December 30, 2018
ECC Attleboro, MA
Below is the manuscript for this sermon:
Before I begin, I just want to give thanks to this church and the mentorship of Pastors Doug and Chris, even though they’re not here today. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the first sermon I ever preached for our inaugural Connect Service. It’s been a crazy twelve months full of spiritual growth and learning. But I would not be where I am today without all of your prayers and support and the guidance of the Pastors here at ECC Attleboro. So, thank you all, so very much.
Will you pray with me?
Heavenly Father, thank you for this gift of life you’ve given us today. Please be with us now and open our hearts to the hearing of your word and fill us with your peace. Lord, bless and guide the meditations of my heart and help me speak only of your will so that others may be blessed and you may be glorified. Amen
You heard me telling the kids about my fear of the dark. In all honesty I’m still not a fan. But what’s worse than physical darkness, was the emotional darkness I started experiencing as I got older.
If I asked you to think about the darkest moment in your life, what comes to mind?
The passing of loved ones… a health crisis… crippling financial issues… watching yourself or a loved one battle with addiction, depression or other mental issues… physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse… overwhelming shame… broken relationships… feeling alone, helpless… hopeless? I could go on. When I look outside my own personal dark moments, it often seems even darker in the outside world that we live in: Violence, injustice, hatred, abuse of power, homelessness, oppression and just so much devastating grief. It’s hard to imagine there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Our reading today comes from Isaiah chapter nine, but I want to start it a little earlier for a bit of context. Let’s look at the end of chapter 8 verses 19-22: Here we have spiritually blind people telling Isaiah to turn to the mystics for guidance because the world around them was a mess. But Isaiah starts to paint a picture using the light and dark language.
“When they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,” shouldn’t a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? Go to God’s instruction and testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them. They will wander through the land, dejected and hungry. When they are famished, they will become enraged, and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. They will look toward the earth and see only distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction, and they will be driven into thick darkness.”
Isaiah instructed his people to look to God’s word for a dawn from the darkness… not to people or things of the world. And if they did, they would be driven into a deeper darkness.
Let’s go on in our reading then and read verses 2-5:
“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.
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.
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.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.”
When it’s dark around us, we can’t find our way very easily. We search for a light. And if we don’t find a source of light, we’re most likely going to trip and fall over something. These verses point out that the light is a source from outside ourselves. In the text it says they: ‘have seen a great light… on them light has shined.’ They didn’t produce this light. This tells me that the darkness is not something we can defeat on our own. So God sent a light for them, and for us. What happened when that light came into the world? Nations were multiplied. Joy was increased. Their burdens were broken.
Light brings life into our world and casts out darkness. What I love most about the passage we just read is verse 5: For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. Wow. What amazing imagery here. What this is saying is that we can stop fighting this battle of darkness and give it to God. He will fight that battle for us. And instead, we can shed our soiled boots and blood stained garments and burn them as fuel for the fire, so that the reign of peace and justice may commence.
This reign of peace is part of God’s gift of grace. The definition of grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. God’s grace is at the heart of Christianity.
Another gift God gave us was his Son. In our gospel reading from John 1:14 it speaks of this gift as this: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
We also read about this gift in Isaiah verse 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.”
What makes Christianity different from other religions is that Jesus came down to us. He came down into the dark world, born as a baby, as a gift given to us through God’s grace. And he was given these names to signify his character. This week we’re wrapping up our sermon series on “The name above all names,” so let’s look at these names a little more deeply.
Wonderful Counselor. I know I use the word wonderful too often in regular conversation. Just like awesome. And sometimes I even use it sarcastically. How was your day? It was wonderful, thanks. But the meaning of the word Wonderful here means so much more. In Hebrew it’s Pele’ yo‘ets. Pele’ – Wonderful. Yo‘ets – Counselor. This word Pele’ refers to something we’ve never witnessed before, something miraculous, supernatural. For example this word Pele’ was used in Exodus after Moses and the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, and they talk about this event as being Pele’. I’ve heard it also explained that it’s not just Jesus character that is wonderful. But that the result of his counsel brings us to a wonderful or miraculous place. If we listen to the counsel of this Pele’ Yo‘ets , what we’ll end up with is something that far exceeds our expectations. And as a fan and avid attender of counseling sessions, this idea just brings me so much peace.
