Isaiah 9:2b-7, 2 Corinthians 3:18
Dr. Anne M. Cameron
Christmas Day, 2011
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
2 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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 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.
7 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 onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.1
On Christmas Day in 1531, Martin Luther preached from the gospel (Christmas) story at the morning service and from this Isaiah text in the afternoon. He began the afternoon service by reminding the congregation they had heard the Christmas story earlier in the day. He told them they would not hear it again. Instead, they would learn how to make use of it.12
Indeed, this is the gift and the challenge of Christmas: to make use of the coming of the newborn king. Though we may breathe a sigh of relief that all the Christmas preparations are now over and we can sit back and enjoy the lights, we know Christmas is just the beginning. The baby in the manger is only the start.
There are two main movements in the Isaiah text this morning: the end of oppression, and the coming of a new king. There is darkness, and there is light.
What is the darkness Isaiah refers to? It is oppression and injustice. The people of Israel have experienced great oppression: war, invasion, occupation. The darkness of injustice shrouds their land and permeates their lives.
And the light? It is something far more powerful than the sunrise, more pervasive than forces of nature. The light Isaiah refers to is a light of hope, a lifting of the burden of the oppressor, an end to violence and bloodshed. And there's more! There's cause to celebrate because a new king, a new reign, a new day has come through the birth of a prince.
This situation is easy to relate to. We consider all the ways we continue to live under a shroud of deep darkness: National tragedy, corruption in places high and low, economic disparities, continuing oppression of various groups of people all over the world.
Right now Professor Rick Halperin of SMU leads a group on tour of Poland death camps, Holocaust museums, and listening to the few remaining survivors tell their stories of the darkness of the Nazi holocaust. He does this because he believes it is crucial we educate ourselves about darkness, so we can become beacons of light. I share with you part of a blog from Sze-kar Wan, professor New Testament at Perkins School of Theology.
“An enduring question about the Holocaust is why so many people became willing executioners for Hitler. Not just Nazis, but also professional soldiers and career officers who otherwise shared no ideological affinities with the Nazis, civilian police, even ordinary civilians all had a hand in the Holocaust. On July 10, 1941 in the small village of Jedwabne, under the full eyes of their German conquerors, ordinary Poles turned on their Jewish neighbors and killed 340 of them. They drove a group of men, women, and children into a barn they then set ablaze, burning alive those inside and bludgeoning and shooting those attempting to escape. What accounts for such unspeakable savagery?
Once a rabbi, speaking on how we might prevent another Holocaust said, “Beware of small beginning.” The “small beginning” that made the Holocaust possible is the way in which people passively accept the way things are. The willingness to accept a loss of personal liberty in exchange for economic gains led to the election of Hitler, which led to an acceptance of the racist view that fellow citizens were subhuman. From there it was but an inexorable slide to granting the state the right to kill and main its “undesirable” citizens and to taking a personal part in killing and maiming. The memorial at Treblinka proclaims in six different langues, “Never again.” That message seems more urgent than ever today.” The darkness of injustice permeates our lives.
It is harder, sometimes, to find trails of light. Yet they are there. Where do we see light dawning? What rods of oppression are broken? What is thrown into the fire? Justice happens today, too. Justice comes as a trail of light into our lives, God breaking in to human ways. Here's just a few highlights from 2011:
Iraq troop withdrawal. The United States officially declares our forces have left Iraq; many of our military are now home, and forces remain to help rebuild damage done.
Arab Spring inspired the world and reminded us that freedom and democracy are human (not just western) rights and ideals.
California and Nevada formed an alliance to fight foreclosures. Saying their states are hardest hit by the nation's foreclosure and mortgage crises, the attorneys general of California and Nevada formalized a joint investigation alliance to help homeowners victimized by fraud.
Warren Buffet published an op-ed in the New York Times, "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," in which he stated his 2010 income tax payment ($6.9 million), noted it was only 17% of his overall income and that he was paying a smaller percentage in taxes than his own secretary.
And there are more trails of lights beyond these headlines! Look into your own life, look into the community of Lake Highlands, look into our own church.
One of our own church members led an international conference to end corporal punishment of children. The spouse of a staff member leads a coalition to rescue and rehabilitate prostitutes. Another church member works for an organization devoted to safety and justice for seniors. Fifteen of our church members correspond with prison inmates. Countless more serve the underprivileged, both as volunteers and in their professions. Acts of justice leave a trail of lights.
Look for the trail of lights following Christ, look for signs of the king's justice, signs that are there because people took action. People who know that even small beginnings make a difference!
We know Christmas is just the beginning. The baby in the manger is only the start. This is the challenge and the gift of Christmas: to tap into the incredible power of the in-breaking God. To use our God-given abilities to bring hope where there was only despair. To leave a trail of lights where before, there was only darkness.
Now, I leave you with a story of light.
"Before the age of electricity, city streets were lit by gas lamps. Lamplighters lit these lamps with a flaming torch. One night an old man stood looking across a valley to a town on a hillside. He could see the torch of a lamplighter lighting lamps as he went. But because of the darkness, he could not see the lamplighter. He could see only his torch and the trail of lights he left behind. The old man said to a friend standing next to him, "That lamplighter is a good example of how Christians ought to live. You may never have known them. But you know that they passed through the world by the trail of lights they left behind.”
We know Christmas is just the beginning. The baby in the manger is only the start. What light are we to carry? What lights are we to light?