Rev. Teri Peterson
child of promise
17 November 2013, NL4-11
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
It feels a little weird to hear this story when it’s not Christmas yet, doesn’t it? This chapter of Isaiah makes me want to sing the Messiah and light Advent candles. Sometimes we get so caught up in the usual way we understand the text that we forget that it has meaning outside the liturgical calendar as well. The land of deep darkness is so much more than just the shortest days of the year. The exulting while dividing plunder is so much more than spreading out the Halloween candy and deciding what’s going to be “shared.” The child born for us is more than just the crown prince Hezekiah, about whom Isaiah wrote, and even more than the child Jesus we name Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Because the birth of a child, any child, is a sign of promise. A sign of faithfulness. A sign of hope. A child has been born to us, and is a reminder that God’s promise continues beyond our lives. The promise of God is for us, and for our children, and our children’s children, as many as the Lord shall call. Or, as Isaiah put it, “from this time onwards and forevermore.” This is one of the reasons that the loss of a pregnancy or the death of a child hurts in such a specific way—because it’s also the loss of a dream, a hoped for future. Every child is a reminder that there’s more to come.
Not just a child, but the birth of any new thing—a new community, a new idea, a new way of life, a new relationship, a new hymnal—any new thing is a sign of God’s future.
We have a tendency to care most about what directly affects us, though. We like what we like, we want to get ahead and secure our own futures, and those who come after us will just have to deal with the consequences of what we leave behind. Whether that plays out in our destruction of the environment, our insistence on arranging our church programming according to what we like and never making an effort to open up to others, or a focus on “tradition” meaning the things we ourselves know, this shortsightedness is challenged by these words from the prophet: A child has been born to us. There is more beyond what we will know, and we cannot control or even imagine how it will turn out.
It seems a little scary—the unknown future is shrouded in darkness and clouded in mystery, and we don’t like not being in control. But the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Not just past tense, but present and future tense—God’s light shines through the promise. The good news is that we don’t have to control the future—our call is simply to open our eyes to the vision God has for the world, for the church, for us as individuals and families, rather than looking only to our own interests or what’s good only for us. Our call is to entrust this future to God who keeps promises, and keep our eyes on God’s vision, which is always broader than our own.
May it be so. Amen.