The problem with preaching a text like this — like so many in the Bible — is that there’s so much evidence to the contrary.
...starting with the claim that Isaiah isn’t even writing about Jesus. He’s probably writing this, most scholars believe, about the newborn king, Hezekiah, who will champion the South (I mean Judah, not Alabama.) See, now in our journey through the OT, the Assyrians are pressing in from the north, and God’s people in Judah believe this is because their evil King Ahaz has led them into idolatrous ways. They have all turned their backs on the poor and the outsider, they have gone after the gods of fortune and glory and self-serving comforts, and now the chickens are coming home to roost in Jerusalem of Judah. Discord, deceit and danger is immanent. There are no external signs of peace or hope anywhere, throughout the nation...except for Isaiah’s prophetic musings.
So Isaiah must look like a madman, don’t you think? Head-in-the-clouds dreamer, talkin’bout all the combat boots being thrown into the fire (vs. 5) to make warmth and draw communities closer together. “Get real, Isaiah! Open your eyes, old man! That’s never going to happen!” All evidence is to the contrary.
That’s the problem with prophets: they stand up and describe things that no one can see, things that just aren’t there...like "endless peace". And most people dismiss them as street performers, crazy entertainment…irrelevant to the real situation at hand: then, it was the Assyrians threatening from the north (what it it for us today?) What’s the real situation here? [pause]
What is clouding our vision, muddying our ears, diminishing our imaginations from an openness to the prophets among us? How have we too followed after the idolatrous King Ahaz’s of our day?...those who worship (that is “put their trust in”) military power, weaponry, glory, wealth and brute force? “C’mon, Isaiah. We even have violence and weapons in our churches now. No place is sacred anymore!”
See how hard it is to hear the prophet’s voice. I’d love to image Isaiah with a booming Martin Luther King voice, speakers broadcasting out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, televised across the world. But lately Isaiah’s vision of peace and hope seems more like a child singing by herself in the corner of this sanctuary during the week.
(I’ve seen that before, maybe you have too: A single child off by herself singing quietly to the side, as they color or play with blocks.) That’s Isaiah, these days.
It’s cute, but how does such an image like that, a word of peace, a song hope have any power? When are we ever going to trust God enough to burn up our combat boots — or as Isaiah says elsewhere, “hammer our swords into plowshares, our spears in to pruning hooks,” our AK47’s into gardening tools? Isaiah just doesn’t get how things really are, does he?
Isaiah’s vision seems as inconsequential as a child singing alone. Now, many of us know this vision by heart because of Handel’s Messiah. It’s hard not to hear the music when we read these words, right? But that’s almost domesticated the vision: boxed it up into beautiful concert halls and church sanctuaries for the holidays. Not much different than the child singing.
“The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light?” Huh. What light?! There’s nothing but death and terror and immanent threat and anger and fear around here!
It is important that we be honest before we bring the good news, people of God. To ignore the world in front of us, the injustice and hatred, the racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, the violence and abuse that takes place right under our noses, is to miss Isaiah’s vision too. We can’t just positive-think our way through this. We must be honest before God and with ourselves. Martin Luther said, “The theologian of the cross, calls the thing what it is.”
We’ve lost track of God’s call for us — as individuals, as a nation, as a species, even as Christian congregations. We’ve turned inward, been consumed by fear and hatred...what did our spoken confession at the beginning say? “We descend into our own despair, unable to see past our immediate concerns. We drag others down with us and live to complain and commiserate. We ignore the miracle in front of our face.” In other words, we ignore the child singing in the corner of sanctuary.
Friends in Christ, the little prophet’s song is to be ingested, enfleshed and shared. Despite all evidence to the contrary, all despair that looms about, you are the extension of Isaiah’s vision, living and breathing still!
Sisters and brothers who follow Jesus, you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, marked by the cross of Christ — what do we say at baptism? — forever. You have been sent out, to magnify Isaiah’s words: “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light!” Shout it from the rooftops! Better yet, live it.
Even and especially when the world is falling apart, when things are coming undone at the seams…even when life, headlines, families, churches, communities, halls of power are flying out of control...even when the world is falling apart, God’s people remain faithful. We call the thing what it is and then we remain faithful to God anyway. Martin Luther is also credited with saying, “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I’d still plant an apple tree today.”
Scholars argue about whether or not he really said that, but they do agree that this summarizes his theology: God’s people remain faithful. We, theologians of the cross, are not blind to what’s in front of us, and yet we choose to love one another, love this world — and in-so-doing love God — anyway.
[Slow] All is not lost. The child still sings. The bread still breaks. The family of God still gathers. And we still go back out there guided by a prophet’s vision of peace and justice for all.
This Christian journey is not a smooth road; it’s an adventure. But we are assured once again today that we are not on this road alone. And that even if we die, Romans says, we have the promise of peace eternal, we have a God who conquers death and sin for all eternity. It is in that promise, that vision of peace, that true and sure hope, that we continue to live and move and have our being here on this earth.
The prophet’s vision is not lost. A tiny light pierces the darkness! And so there is a way through. Hope is born:
We are guided by that light of Christ into the darkening, winter days that are before us. We are held in the arms of grace into the darkening days that are before us. We are forgiven of our sin, joined together in that great fellowship of the saints in light, and now we are sent out anew, filled with courage, strength, and peace to be the people Christ has called us to be. Thanks be to Isaiah and all the prophets, who keep it real...and sing anyway. And thanks be to God, who was and who is and who is to come. AMEN.