Sunday, Dec. 9th, 2012 – Song of Light, a sermon on Isaiah 42:1-9

Isaiah 42:1-9


It was January 12, 2010. Three Lutheran seminarians were sitting at a table playing cards in Port-au-Prince Haiti. They had just spent much of the day helping a nurse care for people living in the slums. All of a sudden, the ground began to shake. And shake. And shake. And shake.

Ben Larson, his wife, Renee, and their cousin, Jonathan, stood up realizing that it was an earthquake. And they waited for it to stop. But it didn’t. So they stammered around trying to keep their balance and escape out of the house. And then, in an instant, the two floors above them collapsed. Jonathan and Renee dug themselves out, but not Ben. Ben was nowhere to be found.

As Renee and Jonathan stood on the roof of this building, waiting for the aftershocks to end, all Renee could think about was finding her husband, Ben. A man who had been in the same building called out to them. He could hear Ben’s voice coming from the same hole they had just crawled through. But they couldn’t go back in it; it was too dangerous. So Renee stuck her head in the hole and she could hear Ben. He was singing. He was singing a hymn but with his own words – “God’s peace to us we pray.” She yelled to him that she loved him and urged him to keep singing. But the singing stopped. Renee knew that it was over.  Later, Ben’s cousin shared with her that Ben had once said that he didn’t want to die in any sort of heroic way. He just wanted to die singing. That’s who Ben was.

Friends, today is the second Sunday of Advent. We are talking about the songs in Scripture and the songs that we sing. God promises that we shall have a song to sing. That, in fact, our lives sing.  Which means we have a voice. We have something to say. Something worth listening to.

Last week, we talked about how our song becomes a part of God’s song. So have you sang this past week? Perhaps some of you have sung in choir or at school. Maybe you sang in the car on your way to work. Some, I know, sang at the funeral of a loved one.

When you think about it, Ben’s song was a song of light. As we just learned, light shines in darkness, like a night light, helping us to not be so afraid. Giving us hope that in the darkest of nights, morning will come. Ben’s song was a song of light; it cascaded up and out of the darkness of rubble. It was a blessing to the world – “God’s peace to us we pray”; a word of hope coming out of tragedy.

Today we turn to Scripture and also find a song of light. In the reading from Isaiah, the context, the setting is that the people of Israel have been marched into exile. Forced into slavery in a foreign land. It is a bleak period in the life of God’s people. Jerusalem, their city, burned to the ground. The temple, their house of worship, in ruins. For forty years, the Israelites have endured profound loss and suffering.  From the looks of it, the God of Israel and the people of Israel had been defeated.

Torn from their homes that have now been destroyed. Sent into a land where you and your people are nothing but worthless slaves. The injustice is haunting. It is like everything that mattered most to them in their life had been crushed and buried beneath a pile of rubble.  One cannot help but feel helpless and hopeless.

Have you ever felt like that? Helpless and hopeless? Like your whole life, everything that you love, everything you worked for, is buried in ruins? Shaken and shattered by the sudden earthquakes of a lost job or a lump deemed cancerous? Or mean friends? A failed marriage? Or chronic busyness?

That’s how it was for the Israelites for 40 years – helpless and hopeless. But then, out of nowhere, someone is singing. And it is the most beautiful song. A song of light. “Here is my servant,” the voice of God sings, “in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations.” Justice. The servant of God will bring justice. To those in exile, those living in the midst of injustice, justice is what you long for. It is salvation.  This servant will not break those who have already been bruised. He will not snuff out those whose light has already grown dim. A servant of the Lord, Isaiah says, is coming into this desolate land of exile to make all things new. One coming as a light to the nations. To cast out the cold darkness. To restore and resurrect.

Sometimes, it can feel like your whole life is buried in the rubble. But then, in an instant, light can break through when you least expect it. Have you ever experienced that? You find yourself in the middle of a terrible day (or perhaps week, or month), and out of nowhere everything turns on a dime. Maybe it was simply a free coffee gifted to you by the clerk at the gas station, or an old friend calling out of the blue, or maybe even just your favorite song being on the radio the moment you turn it on. Immediately, it feels like someone has poked a hole in your shroud of darkness and light is now leaking in. It doesn’t solve your problem by any means; it doesn’t mean your pain is erased. It’s just not so hopeless anymore. It’s not so dark. You’re reminded you’re not alone.

For Renee, hearing Ben sing didn’t save Ben.  But I imagine it gave her a ray of hope, string of light in the midst of her darkest day. That even in the midst of death, Ben sang. He died doing what he loved, as he wanted to. Singing. And not just singing but singing words of hope…”God’s peace to us we pray.”

Isaiah talks about a servant of the Lord coming to restore justice to a forsaken people. This was Israel’s ray of hope. It was their light in the darkness of exile. As Christians, we often want to think of this servant of God who came to be a light to the nations as referencing Jesus. But Isaiah doesn’t think so. No, Isaiah has a different name for this servant of God. Israel. That is, the people of God. Isn’t that incredible? God’s hope for bringing restoration, and healing, and justice to the people of Israel, and the whole world, is Israel. God uses and is working within the people of God to heal and restore the people of God. In case you aren’t sure of who that is or includes, all you need to do is keep reading. Suddenly, this song of light gets specific.

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations.

Did you hear that? “I am the Lord, I have called you. I have taken you by the hand and given you as a light to the nations.” God uses and works within the people of God to heal and restore the people of God. And by people of God, I mean you. And I think you already know this. Consider how many of you have already felt the love of God come around you through the very people around you today – through prayers, through hugs after the loss of a loved one, through a warm meal after you’ve just given birth. You are the people of God and you are healing and restoring the people of God.  You are God’s song of light to the world.

God uses the people of God to care for the people of God.

The late Edmund Steimle, preacher extraordinaire, tells the story about when his wife died. It was the Saturday before Easter. They got up in the morning. She was fine. She was ill by mid-morning. By the afternoon, she was dead. He said, “I found myself in my Lutheran parish the next morning. With a congregation full of people in Easter clothes, with lilies and a brass choir singing the Easter hymns and they stuck in my throat. With what had happened to me the day before, I didn’t believe in the resurrection. I closed the hymn book. But as I listened to the congregation sing around me, I realized I don’t have to believe in the resurrection today. They are believing in the resurrection for me, until I can believe in it again for myself.”

God uses the people of God to care for the people of God.

Since Ben’s death, Renee has seen light sung into her life through the people of God in small, yet sustaining ways. It looks like a smile, she says. Or an embrace. Sometimes it looks like blaring the music and rolling the windows down and cranking up the heat in the middle of winter. And now she and the congregation she serves as pastor are singing their own song of light as they as they fulfill their mission, which is to accompany and walk beside incarcerated youth.

God uses the people of God to care for the people of God.

Just by gathering together here today, God is using you, the people of God, to care for one another through fellowship and singing. We come here week after week longing to be in the presence of God and to be part of God’s life. The good news is that you already are. Because not only do you have a song to sing. But you are a song. You are God’s song of light that God has sung into this world. Go and be that melody of light shining into the darkness of this world. AMEN


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