The Mountain of the Lord
2 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I came across an amusing story recently about a fellow with a rather odd name. His name was Charlie Stink. As you might well imagine, from early childhood on poor Charlie found himself on the receiving end of a lot of ridicule as people seemed to take a great deal of delight in poking fun at him because of his unusual name. But when Charlie became an adult, his friends encouraged him to have it changed which he finally agreed to do. So one day he went to court to take care of all the necessary legal requirements for such a change, and when all was said and done, he walked out of that courtroom a new man with a new name. The next day when his friends asked him what he had his name changed to, good ol’ Charlie Stink who wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer replied, “I changed my name to George…George Stink, but for the life of me, I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference.”
Well, I think we could safely say that Charlie Stink missed the point of having his name changed, right? Not at all unlike what so often happens with this special season of the year that we embark upon today. Many people miss the point when it comes to Advent and Christmas. For some, this season of the year is simply an opportunity to exchange gifts, to socialize and attend parties, to eat, drink, and be merry. For merchants it’s a time to hopefully salvage a lackluster year of retail sales in the midst of a sometimes faltering economy. For consumers it can be a period of dread as we look over our bloated Christmas gift lists and contemplate the crowded stores and the maxed out credit cards with which we so often leave those stores. And while what we’ve just talked about is what this time of the year means to so many in our mixed up, messed up, and misguided culture today, it misses the point of what Advent and Christmas are really all about.
So to keep our focus in the right place, over the next few weeks we’re going to be listening to one man who definitely understood what this season was all about and who wrote about it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His name was Isaiah and even though he lived 7 centuries before that first Christmas, he had some important and memorable things to say about what it would mean for the world when the Messiah comes. In fact, those 3 words – “When Messiah Comes” – will serve as our theme throughout this series of messages that I will be bringing you this Advent season. So today we consider: “When the Messiah Comes, There Will be Light.”
Now if there is one theme that is appropriate for this season of the year it is light. How many of you here today already have your lights and other decorations up for Christmas this year? Some of you will perhaps light up the entire inside of your house while others of you may go really hog-wild this year and light up the outside too as you try to win the Salem lighting contest, straining the local power companies with your desire to achieve that goal. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I enjoy looking at those beautiful Christmas lights as much as anyone. But let us not fail to understand what Isaiah meant when he said in our text for today: “Let us walk in the light of the LORD.”
And to help us understand this whole theme of light better I want you to go with me on a journey right now that captivated the attention of the world a few months ago when a soccer coach in Thailand led 12 of his young team members into a labyrinth of caves, only to have heavy rains flood those underground caverns, making it impossible for them to find their way out. Imagine the darkness they experienced as they had wandered 3 miles from the entrance of that cave and the sheer terror that must have consumed them. Just think how eager they must have been to leave the darkness of that cave and see the light of day again. Well, that’s the kind of anticipation I hear Isaiah expressing in our text for today when he says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” And we see it a few chapters later as well when he writes in the 9th chapter of his book, v. 2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
So why all this talk about light? Or to put it another way, what’s so attractive about light? I can think of a few things. First of all, darkness, the opposite of light, is a very potent symbol of sin and separation from God. An author by the name of Bruce Larson tells of driving on a highway near Scranton, Pennsylvania years ago in the middle of the night. As he was driving along, he got hungry and grabbed a candy bar. He took the wrapper off and finding the ashtrays in the car overflowing, he absentmindedly opened the car window and threw the wrapper out onto the road. Immediately he realized what he had done. He had littered, something he had always detested in other people when they did it. He also realized that he would have never done such a thing in the daylight. It was almost as if the very darkness had encouraged and enticed him to do the one thing he absolutely deplored. Then he noted, “There is something about light that reminds us of our responsibility to other people and helps us to do the responsible thing.”
The Apostle Paul captures this contrast between light and darkness so well in Eph. 5:8-11 where he says: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
But not only is darkness a potent symbol for sin and separation from God, it is also a symbol of God’s judgment. Remember the 10 plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians through Moses? It started with turning the water in Egypt into blood. Then came the frogs and the gnats and the flies and the locusts and other natural disasters, each one of which was designed by God to show the utter powerlessness of the gods of Egypt against the God of Israel, the one and only true God. And perhaps no plague demonstrated this better than the 9th plague, which was the plague of darkness. One of the chief gods of the Egyptians was known as Ra. He was the sun god and they firmly believed that he had complete control over the sun because Egypt is known as the land of perpetual sunshine. It very rarely rains there or even gets cloudy. But for the 9th plague, the God of Israel, Yahweh, demonstrated how totally powerless Ra was against him as he allowed a deep, thick, almost palpable darkness to envelop the land for 3 full days.
