:11-14:
For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary . . .
Isaiah was to be a beacon of hope and courage in the midst of a fearful people. Do not fear, Isaiah!“Direct people to me,” says the Lord. Let them fear me and I will be for them a sanctuary. I will give them peace.”
Instead of coming to the Lord, instead of bringing their fears to Him, the people ran away from him, and the sanctuary became a stumbling block. Just like today, the people ran to every other spiritual or religious voice they could find to help them find peace, to help them find something that would calm their fears. They consulted spirits and people who claimed to talk to the dead – psychics and psychologists - anyone who would just lie to them and say that things are going to be all right. But as Isaiah warned them, as they rejected God’s Word, however, their darkness only grew. Their counselors had no light in their words, so their terror only increased. As Isaiah prophesied in 8:21-22:
They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.
It is in these dark times that we desperately seek for answers, for light. The most frightening part about times like this is that there are no answers. You hear of layoffs and ask your boss about your job security and he says he can’t give you any answers. The economists say that the economy is broken but they don’t have any clue how to fix it. Your wife says its over and you ask what can I do and she says nothing.Where are the answers? But then a friend says, “have you considered talking to a pastor?” or, “have you ever thought of going to church?” And everything in you rebels at the thought. I’ll find my own way. The answers can’t be in some outdated backwards religion! And you keep on marching into the snowstorm without a flashlight, map, or compass trying to find your way to safety. It’s a suicide mission. And you walk deeper and deeper into the darkness until fear finally paralyzes you completely
The Coming Dawn (Isaiah 9:1-2)
Isaiah was told not to fear what the rest feared and he was able to not fear their fear because God spoke to him about what was to come. He had God’s Word, God’s promise. And he must have clung to that word in those dark times. Because it spoke of a coming dawn. Isaiah writes in the first verses of chapter 9:
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
With these words God reveals that the fearful gloom is not final. A big change is about to take place as Isaiah looks to a later time. By God’s sovereign grace, the dawn breaks in the land which has been under darkness longest. The land of Zebulun and Napthali were the first to feel the effects of falling out of God’s favour, as they were captured by the Assyrians 11 years before the rest of Israel fell. The Assyrians removed the Israelites and repopulated the region with foreign peoples, giving it the name Galilee of the Gentiles. To the Jewish mind, this was the most spiritual dark and politically oppressed region of Palestine, a cursed place. Yet it was to this region to this region that the light of the Messiah would first dawn, where the effects of the darkness that was the exile would be reversed. It was in Nazareth, a small town directly in the center of what was once Zebulun, that the angel came and proclaimed to Mary that the son born to her would be called holy. It was in Napthali, on the banks of the sea of Galilee, that Jesus began his public ministry, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God had drawn near like the sun just before it breaks over the horizon. Morning was coming to this dark, fearful land. What kind of day would that morning bring?
The New Day (Isaiah 9:3-5)
The next three verses speak of the the new day that is dawning. The fear which characterized the darkness of the night will pass away.
Þ A Day of Joy
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy
Þ A Day of Plenty
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
Þ A Day of Freedom
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Þ A Day of Peace
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
What will usher in this new day? What cosmic event will occur that will so change the very fabric of our universe?
A New Star: The Great Light Shines (Isaiah 9:6-7)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
These two phrases encapsulate the entire Christian faith.
Þ To us a child is born: The event that drives away the darkness and brings light to all men was the birth of an infant child. As we have been studying the old testament this past few months on our adult Sunday School, we recognize the significance of the Promised Child.
o God promised Eve that a Promised Son would crush the serpent and restore peace with God.
o God promised Abraham that a Promised Son would bring blessing to all nations.
o God promised David that a Promised Son would sit on his throne forever.
Every generation of Israelites knew of these promises and awaited for the Promised Son. Here, God promises the nation through the prophet Isaiah, that it will be just at that darkest moment, when the nation has turned away, when the people are engulfed in fear and gloom, that the Promised Son will be born and bring about the New Day that I have described. Where is the child? Interestingly, they even knew the exact location where he would be born. When the wisemen inquired of King Herod, “where is he who was born King of the Jews,” the scribes knew exactly where to look. Micah 5:2 locates the birth of this child in Bethlehem of Judah:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,
The ruler is to come from Bethlehem. Yet it is also in that Micah prophecy that we find the curious phrase “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” How can a baby, be “of old, from Ancient of Days”? The answer is found in the next phrase in Isaiah,
Þ A Son is Given: Isaiah could not have understood all that the Lord revealed through him. Could he have possibly known that sublime truth of what he uttered, that the miracle of Christmas is not simply that a baby was born, but that God has given his only pre-existing Son, the second person of the Godhead, the eternal Word to become flesh and dwell among us? This is how the baby, who had a definite birthday and conception date, could have origins “of old, from Ancient of Days”. The Son that was given enjoyed a relationship with the Father from eternity past, yet did not consider his union with God something to grasp on to, but he took on the nature of a servant, coming in the same likeness as us, to redeem us a people to himself. Neither did God consider keeping his beloved son for Himself, but he gave him freely, his only Son whom he loved.
Þ Unto Us: Charles Spurgeon once preached an entire Christmas message on these two words, for they are indeed the heart of the Gospel that we proclaim at Christmas. In that sermon Spurgeon asked a very direct and important question: Have we a personal interest in the child that was born at Bethlehem? Do we know that he is our Savior?—that he has brought glad tidings to us?—that to us he belongs? and that we belong to him? I say this is matter of very grave and solemn investigation. I understand Spurgeon’s questioning. You see I grew up knowing the story of Christmas. But I had no idea of Christmas’ connection to me personally. Yeah, I believed a child was born, but I didn’t understand that he was born “unto us”
A New Star: The Great Light Shines (Isaiah 9:6-7)
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Þ The Government Will Be On His Shoulders: It is often government that leads us into darkness. Or perhaps government attempts to lead us out of darkness but the effects are like the blind leading the blind. The government was never meant to be our saviour, and we are not to set her up as one. The problem with government is corruption. Power corrupts. The only governments that have worked long term have been those which build checks and balances into their systems. Yet even these systems can be abused. Only one who is incorruptible is truly capable of ruling over the new day.
Þ Wonderful Counselor: Extraordinary, supernatural strategist. Or, also, the one who plans extraordinary things. The second is probably better. Kings are judged by the plans and policies they put into effect. The cross was an astounding victory in which he defeated Satan, sin and death.
Þ Mighty God: No, this is a strong statement that the king will be God himself. Elsewhere in the book of Isaiah, this phrase is used of Yahweh. The OT has two strands of thought about the redemption of Israel 1) God himself will step in to redeem 2) The Son of David will deliver. These strand overlap here
Þ Everlasting Father: Father has a number of uses in the OT. Job – I was a father to the needy. A father is a judge. This is the favored translation in light of the righteousness/justice in verse 7. The word father is used to describe the role of a king. Speaks of the role of the king to care for his people and provide a social justice for his people, especially the disadvantaged. He will reign forever.
Þ Prince of Peace: One who comes in peace and establishes peace. Through him comes reconciliation between God and man and also man and man.
At the end of the year 2008, we find the earth standing still, fearing that our ecosystems, our government, our liberties, our peace, our jobs and our families may all be soon irretrievably broken. We are a people living in great darkness and gloom. Yet that light that shone in Zebulun and Napthali still shine. It shines everywhere the Gospel is preached. Even this Christmas, I pray that His light would shine into your heart, replacing fear with faith, sin with security, horror with hope.
God bless you all.