The Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2018
Isaiah 9:1, 2
Oh, Come, O Dayspring!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I have a confession to make. Whenever I go up to the lakehouse by myself or if it is just Isaac and I, I sleep with a light on. Now normally I would never be able to do this. If someone forgets to turn the hallway light off at home I have to get up and turn it off. I just can’t sleep with all that light shining in under the door. But up at the lakehouse it is dark at night— really dark! Not only is it really dark at night, but there are a number of unfamiliar noises. I never know if the noises I hear outside my window are just the normal rustling of the trees or if perhaps Bigfoot is checking out the cabin. And did I mention that it gets dark at night— really dark? So I sleep with a light on. Just a small nightlight. In the bathroom. With the bathroom door mostly closed.
As I was studying our text for today I couldn’t help but connect the dots between the picture of light and darkness that Isaiah paints for us this morning and my experience with wanting a night light up at the lakehouse. At the same time the sharp contrast between darkness and light contained in this text parallels the contrast between light and darkness contained in stanza three of our Advent hymn, “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” Our sermon theme for today then is once again the opening words of the stanza we are studying: Oh, Come, O, Dayspring! Our text for this morning is recorded for us in Isaiah 9:1, 2: “Nevertheless there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan- 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.” As we study this text in the light of this stanza there are two things we need to make sure we understand. First, we need to make sure we understand the depth of the darkness. Then, we need to make sure we understand the brightness of the light.
Imagine for a moment that instead of having Canada on the northern border of our country we had to deal with the old Soviet Union or modern-day Iran stretching from one coast to the other. Imagine that on more than one occasion our enemy to the north invaded us with an army that was so overwhelming that we had little or no chance of mounting an effective defense. Do you think that the people in the northern states would experience a sense of “gloom” and “distress”? Do you think that the people in the northern states could be described as “walking in darkness” and “living in the land of the shadow of death”?
If you can imagine that scenario, my friends, then you might have an idea of what it was like to live in the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali in the days of the prophet Isaiah. As I said last Sunday, when Isaiah first wrote these words of our text the Assyrian Empire was flexing its military muscles. Three times a tsunami of Assyrian soldiers swept down from the north into the land of Israel. Three times the people living in the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali— which were located in the northern part of the land of Israel— were among the first to suffer unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the Assyrians. The third time the Assyrians poured into the land with overwhelming force, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, the city of Samaria, fell and the ten northern tribes of Israel ceased to exist. They were simply absorbed into the Assyrian Empire never to emerge again.
And yet, even though the people living in the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali were overwhelmed by “gloom” and “distress,” even though the people living in the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali could easily be described as “walking in darkness” and “living in the land of the shadow of death,” the Lord graciously made a promise to them. Through His servant Isaiah the Lord spoke these beautiful words, “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.”
Some seven hundred years later— which for the Lord is like the blink of an eye (See 2 Peter 3:8) — these words of Isaiah were fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew tells us that after John the Baptist had been put into prison by King Herod the Lord Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum “which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah.” Then Matthew goes on to quote our sermon text for today. (See Matthew 4:12-17)
What we need to remember, my friends, is that the “gloom” and the “distress,” the “walking in darkness” and the “living in the land of the shadow of death” that Isaiah describes here in our text for today is not to be understood on purely a political or physical level. While the Assyrians did indeed have a reputation for being absolutely cruel conquerors who carried out absolutely barbaric atrocities, Matthew’s use of these words of our text reveals to us that there are far worse enemies who bring a far deeper darkness to the peoples of this world. The most cruel conquerors of all, the fiercest enemies we human beings could ever possibly face are: sin, death and the devil.
While it may not be considered “politically correct” to call sin sin today, while teaching that hell is a very real place with very real suffering— suffering that lasts a very long time (as in eternally) — may be roundly rejected and ridiculed by many today, while warning people that the devil is a powerful evil angel whose only goal is to drag as many people as possible into hell where he will torment them in ways that we don’t even want to imagine may be widely ignored even by many churches today, the Bible is clear. Sin is not just a weakness that we need to try our best to overcome. Each and every sin is an act of open rebellion against the Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Hell is not just something that the church uses to scare people into doing and believing what the church wants. Hell is a lake of unquenchable fire where people endure eternal dying. And Satan? Well, my friends, Satan is not just some misguided soul dressed up with horns and a tail for Halloween. Satan is a ferocious beast which salivates at the thought of devouring you and your children and your grandchildren. That’s the depth of the darkness into which we human beings are born. That’s the depth of the darkness out of which we human beings cannot rescue ourselves. And if you ever doubt just how deep the darkness of sin is, just listen to the news. The shootings that take place at schools, at outdoor concerts and at workplaces, the abuse that is suffered by way too many children as well as adults, the atrocities that we human beings are capable of inflicting on other human beings— all of that reveals to us just how deep the darkness of the sinful human nature is.
Once we understand the depth of that darkness then it is so very easy for us to rejoice in the brightness of the Light! That is the glorious truth that is emphasized so beautifully in stanza three of our Advent hymn, “Oh, Come, O, Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by your drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
As you are doing your daily Bible reading at home take the time to notice how often Emmanuel, the Root of Jesse, is described as the Light of this world. Yes, my friends, our Brother Jesus is the Dayspring! He is the bright Morning Star that signals that a new day has dawned in our hearts and in our lives. When we are overwhelmed by our own weaknesses and our own failures Jesus, our Dayspring, shines the light of God’s mercy and God’s compassion upon us. When we are weighed down by the guilt and the burden of our own sin Jesus, our Dayspring, shines the light of God’s grace and God’s forgiveness into our hearts. When we are shocked by the “gloom” and the “distress” that we see in the world around us Jesus, our Dayspring, shines the light of God’s comfort and God’s strength upon us. When the difficulties and the hardships of this life threaten to discourage us in our walk with our Lord Jesus, our Dayspring, shines the light of God’s hope and God’s love into our life and so that we can stay focused on reaching the glory and perfection of our heavenly Father’s Home.
How? How does Jesus, our Dayspring, accomplish all of these wonderful things, my friends? As the Dayspring Jesus has shined the light of His Gospel message into our hearts, the Gospel message that has the power to create and sustain the gift of saving faith in our hearts— the faith that enables us to kneel beside His cradle and see Who the Child of Bethlehem is, the faith that enables us to kneel at the foot of His cross and trust in what the Child of Bethlehem has done for us. (Pointing to the cross) That’s how powerful our Dayspring is! That’s the brilliance of the light that Jesus shines into this sin-darkened world!
I have another confession to make. Whenever I go up to the lakehouse I enjoy the best night’s rest that I have ever had. Once I get used to that nightlight in the bathroom and once I remember that the rustling of the leaves is simply the forest singing a lullaby I sleep well— really well! As I was studying our sermon text for today I couldn’t help but connect those dots too. Even though we encounter so much “gloom” and so much “distress” here in this world, even though there are times when it may seem as though we are “walking in darkness” and “living in the land of the shadow of death,” Emmanuel, the Root of Jesse, our Brother Jesus is our Dayspring! He is the Light that drives the darkness away! He is the Light guides us safely home to heaven!
May the good Lord grant that as we continue to prepare our hearts and our lives to once again celebrate the birth of the Christ-Child that the words of stanza three of that beautiful hymn “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” will always lead our hearts to sing” Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!”
To God be the glory!