So darkness symbolizes God’s piercing and penetrating judgment. And we see no better example of this than in what happened while Jesus hung on the cross. In Matt. 27:45 it says: “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.” Then it says in the very next verse: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Why did Jesus say that? Why was we feeling abandoned by his own Father? Isaiah gives us the answer to that question in the 53rd chapter of his book, the 6th verse where he says: “and the LORD…laid on him the iniquity of us all.” While Jesus hung on the cross he bore your sins and my sins and the sins of all mankind upon his shoulders – every sin that had ever been committed; every sin that ever would be committed. And he received in his body the hellish judgment that we deserved for those sins, a judgment that was signified by the darkness that covered the land during his final 3 hours on the cross.
So light is attractive because its opposite, darkness, symbolizes sin and separation from God, as well as God’s judgment. But then a 3rd reason why it’s so attractive is because light is a symbol of God’s love and blessing. What do Pastor Mike or I say at the end of every one of our services? It’s called the benediction. Benediction simply means blessing. Did you know that that benediction that we pronounce upon you each Sunday comes straight out of the Bible? It can be found in Num. 6:23-27 where God says: “Tell Aaron and his sons, `This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.’ “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” The idea of God making his face shine upon his people was a symbol of him looking with favor and blessing upon them. We see God doing this in the land of Egypt with his chosen people Israel. Remember that plague of darkness we spoke of earlier? Well, not everyone in Egypt experienced it. In Ex. 10:23 we’re told: “So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.” That light symbolized God’s divine favor and blessing. And the same thing will hold true for us in what the Bible calls the new heavens and the new earth that all of God’s believing people will one day inhabit in eternity. For Rev. 22:5 says: “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”
So when the Messiah would come, there would be light: light that would dispel the darkness of sin; light that would deliver from the darkness of God’s judgment; and light that would demonstrate and deposit God’s blessing upon his faithful and believing children. All of which takes us to one more point that I want to finish with today. And that is that as people of the light, we need to carry the light of Christ into this world of darkness. And how do we do that? Simple – by sharing the light with others. And what better time of the year to do that than this time of the year? Have you ever noticed how many people at Christmas time are more open to the light of Christ than they are at any other time of the year? So why not take advantage of that openness, that receptivity, that vulnerability?
I think we could all learn a lesson from a little girl named Jana who was to participate in her church’s Sunday School Christmas program and who was so excited about the part she was playing that her parents thought it had to be one of the main parts, though she had purposely not told them exactly what it was going to be. She wanted it to be a surprise.
Finally the night of the pageant arrived. One corner of the stage had been made to look like a field where the shepherds were tending their flocks. Mary and Joseph were center stage standing solemnly behind the manger. In one of the wings three young wise men waited impatiently for their cue to enter. But there sat little Jana all by herself, no costume, no special outfit. Then the teacher who served as the narrator began: “A long time ago, Mary and Joseph had a baby and they named Him Jesus,” she said. “And when Jesus was born, a bright star appeared over the stable.” At that cue, Jana got up from her chair, picked up a large tin-foil star, walked behind Mary and Joseph and held the star up high for everyone to see. When the teacher told about the shepherds coming to see the baby, three young shepherds came forward and Jana jiggled the star up and down excitedly to show them where to come. When the wise men responded to their cue, she stepped from behind the manger and went forward a little to meet them and lead the way, her face as full of light as the original star might have been.
Finally the play ended and everyone went into the fellowship hall for refreshments. On the way home Jana said excitedly, “Did you see me, Mommy and Daddy? Did you see that I had the main part?” “You did?” her Mom asked, secretly wishing her daughter had had a bigger part. “Yes,” she said, “’cause I showed everybody how to find Jesus!”
And ultimately that is what it means to walk in the light. It is to show the world around us how to find Jesus. It is to live in such a way that people see in us and hear from us year round the love of God that the Bethlehem Babe brought to our world 2000 years ago. That is our part in God’s great drama that we call life, and, as Jana put it so well, it is the main part. Amen.