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Trust the Greater Vision ©

I confess that I am stuck. I come to Advent (the time of preparation for the Savior’s coming) with a deep awareness of the chaos around us. The darkness feels like it is closing in across the world. Conflict rages in the Baltic Sea and the Middle East. Crushing poverty and rampant starvation haunt huge sections of our planet. Refugees are on the move in almost every part of our world. Here in the United States, political disputes feel overwhelming. Storms and recovery from storms are a fact of life in almost every state. Deep conflict over values and core beliefs stalk the corridors of our county. Rampant racism, blatant greed, desperate poverty and incoherent anger swirl around us. We know darkness both metaphorically, physically and morally. I confess that I am stuck. The words of the prophet Isaiah are descriptive of our time. We are a “people walking in darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2a) Consider the words of the prophet, both then and now. Isaiah stands in a time and place when his nation has been ravaged by the Assyrian oppressor. They know the gloom of despair in the crumbling of their nation. We too live in a time of darkness. But wait! There is more than just doom and gloom from the Prophet of the Lord. Isaiah offers the vision of God moving in our lives. We do walk in darkness. This much we know and experience daily. However, full verse offers not just hope, but a greater promise and vision for the future.  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) We have seen and are seeing in Christ’s coming a great light.  The light has dawned and is dawning in our lives and in our broken world! Trust the vision – gain a sense of perspective from God’s Word. There is a temptation in the darkness to believe that this is the worst of times. I remember in a history class years ago reading a description of society gone downhill. It detailed how morals were at low ebb and how a revival was needed. The professor paused in his reading and asked us to pick the year this description was written. We chimed up with suggestions. Most fell with a span of the previous ten years. Then quietly he shared that the description of society sinking downward into the abyss was written in the late 14th century. Amazingly, we were all sure it had described out time. The American historian and author Barbara Tuchman has written extensively about the fourteenth century. She points out that it was a time in which people were certain that it was the end - the time about which apocalyptic literature described and the Book of Revelation prophesied. It was a time, more than any other time in history, when the four horsemen of the apocalypse rode the earth. War, which was incessant; famine, which was endemic; pestilence, which decimated Europe in the form of the bubonic plague; and death, which was everywhere. In her writings, Tuchman focused on1397 and pointed out that in that year, Johannes Gutenberg was born, whose printing press transformed the world. And shortly after that, in the next century, Joan of Arc emerged, embodying a new spirit of nationalism, and then came Columbus who opened up a new world. After Columbus, there came Copernicus, who opened up a new heaven. Shortly after that came Michelangelo who focused human life on a new beauty, the beauty of creation. By the end of that century, Martin Luther was born, who called all of humanity to a new understanding of God’s grace. I remind you that all of this occurred within one hundred years of that time when everyone thought it was the end.” (Mark Trotter, “Long Live the Weeds,” First UMC San Diego, CA; p. 4) Please don’t misunderstand. The darkness is real, but the word of the prophet is a Word from God to us this day. In our darkness, we are invited to behold a great light – the light of God’s presence and glory. The more learned among us look at the prophet Isaiah speaking in the eight century B.C, the unknown author of the 14th century, and our own pundits of today with the realism of divine guidance. Any age is a time of real darkness. The so-called “golden ages” only exist in the glow of hindsight. This time of preparation we call Advent is about trusting the prophet’s vision from God. In 1942, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of the Riverside Church, N.Y. entitled a sermon “This is a Great Year for Christmas.”  World War II was still going badly for America, and the world was in terrible shape. However, Dr. Fosdick, like that exiled messenger of the Old Testament [Isaiah], believed that it is in the darkest hours that God’s good news is best heard. When the mountains of adversity and violence are looming before us the feet of the messenger upon those mountains are beautiful – beautiful in bringing good news of salvation. In our world of terrorism, war, threat of nuclear annihilation, the horrible mess of drugs, etc. “this is a great year for Christmas.” (Pulpit Resource, Vol. 16, No. 4., p. 45) The Prophet commends to us a greater vision. He calls us to trust the Lord’s coming, and in so trusting, to come to the light! Hear the Word of God that is set against our struggle; the headline that is not bannered in the newspaper but proclaimed in a star. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) Let Christ speak again not only to your life personally, but to our society as a whole. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) How then are we instructed to come to this time of the Savior’s birth? With joy and rejoicing, “For the yoke of [our] burden, and the bar across [our] shoulders, the rod of [our] oppressor, [God has] broken…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.” (Isaiah 9:4, 6-7) The light shines in our darkness! Come to it! Embrace the prophet’s vision as God’s preferred future for us, for whole human race. In a few short weeks, we will celebrate the birth of a baby. He was, is and always will be the very embodiment of the prophet’s vision. Hear how he carries it forward. Jesus speaks directly to us – to you and to me, in this time of preparation amid the encircling gloom of our times. “Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:21) We say to ourselves, “of course I come to the light. It is other people who refuse to.”  But oh, it is oh so easy to wallow in the self-righteousness of darkness and live in the gloom of despair. Trusting God is hard. It does not come easily or automatically (especially when life appears bleak). The darkness hovers around us. The deeds of evil are greater than simply personal moral failure. They encompass injustice and indifference to the poor and oppressed. They include anger, judgmentalism and condemnation of those who are different. They involve our failure to really trust that God is in charge. Now hear again the good news of Advent. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) Isaiah 9:2 is a good verse to be stuck on! Let the good news of Advent dominate our preaching and sharing. The Word of the Lord rings out. Trust the greater vision of the prophet. Amid the trials of modern life, the chaos of our times, the snare of grief, the Lord asks us to trust him; to come to the light of His love that can redeem any person, any society, any age. The prophet’s vision is God’s intent for our time.