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Sermon for November 27, 2016

Isaiah 2:1-5 (First Sunday in Advent—Series A)

“Advent Light”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

November 27, 2016

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament reading recorded in Isaiah 2:

1The word which Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2And it will be in those days that the mountain of the house of Yahweh will be established as the head of the mountains and it will be lifted up from the hills and all the nations will flow to it. 3Many people will come and they will say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, and let Him teach us His way and we will walk in His ways.” For the Torah will go out from Zion and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. 4He will judge between the nations and decide for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up a sword against nation and the will not again learn war. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of Yahweh.

 

          Sunlight. All living things need it, people included. Perhaps you have heard of, or even have, what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Typically, most people with this disorder experience symptoms when there are fewer hours of daylight during the winter months. That’s why SAD is sometimes referred to as “winter depression.” Doctors think that the reduced amount of sunlight may disrupt the body’s internal clock and cause a drop in serotonin levels resulting in depression. But sunlight is not the only kind of light we need. We need a different kind of light, the light of God that comes from His Word.

          Today LED lights are all the rage. They are energy efficient and last for years. LED stands for light-emitting diode. Now I really can’t tell you how it works. All I know is that it’s an electrical gizmo that, well, gives off light. That’s the way the Bible describes God’s Word too. The Word gives off light and itself is light. In Psalm 119:105 the Psalmist writes, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah sees a time in the future when God’s Word will shine forth from the top of the highest of the mountains which he calls the mountain of the house of Yahweh. Here Isaiah portrays God’s house, the Temple, as being on a much higher mountain that the small hill of the temple mount, or Mt. Zion, in Jerusalem. He is indicating to us that we are looking forward to something beyond our knowing in the present time. It will be as if the ground beneath the place of God’s earthly presence among His people Israel grows higher and higher so that it towers over everything. The nations, people from all over the globe, are pictured as flowing uphill to this place where God Himself will teach them His Word of Law and Gospel, His Instruction of judgment and grace. It is in that future time and place when God will settle all the disputes between peoples, making peace between them because there will be peace between Himself and all nations.

          What is it that will draw the nations to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob? The light of God’s Word summoning the nations to the Lord Himself. God calls people to Himself through His Word. Picture a beacon, a lighthouse, on the top of the highest mountain. But this beacon of light has drawing power, perhaps like a tractor beam, or maybe like flood lights that attract insects. The light of God’s Word brings God’s very presence to people. It brings His Gospel to people which offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins, thereby making peace with God and peace between nations and peoples.

          It is at this point in the text that Isaiah issues a cry of command: “O house of Jacob, come. Let us walk in the light of Yahweh [now!]” Don’t wait for the future time. Now is the time to hear the Word. Now is the time to be brought into God’s presence at His diving summoning through His Word. But like the house of Jacob, like Old Testament Israel, we often refuse. We often rebel. God graciously invites us to be in His presence and learn what He has to teach us in His Word, and we don’t really want to hear it. Maybe we think we know it all. Perhaps we have the idea that our ways are better than God’s ways in that at least we have control over our ways while God’s ways can seem unpredictable and out of control. It could be that we are just too stubborn to admit that we need to learn, that we need to grow, that we need to know right from wrong. Or, in the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (Jn. 3:19 ESV).

          God the Father sent the true light into the world (John 1:9). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus Christ is the Word-of-God-made-flesh and the Light who came into the darkness of rebellious Israel and sinful humanity. This Word-Made-Flesh, God Himself, “went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, his disciple came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them” (Matthew 5:1-2). He taught the Word of Yahweh from the mountain, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in the synagogues of Galilee and Judea. Jesus taught them that “God so loved the world that He gave His one-of-a-kind Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:15-17).

          In our text, it was the mountain of God that was lifted up. It was another “mountain” called “The Skull” or Golgotha where Jesus the Word of God was lifted up, not as a beacon of light, but as a sacrificial victim to suffer and die on a cross in cosmic darkness for the sins of the whole world. God’s Son, the very Word and Light of the world, was crucified and died in our place for our salvation. They took Jesus’ lifeless body down from the cross and sealed it in a dark tomb.

It seemed that the light of the Lord was snuffed out like the wick of a burning candle. Isaiah’s hope of light for the future seemed to have its illumination turned off. But we know the words of John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5 ESV). On the third day, Jesus rose again from the dead. He lives! He is the risen and glorified Savior of all nations. It was Jesus’ sacrificial death that won forgiveness from God for our failures to walk in His ways, to live according to His commandments. Jesus’ shed blood has cleansed us from our sins of failing to walk in the light of His Word. The gift of forgiveness gives us eternal life. And Jesus’ resurrection guarantees us life everlasting in our own bodily resurrections from the dead.

Jesus’ cross and empty tomb assure us that we have peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are called to this saving knowledge and truth through the inspired, inerrant Word of God in the Bible. We are given faith that trusts in Jesus as our Savior. We are given a faith that is strengthened by the Spirit through the Word so that we are able better to know God’s commandments even as He gives us the ability to accomplish them in love.

You see, it is not simply that God teaches us His Word and delivers the gifts of Christ to us through that Word. Yes, the Word of Christ delivers to us the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He won for all people through His cross and resurrection. But the Word also enables us to love our neighbors in the name of Jesus. Isaiah 2 looks forward to a time when there is perfect love between God and humanity and between humanity and humanity. Christ Jesus has already accomplished the first. Through Jesus, we have peace with God. By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, the Word is teaching and leading and guiding us toward peace with our neighbors. No, we will not see this completed until the day of Christ’s return. But in the now-time, let us walk in the light of Yahweh!

“To walk” is often used in the Bible, not meaning “put one foot in front of the other,” but as a way of saying “conduct your life in a certain way.” “To walk in the light of Yahweh” means to live your life in the forgiveness and life of Jesus with love toward God and with love toward others. Remember what Jesus, the Light of the world, called you? He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “”You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16 ESV).

Now if I’m reading Isaiah 2 rightly, you and I become part of its fulfillment. As we walk in the light of the Lord, we are proclaiming and sharing His Word with others. We are like beacons of the Gospel shining forth from the mountain of the house of God into our community and into our world. It is the Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus, who uses your mouths, your speech, and your behavior to tell the peoples and the nations His Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are the lights of the world reflecting and amplifying the light of Jesus Christ to all those for whom He has died and is risen again. And that’s everyone. Jesus died for everybody, even if they don’t know it or recognize it or confess it. That woman or man or child that you see when you are out and about is someone for whom Jesus died on the cross to set free from sin and death. Walking in the light of the Lord means seeing people and nations the way God sees them in Jesus.

Hate is running amuck in our nation and in our world. Satan is having a field day. How we so look forward to the day of Jesus’ return when “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” when “nation will not lift up a sword against nation and they will not again learn war.” But you, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, can already now provide a preview of this promise to come. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you can love those deemed unlovable. You can be kind and respectful to those with whom you are in total and complete disagreement. Together, we the Church, the people of God in Christ, the light of the world, can show the love of Jesus to those whose actions and beliefs are totally contrary to the Word of God. They are people for whom Jesus has died. Like you and me and the rest of humanity, they need what Jesus offers—forgiveness of sins, repentance unto life.

During this Season of Advent light, walk in the light of Christ. Be a light of the Word of God to others, pointing them to the Savior. Share with them the Word of life, the Word of peace, that is the Gospel. May the result be that, by the working of the Holy Spirit, in the days to come “many people will come and will say, ‘Let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, and let Him teach us His way so that we will walk in His ways.’” God grant this, our prayer, in the precious name of Jesus, our Light. Amen.

 


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