Christmas Eve 2016
The God who comes to serve!
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
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.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, 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. (Isaiah 9:2-7 ESV)
Isaiah’s words – the ones Elida read – were said to people in the dark – the Assyrians had taken over the northern kingdoms of Israel – their future was dark – ie. it seemed there was no future. Things were tough. When in tough situations it is often said that there is light at the end of the tunnel – that the darkness won’t last – to which the quip has often come ‘As long as it is not an oncoming train!’.
But darkness does give way to light – the night ends and morning comes – the tough times do end especially if one looks at history – hence the call to ‘hang in there’ – advice people with a depressive illness can hate – is prevalent. There will be an end to tough times – even if it’s death – but that’s rarely our first choice!
Isaiah talks about a change of fortune – a great light has come – so that the people rejoice that the oppressive yoke, staff, and rod – the burdens they face are broken – the battle field rubbish can be gathered and burned because it is no longer needed.
Isaiah proclaims a future hope – all around a baby born of the young woman – the baby called ‘Immanuel’. We’re pretty sure he’s talking about a king … and there is an association which we see in the royal psalms whereby God describes the king as his anointed and even his own son which is meant to not make the king arrogant but humble and the people feel safe – because the king will not be self serving but as God seeks to serve and bless his people – so the king will do likewise. That is always the hope that people have of the political classes – whether it be a kingdom, an empire, a feudal system, a tribe, a nation state, or the local neighbourhood watch – that those with authority serve.
Tonight takes us backwards in time but we don’t go as far back as Isaiah. Instead for us it is roughly 2,000 years and the birth of Jesus whom his followers have seen in the light of what Isaiah said. You see, no king was perfect. No political elite is selfless. People still call out for liberation and seek enlightenment. They
want the darkness of an uncertain future to give way to certainty. All people want enlightenment – to see things clearly.
And the world is not short of answers – of claims of enlightenment – of people who know what is happening in the world – the world is definitely this or that – the economy is this or that – the refugees, foreigners, future is this or that – people turn to experts – people hate experts – but whatever the gaze into the future it is often made with some pretty definite views – presuppositions, certainties, the ‘everyone knows this’.
Of course, with so much enlightenment all around – cultural, political, intellectual, religious – surely that multiplicity suggests that all paths don’t lead to the same place.
Christmas – Christianity – Jesus is another voice in the cacophony of the searches for meaning. The followers of this baby whose birth is commemorated and celebrated this night claim enlightenment – and point to Isaiah’s message has being finally fulfilled – not that the king is spoken of as God’s anointed and so close to God that he is God-like – but the new message is that Jesus is Immanuel ‘God with us’. That Jesus – baby, child, man, king – think of his crown and throne – changes life and living so much that the person and the world around that person is never the same again. It is as if a star burst has happened on a dark landscape and by that light one sees the terrain and the way ahead.
This world is not our home but for now while we live here we are called to serve it with justice and righteousness – as God defines them – and of course serve the people one encounters. This light is not visible but is audible – Christian see through their ears – and that is why no matter how pretty or grotty a nativity set is – no matter how we visualise that first Christmas and Jesus’ birth – what we will not see – even in our imaginations – is God visible in all his glory – God just as he is. Sure there are pointers to God’s activity – which we’ve heard tonight – but look at the little one lying in a manger and all you see is tiny kid with a hard start in life. But the words he says plus the words said about him throughout his life – and even his death and what happens next – lead us to praise and rejoice, gather and sing for in Jesus we have meaning for Planet Earth and for every person’s life because he is God with us – and the mystery is again proclaimed that this Jesus is God in all his glory – here to serve you.