Toorak Uniting Church

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light

Advent 4 Carol service
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
19 December 2004

READING: Genesis 15: 4 6

REFLECTION: Stars in the sky
‘It is all well and good God, but if there is nobody to inherit what good will your goodness do?’ Abraham worries about the future.
There are all these wonderful promises and admittedly God has looked after him very well and blessed him with considerable wealth, things look really good, but there is just this small issue of no children to inherit what has been accrued. What good will your reward do if no one will follow, when there is no future?

It is a feeling that is very strong throughout all of scripture, that good things are quite meaningless when there is nobody to hand them on to, that there is no future if there is nobody to follow.

I think it is a feeling we won’t have much trouble recognizing especially where our faith is concerned: If there is nobody to hand it on to, if there is no future generation to hand this beautiful Church and all it’s wonderful activity over to, what then is the point of keeping it up today?

"Look at the sky and try to count the stars; you will have as many descendants as that…..

And Abraham put his trust in the Lord….."

Will we? Live in the present, receive God’s blessings with gratefulness, live our lives listening to his voice, journey along the road he leads us and trust that there is future in abundance? That his promises, even where they might stretch our faith to the limit, will come true?

READING: Isaiah 9: 1 6

REFLECTION: A great light!
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. They lived in a land of shadows, but now the light is shining on them. You have given them great joy.

So great is Isaiah’s faith that with dark clouds gathering in the distance and war and destruction on the charts he is able to talk about the darkness and difficulty that has yet to descend as if it is in the past already.

To his people who live in fear of violence directed at them from the outside by mighty and deceitful enemies, living in a country where injustice and corruption are rampant, Isaiah offers this great vision of hope: Happiness, the yoke and the rod broken, the enemy defeated, the bloodstained clothes destroyed and a wonderful, counseling, prince of peace born to rule right and with justice to the end of time.

A vision handed on to us, over the centuries. To us who know that a child was born that was a wonderful counselor, and a mighty prince of peace. In a different way than was probably expected. God surprising the world, not with bolts of lighting and heavenly armies conquering the world, but with a baby in a crib, a man on a cross, an empty grave.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, they who lived in the land of shadows have the light shining on them now. God has fulfilled his promises and even though we may feel enemies are threatening us, that the injustice and corruption that is rife in this world is quite threatening and beyond our control, even though we may be very aware of the darkness around us and the shadows cast on our relatively safe and good lives here in Toorak, that is something that stands: God, His light and love have already won, in Jesus Christ a great light that will forever be impossible to extinguish.

READING: Matthew 2: 1 6

REFLECTION: Following the light

Here we meet the wise men, studying the stars, letting their lives be guided by what they find there. They were the scientists of the age, trying to phantom the depths of knowledge, endeavoring to see into the deepest secrets of the universe and willing to submit their lives and living to what was revealed to them in their studies. Men of integrity and dedication, sincerely seeking truth, sincerely wanting to worship what is worthy of their reverence.

They see a light and they are prepared to follow it.

And we meet Herod. A power crazy man, accustomed to having things his way, ruling with an iron fist and not afraid to kill anybody that he feels could threaten his position. A man who killed his own sons paranoid with fear they would topple him if he didn’t. An eastern potentate this Herod, ruthless, powerful, merciless and a megalomaniac, who doesn’t like the sound of a King born in Judea at all, nor the apparent importance given to this child by wise men come from abroad. His first instinct to extinguish the light, the sooner the better.

God’s light, come in Jesus Christ, under threat from the beginning. Darkness trying to overcome it, the mighty on their thrones not very willing to be brought down for the lifting up of the lowly, those with blood on their cloaks stamping their boots ready to crush anything that might threaten their position.

Nothing has changed!

Or has there? The wise men found the child and chose to follow its light. They did not team up with Herod but went home along another way. The child grew up, his light shining in a world of darkness. Herod did not manage to trample it out.
And even when they put Jesus to death and thought that was going to put an end to all of it, He was raised again to new life showing that God will not let go, that justice and peace will, in the end win and darkness and evil will be conquered.

The wise men followed the light. They did not team up with Herod, they submitted their lives to Christ and the light of God that shone in his life. They made a choice, not for the powerful of the world, but for the power that will make all things new.

What will you do?

READING: Revelations 21: 1 4

I don’t think there is much we can add to that.
A new heaven and a new earth.
Something we can yearn for with all our hearts sometimes, long for with every fiber of our bodies: no more grief, no more crying, no more pain. When we read the papers, when we look at the lives of people around us battling depression, loss, grief, pain, sickness, poverty and every other kind of hardship we can sometimes feel it is almost too much to cope with. There is just too much of it! And most of it seems to be completely and utterly beyond our control. What can a child born in Bethlehem, a man who died on a cross two thousand years ago change in all that?

Abraham had his doubts when he looked at the sky to look at the stars. God had been good to him, God had looked after him, but as for the future, he did not quite manage to see how that would ever come about. And yet, he chose to put his trust in God’s promise.

Isaiah could see the dark clouds gathering, he could see enemies ready to spill the blood of his people, he could see a people suffering injustice and corruption, desperate for peace and better government with no signs of improvement evident.
He put his trust in God’s promise and announced that justice and peace were being conceived at that very moment, a child born, a light shining in the darkness. Not as a distant hope, but as something already happening in the here and now.
Wise men followed the voice of God tentatively revealed to them in their studies of the secrets of the universe. They visited a child in stable in Bethlehem and chose to follow the voice they’d heard and the child they’d seen rather than team up with the forces of power and violence that were ruling the day. They let their journey be re-directed by the light of hope. Hope embodied in a vulnerable child born in a lowly cattle shed.

A man in exile on Patmos in a time when Christians were thrown to the Lions and the Roman emperor had sheer limitless power over their subjects, saw a great vision and maintained that a new heaven and a new earth would come. That God would be with his people and wipe away their tears.

Seeing the light and following it is a decision. To trust God and trust that the future in the end is in his hands is a choice. A choice that will alter our lives and determine who we team up with, and what road we follow. It is a choice to be made today and every day.

Do we give in to darkness and despair? Or do we consciously and with intend let ourselves be led by the light of God’s promise, the hope of a different future, and the trust that He who came in Jesus Christ, vulnerable and naked as a child will in the end conquer all death and darkness that threatens to envelop our world?

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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