Tuesday, December 18, 2018
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" Pt 4
(If you would like to listen to the sermon you can go here)
Isaiah 8.11-9.7 (Luke 1.67-80)
O LORD Jesus Christ, who at your first coming did send your messenger to prepare your way before you; Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in your sight. Amen.
There’s a proverbial phrase we sometimes use: “The darkest hour is just before dawn”. It was made popular by the Mamas and the Papas in the 1960s and Emmylou Harris in 1980. It’s been around since a preacher used it in the 16th century. It found its way into Irish ballads, and is the idea behind the title of the Winston Churchill biographical movie. Something like that phrase, “The darkest hour is just before dawn,” is being played out here in Isaiah 8.11-9.7, which is also the main passage driving this 4th verse in our Advent Carol: “O come, thou Dayspring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.” I hope you really are coming to appreciate how “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” truly does bleed Bible and glisten Gospel, and you’ll hear it today as we watch the downward drift, and then see the dawning day.
Downward Drift (8.11-22): The reason for the downward drift into the darkness is that God has hidden his face from his people (8.16-18). In fact 8.17 is actually promised in Deuteronomy 31.17-18, “Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured…And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.” But why has God hidden his face from them? (1) They fear social and political intrigues more than they fear God (8.11-15). (2) They are listening to duping deluders rather than God (8.19-20). (3) And their contemptuous rage brings them to only see darkness (8.21-22). There is a similar description of the human masses in the New Testament “…the Gentiles…, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4.17-19). The downward drift into darkness, then, is self-inflicted. Thinking of all this, I find it interesting that at this time of year lights are put up everywhere. It’s possible that some put up lights to try and self-remedy their existential and experienced darkness. But I also know that others put up lights affirming the darkness but also joyfully acknowledging that the coming One disperses the night; “O come, thou Dayspring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight.” And that’s the promise starting in chapter 9, that a promised One is coming and bringing a dawning day.
Dawning Day (9.1-7): God to the rescue!!!! And that’s why old Zechariah, when speaking of his son, John’s mission of preparing the way for Jesus, says: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high (KJV “whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us”) to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1.76-79). And this is why aged Simeon says what he says as he’s looking at the baby Jesus a few weeks after his birth, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2.29-32). God’s world rescue operation will naturally encompass Israel, but also (surprisingly) it will explode boundaries and borders on out into the rest of the world – out to include the Gentiles! In fact this “God to the Rescue” passage is the description of Jesus’ ministry: “And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”” (Matthew 4.13-17). “O come, thou Dayspring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight.” And, behold, the dawning day comes as a child is born (9.6-7). Not just any old child, but a specific child, who, lo-and-behold, is God to the rescue – In Person!!!! Wonderful Counselor: The decisions and directions of a King can make or break a kingdom. Therefore, the King of the everlasting kingdom will be equipped with divine wisdom (“O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure” Isaiah 25.1). Mighty God: Immanu-el principle. But also gibbor is mighty, as in mighty warrior! Everlasting Father: Descriptive of his rule – he rules with an unending fatherly care for his people, like a good shepherd who knows his sheep, calls them by name, lays down his life for his sheep, and preserves them that they will never be lost (Jn 10). Prince of Peace: his reign will be textured by peace, such as when swords are beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks, and wolves and leopards lie down with lambs. Where this prince of peace who makes us at peace with God! Romans 5.6-11.
These are the qualities God brings with him as he is born into our human condition: divine wisdom to preserve his people; power to bring about true liberation; unending fatherly care; the rule of shalom, wellbeing, wholeness and peace. No wonder we sing with greater pleasure at this time. No wonder we strive for a greater harmony in families and among friends. No wonder we pray and praise and pant for this coming One: “O come, thou Dayspring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.” Therefore Sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, younger and older, every time you see Christmas lights glittering and glimmering down your street, allow it to stoke the awe and embers of your heart, to recall Isaiah 8.11-9.7, and to raise up from your lips this verse from the carol: “O come, thou Dayspring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Possibly someone is listening to me today who is living in the futility of their minds, darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of ignorance and hardness of heart. And yet you’re sensing some niggling, nagging notion that you need what is being celebrated in Christmas. Dear friend, there is hope. Acknowledge your alienation from God, your hardness of heart, and turn to the One who brings God’s world rescue operation dawning into a dark world and dark hearts, this child that is born, and personally pray the words of this carol (or similar words) “O come, thou Dayspring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight.” And then revel over the strongly affirmed answer: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.”