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Away in Manger – Light and Hope

Sermon, Advent 1A, Sunday December 1, 2019, St Petri

Away in a manger

After viewing Video – Skit Guys – Away in a Manger – Isaiah

Isaiah 40:2,8, Isaiah 2:4.    The grass withers, the flower fades;     but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)    They shall beat their swords into plowshares,    and their spears into pruning hooks; (Isaiah 2:4b)   He shall judge between the nations,   and shall arbitrate for many peoples; (Isaiah 2:4a)

How many times have you been wide awake at 3am just waiting for the light?

We have had a few restless nights feeling a bit scared as a family. One night we were way out east of Alice Springs. Unusually, it was a bit wet. We were travelling light, sleeping in two dome tents; one for two of the boys with us and one for Leanne and I. Normally this was fine. But this night was a bit strange.

The rain closes things in on you a bit. Then the dingos; they were howling. They howled a lot of the night. Of course, whenever I think of dingos and Alice Springs or The Centre in general, I, like most Australians, think of that tragic death of that little baby girl, Azaria Chamberlain.

Then all the B grade movies you have ever seen about wild dogs or bears ripping tents open and attacking defenceless humans are added into the night, and there you are. You can’t wait for the light to come!

But that is not typical. More typical for more people restlessly waiting for the light to come might be these:

  1. You find that you are going around in circles trying to figure out what to do in a relationship that has got damaged.

  2. You are churning over your self-defence in a conflicted situation.

  3. You are whirling around like one of those Whirling Dervishes trying to figure out how you are going to cope with that bad news.

  4. Or, you are just scared of something. You are crook and you know it. You have a huge decision to make and you feel it. You just can’t wait for the light to dawn.

Strange how the darkness seems to close you in when nothing physical is doing that to you. You feel pressed on all sides, unable to move, unable to do much about your fears, your worries, yourself. Things might not be better straight away when the light dawns, but at least you will be able to see more.

And that first pre-dawn light just arrives and there is hope. The long night of discontent vanishes. The day will come, and you will live it. You are still alive. You still have opportunity to do things, say things, try and work your way through things.

That is how the Prophet pictures God’s promise of a Saviour; he is like that early light who brings hope.

He speaks of this light as hope to people who are living without the hope they once had; a real darkness.

Isaiah speaks in the Exile – the generation transported away from Israel by the mighty Babylonians. They are ruled by a foreign people who have many gods and a god-king. They have lost their centre, their rhythm, their sense of direction, their hope for what they heard was their future as God’s people in God’s world. The oil in their lamp had run out: no light anymore; stumbling around without a torch in the oppressive darkness; unsure, unclear, unable to do anything about this long night. The road to home and hope is closed because it is now dangerous to human life.

The prophet announces that he is praying; he is “talking to God”. His wife askes a crucial and insightful question (wives often do that) from over his shoulder, “Are you listening to him?”.

And that is the question this morning, in whatever night you may be in, “Are you listening?”.

Maybe you are praying. You may have finally decided to pray like you mean it. You may have even decided to clean up your act a bit. You know, as part of a bargain with God: “If you get me through this night, I will give myself to you in the new day”. Problem is you know that you cannot be that good for as many days as it will take to buy God off.

Isaiah does listen as well as speak when he prays, it seems. He gets the strange news that the night will lift, and the day of God’s hope will come for the people and for him.

It will not come like they think it should and like it normally would in the ways of human beings. But it will be human light to end the long night. In fact, the new day will be ushered in by a new human who will make people more human.

A young women, a baby, a life, a message, human suffering, human weakness will be known to this new person. No plague carrying Moses or sword carrying King David. He will not be like the Babylonians or any other people of power with no gods or many gods who don’t care about or know who the only true and living God is. He will be God who is; God with us like God has never been before.

I don’t know what your long night is or what it feels like for you at the moment. I do know darkness and I see it everywhere in the world. I know it resides still in me too. I too “am a man of unclean lips” who often speak to God for all kinds of reasons (which is better that not speaking to him at all!) but does not listen to him speaking to me in his Word.

Friend, hear this or the long darkness:

The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

This Word is a man, not a mere concept or theory or ideology or philosophy. This Word is Jesus of Nazareth with us, with you; Messiah, Saviour, Shepherd, High Point, land mark to guide you home to hope, new way free of danger, free of threat; breaking light for the long night bringing hope back to your day.

These are the pictures the Prophet can’t stop painting to help you trust again; to help you listen to understand not just to fix the problem.

Trusting this Man of Light means laying down your guns; for good.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,and their spears into pruning hooks; (Isaiah 2:4b)

He knows; he understands the fear, the guilt, the shame, the worry the pain, and because he does, you don’t just put you guns back in the cupboard just in case, you beat them into gardening tools for good. You don’t need the anger, the worry, the fear to flee or to fight or to freeze to fix it, as much as you need him and his light to be your sure hope.

And trust is all you need because the Light just helps you see. He does not come to you like a bullet or a spear or a knife but as light surrounding, light lighting up your spirit and your relationships. Light by which you finally see yourself how he sees you – “a child of his light” as was first spoken to you when you were baptised into his Light by God the Light

How is trust in this light possible? Because;

He shall judge between the nations,and shall arbitrate for many peoples; (Isaiah 2:4a)

Like Isaiah and all the prophets, Like Paul and all the apostles, like any person of Christ who has ever lived through dark times, the only thing to do with the coming light is trust it; like you simply receive the dawn, so receive him as a gift – and then live the gift in the day.

Trust him in your dark night as you listening to his word of light.

He is the light for your dark night and you already live in light.

Plenty of others are not. They are still scratching around in the dark trying to find some good oil.

“It is where it usually is”, the wife calls.

Yes. It is where it usually is. It is in Him.

O come, You Day-Spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Your advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! God with Us.
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