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December 18, 2005
Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Isaiah chapter 9 and follow along as I read verses 2-7.
2 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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
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.
7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
Tonight, I thought I would go with a new look.
[Remove the sunglasses and hold them up for all to see.]
It seems odd to wear sunglasses at night, but for an unsighted person, for a blind person, wearing sunglasses or something that looks like sunglasses may soon be the thing to do. A special pair of shades that can deliver the gift of sight is now in development. It is called “Argus” — named after the mythological Greek god who had 100 eyes. This innovative system can help blind people to see by providing them with an artificial retina. [Farivar, Cyrus. “Jeepers creepers, bionic peepers,” May 5, 2005, Wired News, wired.com.]
Here’s how it works: A small video camera is mounted on a pair of sunglasses. This camera is connected to a tiny electronic implant in the eye. The implant is connected to damaged photoreceptors on the patient’s retina — photoreceptors known as rods and cones. The images from the camera pass through the implant and stimulate the photoreceptors, which transmit signals to the brain through the optic nerve. According to researchers at the 2005 meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, these artificial retinas have been successfully implanted in six patients, allowing them to see light and detect motion.
These artificial retinas are an amazing innovation, but they don’t do much for us when we are struggling with forms of darkness that have nothing to do with degenerated rods and cones. Maybe our personal darkness comes from depression, or disillusionment, or doubt. Perhaps it originates in discouraging work or a deteriorating relationship. Maybe it comes from having nothing to look forward to, no contribution to make, or no one to love or no one who loves us. To find some light in this type of darkness, it’s going to take more than an Argus system. We need Jesus Eyes.
The prophet Isaiah certainly knew the deep and disorienting darkness of despair. His people had experienced the rod of oppression, the tramping of warriors, and the tumult of battle. Many scholars think that Isaiah chapter 9 was written during the Syro-Ephraimite crisis of the eighth century B.C. It was a hard time for the tiny country of Judah, a time of war and destruction.
When he announced the birth of a savior-king, Isaiah probably was not thinking about the birth of Jesus, some seven hundred years later. It seems likely that he was referring to the birth of a crown prince, possibly Hezekiah (reigned 715-687 B.C.). If so, he was doomed to disappointment. Hezekiah was a good king, but ultimately he could no more save Judah than anyone else.
But whatever Isaiah may have thought, his prophecy is a true vision of hope for us. When Isaiah speaks of people “who walked in darkness” (9:2), he could have been speaking to the United States. Today, in the US, Christianity is becoming a minority religion. Every year surveys tell us that church attendance reaches a new low, every year in the United States more old churches close their doors for the last time than new churches open their doors for the first time. We Christians feel embattled and besieged. We feel as if we live in a land of great darkness. But we know that we have not been abandoned; rather God has sent us a great light.
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests up on his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
A child was born in Bethlehem, and the world was introduced to a new way of seeing. Expectations were turned upside down by a prince being born in a barn, a Mighty God taking the form of a vulnerable baby. This birth marked the beginning of a new era in human history, one in which injustice, selfishness and violence were to be replaced by justice, righteousness and peace.
But like all new forms of seeing, this innovation required some adaptation. It took a while for people to get used to seeing with Jesus Eyes. We are still making the adjustment today.
So what does it mean to see the world through the eyes of the one who is born two thousand years ago in the City of David — our Savior, Christ the Lord? Isaiah gives us a clue with the four names he attaches to the Babe of Bethlehem.
To have Jesus Eyes is to share the vision of a Wonderful Counselor. This means that we come to see the world with the perspective of the one who is our guide and our leader.
Consider the new perspective that Jesus the Counselor gives us on the way we are to treat our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). When we have Jesus Eyes, we aren’t looking to love only those people who love us, because everyone does that. Instead, we are looking to love everyone — friends and enemies — as children of our heavenly Father. That’s a whole new path for us to walk. “Do not be overcome by evil,” says the apostle Paul; instead, “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Notice also that Isaiah speaks of Jesus not as dictator but as counselor—implying that Jesus will lead us and guide us, but we have our part in things. We are free agents, but Jesus calls us and counsels us to be agents of God.
