11/19/17 – J.Vespers – The Light for Dark Times



November 19, 2017
Jazz Vespers Homily
Homily Isaiah 9:1-7; John 8:12
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


Last week we read from Amos. Today we read a contemporary of Amos, the prophet Isaiah. The book of Isaiah is the longest book of the prophetic writings in the Bible, which makes him the most “major” of the major prophets. I say that because what distinguishes the “major” from the “minor” prophets in the Old Testament is their length.  Isaiah is sometimes referred to as “the fifth gospel because Jesus quotes from Isaiah more than another other book his bible – the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. We usually hear this passage starting at verse 2 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Every year we hear it on Christmas Eve. For us it heralds the announcement of Jesus’ birth. But, that was not the prophet Isaiah’s intent. Verse one places the rest of the scripture passage in a particular place and time in history.

We have been following the history of Israel in our scripture passages this fall. The time to which this scripture passage is set is at around 730 BCE. Not since their slavery in Egypt had God’s Chosen people seen such dark times. Israel had split into two kingdoms, the northern and the southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom retained the name, Israel, while the southern kingdom became Judah. Clouds of war were gathering all around them. Israel’s kings had failed her. Gentile nations around Israel threatened. There was darkness – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The northern kingdom, Israel, allied itself with Syria in an attempt to force Judah into an alliance against Assyria. Isaiah promised the king of Judah, Ahaz, that God would deliver Judah and warned him not to form an alliance with the Assyrians. King Ahaz did not trust the promise and made the alliance, thus becoming a pawn in Assyria’s imperial agenda. King Ahaz fell into Assyria’s trap hook, line and sinker. He even went so far as to erect altars to Assyrian gods. I hope we are not going down that path with Russia, but maybe my outlook is too dark. The Judeans put on their combat “boots” and their Assyrian uniforms became stained with the blood of their brothers in Israel. Israel and Syria were defeated, but with Ahaz as the “puppet king,” Judah became a poor servant of Assyria.  Judah was next conquered by the Babylonians and Israel ceased to be a nation – until 1947. And, they are all still fighting. Which goes to show we need more princes of peace in that part of the world.

The choices before King Ahaz might be comparable to the potential alliances between Russia, China, and the United States. Polls show that the majority of people in the United States believe we are in dark and fearful times. Not since the Cold War with Russia has nuclear war been threatened. Our country seems hopelessly divided into “Red States” and “Blue “States,” or at least “states of mind.” Racial and ethnic bigotry has come back out of the shadows. White Supremacists and Anti-Semites have marched proudly in the streets. Nationalists have made very un-Christ-like proclamations. Leaders accused of sexual harassment are pointing fingers at one another trying to deflect criticism of their past and present bullying sexism and even sexual assaults. The divide between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless is greater than it has been in a hundred years. We seem to be hurtling back to a dark past.

But Isaiah assures us there is light to dispel our darkness. Isaiah sends a message of hope to us as he did nearly 3000 years ago. Isaiah promised the people that a new leader would arise. At that time, the new child to be born might have been Hezekiah, Ahaz’s son. Or, that new child might have been a new king of the future, who would be a king who ruled as God intended. This new king would succeed where past kings of Israel had failed because he would be a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Can you hear those titles without hearing them as the Halleluiah Chorus from Handle’s Messiah? I can’t.

Yes, we know division and conflict. We know the fear and anguish they cause. And, we know the terrible consequences — the acts of injustice, hate and violence — that are motivated by fear. We have seen that journey into dark, darker, and darkest. In our own lives we are sometimes the creators of the darkness in our lives. Sometimes it’s others who cause the darkness, and sometimes darkness blindsides us in the form of an unexpected illness or loss that overwhelms us.

But we have also seen the dawn that follows those darkest times. Because we know darkness, we can see the light when it first breaks through. And, that light shows us the path to more light.

These verses from Isaiah have been adopted by Christians as foretelling Christ’ birth. The gospel writer, John, wrote that Jesus was the light of the world. He came into the world as a new kind of leader, like the one Isaiah envisioned, but so much more. This light was not extinguished at death, but was resurrected to be the eternal light. When the light of Christ shines in our world we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God breaking through and this light restores hope. Christ calls us to look for the light, but even more importantly, to be that guiding light for others.

Amen, may it be so.


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois