(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on December 20, 2015)
You know how hard it is to find a particular scene in a movie you’ve seen before, when you have tricky fast forward and rewind?
You know what I’m talking about…when the first fast forward click is like barely any faster than just hitting play, but then the second click is like 300x normal and it goes flying by? You know how frustrating that is, right?
[FF] “Wait STOP! That’s it!” “No, we’re not even close yet, that’s like 2 years before they even meet.” [FF again] “Oh come on…this is like way past it, we missed it.” [Rewind] “STOP, STOP, where are we?” “I can’t believe this, we’re back farther than when we started!”
It’s like you get these flashes of random time travel on the screen, especially if it’s a movie that covers a lot of years. A scene in the past, a scene in the future, a scene way, way in the future, a scene in the past…the tricky fast forward/rewind can be confusing.
I thought of that this week when I was reading the first 12 chapters of the book of Isaiah. Today we’re looking at Isaiah 12, and I wanted to get a bit of the context in my mind so I read the chapters leading up to it. And it was totally like the fast forward/rewind thing. You get a clue right at the start, because it says “The vision…Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”
The reigns of those kings covered over 50 years, and the content is arranged thematically, not chronologically, so it bounces around. But it’s so much more than that, because it isn’t just the events of the time Isaiah lived through. The visions that God gives to Isaiah are powerful little scenes, some of which are happening in Isaiah’s time; God is helping Isaiah and Judah see the meaning behind the events of the day. But some look ahead a couple of decades, some look ahead to the coming of Jesus, and some look all the way into the still future time when God will make all things right when Christ comes again.
I had the experience reading it like when I’m struggling with the remote on my DVR… “Wait, is this it? Is this Jesus? No wait, this is the exile to Babylon…no wait, now we’re at the end of time, like what’s described in Revelation.”
I tell you what though…this broad, huge experience of the vastness of time actually settled me, really helped me.
It’s a reminder that there is no time where God is absent. It’s a reminder that “now” does not define everything. It’s a reminder that God has a purpose, a good purpose, and is completely capable of bringing about the good end God intends!
So when does Isaiah 12 take place? It’s a good chapter, a great, joyful, beautiful chapter. Has it already happened? Is it still to come? Theologians have this beautiful and frustrating phrase, the “now and the not yet”, that fits really well here. Isaiah 12 talks about “that day”, the day of salvation. Parts of it describe what was in Isaiah’s future but our past, the birth of Jesus. And I think parts of it describe “that day” that is still to come.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when Isaiah 12 takes place. But I am going to hold out this audacious hope that because of Jesus, because of that first Christmas long ago, “that day” of God’s presence, God’s salvation, God’s hope… “that day” can be experienced in part now, no matter what the circumstances around us. Turn with me to Isaiah 12:2-6.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation. ‘
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
In that day you will say:
‘ Give praise to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you. (Isaiah 12:2-6, TNIV)
“Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
“The Holy One of Israel among you” sounds a whole lot like “Emmanuel”, which means “God with us”…one of the names of Jesus, a name describing who he is. There are times, there have been times, when God’s presence right with me has been a beautiful thing, one that’s actually caused me to sing. I know not everyone is like this, but looking at these verses and thinking about times when I actually sing for joy has helped me realize that singing really is one of the ways I experience God’s presence. This week I remembered the summer of 1987. I had just finished my first year of college, and I was driving by myself in my light blue, four cylinder, 1980 Ford Mustang (they really shouldn’t have put the name “Mustang” on anything with four cylinders).
The little car was struggling up the Grapevine, this mountain pass on I 5 between Bakersfield and Pasadena, California. I remember cresting the summit as I was singing that old chorus “I Love You, Lord” at the top of my lungs, anticipating a summer of service at Forest Home Christian Camp, ready and waiting for God to teach me and use me.
This week I remembered the early days of teaching myself guitar when we lived in Boise, finally getting to the place where I could play a song without consciously thinking every time I changed chords about where my fingers had to go. It meant I could actually worship as I sang.
This week I remembered many times around a campfire, playing guitar and singing with my family and the Fawvers and McConaugheys…I remembered a couple of months ago, singing at our kitchen table with Mareesa Fawver, praising God and receiving healing and restoration as we harmonized together.