To see with these lenses is also to perceive the activity of a Mighty God. When we think of the God of the Bible, we think of God in action. We see this God of action particularly in Jesus.
When Jesus first appears, as a little child, we do not think of him as mighty God. His divinity will only gradually become apparent as he grows up. His miracles are hints. When he calms the storm, that shows us that he is lord of the storm. When he forgives sins, he is accused of playing God, but he is not playing. When he resurrects Lazarus, we know that only God could do that, and finally when Jesus himself is resurrected, we have to say, he was God.
We can see the life of Jesus as a metaphor for God’s action in the cosmos. In the beginning of things, the universe was mostly chaos and darkness. God was not much in evidence, but God was creating, God was organizing, God was beginning the development that will finally conclude at the end of the age with the new heaven and the new earth. Sometimes today it is not at all apparent that there is a God. Sometimes things do not seem to show us God, and thus we live by faith, but in the end we will know that God is God.
And God is with us even now. Basic theology is that God is in every moment and in every place. God always does everything in his power to bring about the good. God acts with patience and love to move every situation toward his purpose for the world.
God acts in our situation. Remember this when you are doing battle in your own life—with a temptation, with an obstacle, with a setback, with a rejection, with a disappointment. You have Mighty God with you. Follow the guidance of Jesus when you are feeling bruised and beaten down, and he will show you the way to emerge victorious. “Thanks be to God,” says Paul to the Corinthians, “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Looking with Jesus Eyes also gives us a clear vision of our Everlasting Father. God is eternal. God will always be. We suspect that God’s purpose in creating the universe was too perfect himself in some way that we cannot now understand. When we are united with God in the New Jerusalem, even God may be changed, but however that may be, Isaiah’s point is that God will never cease to be. God may change. God will never end.
And Isaiah says the savior king will give us a new way of thinking about God---as father. Certainly Jesus did that. Jesus taught us to pray to our father in heaven. He spoke frequently of God as a loving and caring father who has a deep concern for the welfare of his people.
“Look at the birds of the air,” says Jesus; “they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). Jesus assures us that our Everlasting Father will be with us and will take care of us, because God loves us, and Jesus calls us to love God.
Why should we worship God? Have you ever asked yourself that question? God’s power may cause us to fear God. Many religions have this worship out of fear. That is why they tossed virgins into volcanoes; that is why the Aztecs ripped out the hearts of thousands upon thousands of prisoners on their altars; that is why the Canaanites murdered their own children—out of fear of God’s anger and power.
But though fear may force us to worship, it cannot cause us to love. Jesus taught us that the kind of worship God wants is not a worship of fear, but of love. God is not a monstrous tyrant; God is a loving father.
And Jesus and the Father are one God. Jesus said, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. Jesus is our Everlasting Father, and when we are worried, when we need an image of a loving parent, we have only to look to Jesus.
Finally, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The mission of Jesus is to bring peace, prosperity and well-being to all people, and he challenges us to work toward the very same goals.
As American patriots, we sometimes confuse the interests of our nation with the interests of Jesus, or, in our selfishness, we assume that our own sense of security is must be God’s major concern. We need a vision correction. We need to make sure that we have put on our Jesus Eyes.
To see eye to eye with the Prince of Peace is to live “with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:7). It means to embrace these virtues in our personal lives, in our community involvement, in the way we treat strangers, and in the way we practice our politics. It means that we see the world as a place that needs more peace, more justice and more righteousness, and that our mission as Christians is to push toward these goals in whatever way we can.
When you put on a new pair of glasses, you see the world in an entirely different light. This is true for a pair of shades, and it’s true for the new Argus apparatus. But most of us do not need Argus. We need a different kind of seeing. We need the eye of Jesus to give us a new vision and new light as we make our way through the darkness. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 02/27/06