Isaiah 2: 1-5.
(Earlier in the service the first Advent candle was lit and then as an act of prayer each member of the church lit an individual candle to remember someone special who had been a light in their lives in the past)
The first candle has been lit.
Advent has started; this time of preparation leading up to Christmas.
And the first week of Advent often celebrates the prophets.
The prophets were those who went against the grain. Who seemed to be in greater communication with God and sought to guide the people back to a path closer to God.
We often make the mistake of believing that the prophets looked forward to Jesus.
Most of them didn’t. They talked to the people of their own time about the problems they were facing in their own time.
But often what we noticed over time was that the truth of one generation, was often the truth another generation needed.
And this is the case today.
Like all the other prophets, Isaiah was confronting the people with another insight.
You see the people had a way of looking at things, and then the prophets said, ‘Well God sees things differently. And if you look at things the way God does then maybe you could do things differently.’
At this point in Judah's history things were not going well.
King Uzziah had just died.
It had been a time of uncertainty..
Uzziah had been ill for a while, something like leprosy that took him out the public eye. His young son had taken over but obviously the guidance and power and decisions were still being made by the king.
Then the king dies and this young son is now in charge himself. This is at a time when the Assyrian Empire is beginning to rise.
The Egyptian Empire is feeling threatened by this and is flexing its muscles.
And in between these two superpowers is Israel and Judah.
Within a few years the Northern Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed.
Within all this chaos the people were looking for leadership and the leadership doesn’t seem to know what it is doing. If anything the leaders, their kings, are only interested in saving their own skin and making deals with..., whoever, to make sure they stayed in power.
One way they did that was by paying tributes to these more powerful states.
In return for not invading them the king would pay huge amounts of money to the Assyrian emperors. But they would get this money by taxing the people who would see their money disappearing but getting little back in return except greater and greater poverty.
The future was bleak.
Darkness was surrounding them.
They knew what they wanted.
They wanted a strong king, a messiah, who would save them from their enemies by destroying their enemies once and for all.
Someone like King David.
In their mind they could remember stories of King David.
As a child David had defeated Goliath the giant.
As the king he had defeated the Philistines and anyone else that threatened the country. King David had expanded the country. King David had given them peace.
And they longed for a time when their turn came again.
When they were the dominant force and they could defeat others.
And in the midst of all this along comes Isaiah.
And Isaiah says, ‘God sees things differently.
True peace never comes from defeating your enemies, because at some point your enemies will seek revenge.
Maybe God doesn’t see Israel as a nation that defeats its enemies.
Maybe God sees Israel as a place that brings the nations together in peace.
Maybe God doesn’t want other nations to fear Israel, maybe God sees Israel as the country that other nations go to for advice and help.
That instead of going to war with Israel they see the pointlessness of all war. And destroy their weapons.’
As we reflect on advent we see the culmination of that truth in Jesus.
Not coming as a warrior king.
Not coming to conquer the world for God.
Not raising armies to defeat his enemies.
But coming in peace, coming to share God’s love, God’s care, God’s forgiveness.
Helping us see life differently.
That’s what faith is about, seeing life differently, seeing life from God’s perspective and maybe our heart and our actions changing because of that different perspective.
Like our candle prayer this morning.
I know what it is like to lose someone special.
There probably isn't a single person in here today that hasn’t lost someone special.
For some of you that feeling of loss is still raw.
And there is the temptation to see their loss as exactly that.
If their life is a candle then the candle has been snuffed out and their love and care is gone.
We miss them but there is nothing we can do about it.
The darkness has won.
And we live in the shadows.
And there is a comfort in that.
In the shadows no one can see how vulnerable we are.
In the shadows no one can see our pain. No one can see our tears.
The trouble with that is that just because no one can see them, that doesn't mean that there aren’t tears, that there isn’t pain, that we don't feel vulnerable.
And then the temptation is to hide further and further into the shadows so that no one sees them, no one sees us.
We get more and more isolated, feel more and more vulnerable, live in greater and greater darkness.
And God says to us, ‘It isn't so. Life is eternal. You can feel it if you are brave enough to.
When you remember them you still feel the love you shared. You feel it because it is still there. It is still a light in your life. It is still giving you hope.’
My mum and dad and Roseanna’s mum all died in the same year.
It was one of those years that sometimes you get.
One of those years when you don’t get a chance to recover from one disaster before you are hit by another disaster.
We thought we were handling it well. But we weren’t.
And our tension and fears were leaking to our children who were very young at that age.
One of them started to act up badly at school.
We even got sent into the school to have a talk about our child’s behaviour.
Unable to talk about his fears he was lashing out his fears.
We hadn’t a scooby what to do.
We were physically tired, we were emotionally drained.
The very people we would have sought advice for were no longer there.
And then I had an idea.
I would just sit with dad in the room.
Just the two of us.
I had literally known my dad all my life, so I knew would he would say in any situation. So I sat on the couch with an empty chair opposite me and discussed it with my dad.
That was the first argument I had had with my dad since he had died.
I had forgotten how much we argued.
We didn’t argue in a bad way, we just rarely saw eye to eye on anything and we both thought that we were right and the other person was wrong.
We had our own opinions on things and often we disagreed.
And I am imagining what dad would say about how to deal with the situation.
And I realised that dad would have got it wrong.
The advice he would give would have worked on his kids, but my kids were different.
Because my kids were different, they needed different support and guidance.
And suddenly I knew what to do.
Because dad was still there inspiring and arguing-with and helping.
Still a light in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.
Look at the light generated by those who have gone before us.
How can we not be in awe of it?
How can we not be inspired by it?
But then the question comes
How do we honour that light?
For the world that we live in is still dark.
I listen to the hustings on the TV about our upcoming election.
And all I feel is anger and frustration at our politicians.
The crowds laugh in derision at the promises that are being made.
There is so much uncertainty in the world.
There is so much need and want both at home and abroad.
And the temptation is to hide in the shadows.
The temptation is to lash out in frustration.
The temptation is to accuse and to blame.
It was dark in the time of the prophets.
It was dark in the time of Christ.
It is dark now.
Isaiah was a light in the darkness, and that light still shines thousands of years later.
Christ was and is the light of the world, and that light inspires millions round the world to fight for good.
We have felt the light in our lives; we can be the light in the lives of others.
That is our calling.
To be a light in the darkness.
To let people know that they don't need to hide in the shadows.
To let people know there is still hope.
Through simple acts of love.
Through simple acts of kindness.
Through simple acts of care.
Let us be the light God has called us to be.