Those and so many more are rich, rich memories, times when I know exactly what it feels like and sounds like to “Sing for joy…for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” On those days, “that day” was present! Alive! Right here, right now!
But there’s also this past Friday.
It wasn’t anything horrible, just a typical not-so-good day, a day that did not feel like the “that day” of singing and rejoicing that Isaiah describes. In the morning, I was struggling with trying to write this message, feeling uninspired. And then everything felt rushed-had to trade cars with Elaine so I could trade cars with her parents so I could pick up the middle school kids so we could go get our Christmas tree. And then work kept two of the five of us longer than we thought, and I couldn’t find gloves, and there weren’t enough boots… you’ve had those days.
And then we got to the tree place we’ve gone to for like a decade, the one where we take our dog Jack, the one where they know us. Last year the woman who runs the place came running out with gloves that Elaine left there the year before, with a note that said “For Jack’s mom”. She’d saved it for a year! We love this place! This woman loves our dog and loves our kids and last year we talked all about Hayley in India, and this year I was looking forward to her talking to our kids…but we got there and the house was empty, so we just left our check on the table and sadly went to dinner.
And then after dinner we had a little over an hour to get from Sherwood to Newberg and unload the tree and return the in-laws car and change clothes and get to Eclectic Christmas. We’re on 99W and Whoosh! Crunch! Our beautiful tree is hanging by the thread of a bungy cord off the back of the car, dangling down and covering the back windshield. Retying it took like 20 minutes, and we barely made it to Eclectic Christmas, and we got home and I had to reset the tree in the stand twice and finally just left it on the porch overnight.
In the scheme of things, it was a minor irritation day, but I’ll tell you this: I wasn’t singing for joy, and it didn’t feel like the Holy One of Israel was among us.
We all know there are worse than minor irritation days, too.
Some of you are living them, living true heartache and struggle. All of us can see things in this world that are deeply disturbing and disheartening, things that suck the life out of us and cause us fear. The last 6 months have had plenty of things that have had me longing with all of my heart for “that day”, for God’s day of full salvation, for God to make all things right! Our “now” often has darkness in it that makes us long for justice and help.
But think about some of the “nows” during the more than 50 years that God was giving Isaiah visions. One of those “nows” to which God was speaking hope had thousands of enemies surrounding the city of Jerusalem, ready to wipe them off the face of the earth. Some of those nows had priests of Yahweh offering worship sacrifices to other gods. Some of the nows had prophets of Yahweh leading people astray. Some of the kings from God’s “chosen” line were cheating and oppressing the poor and ignoring God’s leading as they tried to make deals with other nations to keep their power intact.
There have always been horrible “nows” in our world. We are not living in a time that is the pinnacle of all evil. Yet even right in the middle of Judah’s dark and horrible times, God was present, God was planning, God was promising. The flashing forward and backward of Isaiah has helped remind me of God’s faithfulness that is beyond time, that is eternal.
What a powerful action of hope God has already taken, by putting on flesh and blood and being born in a manger! What joy and hope we have, despite all circumstances, to live knowing that God has entered our world! There is power in our celebration of Christmas. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee…” in Jesus Christ… “tonight”.
We are not left alone in a dark world! God has drawn near, and salvation has come. And yet…there is still more to come! With Christ, we look forward to the time when he will wipe every tear from our eyes, where God will make justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream! It WILL come. Christ has done it. This is the foundation of our hope, and this is what makes it possible for us to adjust our perspective and remember that this day, each and every day, is “that day”…the day when the Holy One of Israel is among us.
I needed this reminder!
The writings we have from the early church show us that they celebrated this passage often. Most often, they were drawn to verse 3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” In a dry place like Israel, the image of water as salvation is easy to understand. With our December this year, we might want something like “With joy you will bask in the sun from a cloudless sky!”
In the early church, over and over again, they saw Jesus as this living water, this never ending well of salvation. Christ has come! The well cannot run dry!
When we look at this dark world and become parched, we return to the well and draw from it. When we tire of waiting for the full healing of God, we return to the well and drink.
May this week bring times of refreshing from the Lord! May you find times to sing, to rejoice, to celebrate Christ who has come, and Christ who WILL come. May you open your eyes to the Holy One of Israel, who is among you.