So, a counselor is someone we go to when we need help with our dark places. Or you could say it’s someone to help us when we’re lost. Are you good with directions? Or do you constantly require your GPS? Either way, it’s been said that even a person who is great with directions can get lost. If you put that person in a desert or a dark place, and ask them to walk a straight line, eventually they’ll veer off path. We need counsel or direction in order to stay on track. And Jesus’ wisdom and counsel is perfect. You know what’s really special about our Connect service? It’s a room full of people who have gone through similar things, looking to God’s counsel to help us stay out of the dark places and remain in his well-lit path. Don’t you just feel better when you’re talking with someone, knowing they’ve also gone through the same thing, or something similar? It’s a comforting understanding you feel, even if they don’t offer you any counsel. What’s amazing, is that Jesus is our advocate, he’s here to fight for us and give us his perfect wisdom, because he’s been through it. I mean IT. He even died for us so that we may live. In Isaiah 53:5 it says: But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. This scripture reminds me of the song Who You Say I Am, where they sing: “I was lost but He brought me in. While I was a slave to sin Jesus died for me.” So Jesus, born a baby, lived as a Wonderful Counselor and died so that we may be healed.
Let’s look at the next name Jesus was given. Mighty God. Mighty can also be read as strong, but the Hebrew translation of this word is used as strength in a military context, or as a warrior. This goes back to the thought earlier of us burning our boots and garments, because God will fight our battles for us. It’s not just that He protects us with this strength, he is victorious in the battles. I have to liken this to a phrase I found through recovery. I’m sure you’ve heard it before in some context. It’s: “Let go, let God.” I think it’s appropriate here, because we need to remember that part of this gift of Jesus is that he is here to protect us, to fight for us. But in order for that to happen, we have to let him. We have to submit or surrender to him. Here are a few practical ways we can do this. We submit when we read scripture. And not just “Here’s my daily devotional reading today. Thank you Jesus. Amen.” We need to listen to the word of God and ask, what is this scripture saying to me? We can also surrender when listening to the word of God. For example, on Sunday mornings, when we prepare our hearts for the sermon, we can ask: “Lord what will you show me today?” And finally, we can submit to our Mighty God when we pray. When we fall to him and petition to fight these battles for us. But most importantly, we need to listen to his voice. John 10: 27 Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Everlasting Father. When we think of a good father, we think of someone who provides for his children. Protects them from harm. Even die for them. I have to quote more lyrics, because in case you don’t know me, music is everything. This one is called: Everlasting Father.
“Never-failing comforter. My present help in trouble.
Though the earth gives way beneath, You are here.
Everlasting Father. Enduring love forever. Your kindness makes me stronger.
Even when I wander far, Your presence never leaves me.
Your voice of mercy calls me home.
I am loved, I am loved by my Father. I'm forever Yours.”
Not only does our Father have all the perfect qualities we seek, but his love for us is everlasting.
“Even when I wander far, your presence never leaves me.”
As Jesus tells us in John 15:9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” Abide. Stay there. Stay in the presence of this perfect, everlasting love.
And lastly, the name in this list he will be called is Prince of Peace. The term Prince is used to speak of Jesus as a Leader. This was truly the case as we see in the accounts of his ministry, all the people who followed him to hear the good news and the hope of peace. Peace in Hebrew is Shalom. In the Bible, the word shalom is most commonly used to refer to a state of affairs, one of well‑being, tranquility, prosperity, and security, circumstances unblemished by any sort of defect. Shalom is a blessing, a manifestation of divine grace. One of the biggest phrases we hear used around Christmas time is “Peace on Earth.” Jesus offers us this peace, not only socially, but for us individually as well. In our dark times, we often feel uneasy, not at peace. But our savior is the Prince of Peace and gladly shares this with us. Before his death, Jesus told His followers in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
All of these things are available to us through our relationship with God. We are able to keep this relationship through our faith and through Jesus. Jesus was given to us as a gift. And gifts need to be received. We need to remember that He is our light in the darkness. He makes a clear, well-lit way for us. The light has come. Have you received that light in your life? If so, we need to continue to put our trust in Him and follow that path, and tell others about his light. If not, I pray that you receive it soon. Jesus was born flesh, and experienced life in all its darkness. And because of this, we know that he understand us. God has a wonderful plan for us that we might not understand. Our hopes and expectations might be of this world, but if we give our concerns over to our Wonderful Counselor, we will see that His plan for us will go beyond what we can ever imagine. If we let go and let our Mighty God fight our battles for us, He will protect us and be victorious. No matter what, our Everlasting Father will never leave our side. No matter how far into the dark we run. And when we are ready to come home, He will welcome us with open arms and grace us with the gift of peace in our hearts. Never give up hope. No matter how dark things may seem, if we ask him to speak to us, actively listen to, trust in, and submit to our God, His plan for us will soon unfold right before our eyes. And that’s truly good news.