Isaiah Insights - The Gift of Light

Published: Monday, 28 November 2016

This sermon was given by Keren McClelland at Ashburton Baptist Church, on 27 November 2016. It is the first in our Advent series – Insights from Isaiah. Isaiah 2: 1 - 5

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The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." 

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! 

The gift of light - Advent 1 2016

Just a few summers ago 

on a 47 degree celsius day in Adelaide 


a farmer was travelling on a deserted main road

when he spotted a lone man walking alongside. 

The heat was barely manageable in an air conditioned vehicle. 

How long would anyone last outside in that heat?

He pulled over, 

reversed, opened the door and urged the man carrying a large pack to get into his ute. 

The European backpacker’s mind was addled from the beating sun. 

He was walking the road out of town trying to find his accommodation and protested he was quite ok. 

The farmer told him he was going the wrong direction for that particular backpacker’s hostel

and insisted the he would take him directly there.

It may be cool this morning but let us not romanticise light as the comforting gift of Christmas.

Not here in an Australian summer.

This is no tame, manageable God of light that we are dealing with. 

The same God who brings warmth and light in the darkest of winters

also created the blazing sun of black Saturday and those unbearable extreme days of 47 degrees.

Matthew 5: 44 - 45

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; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

This vision of Isaiah’s 

seen in our first Advent panel (with the mountain and desert)

is as much judgement as hope.

The prophet Isaiah has a thankless, 

unenviable task of waking people up.

This is no warm and cosy message - 

instead a confronting, searing light. 

God’s people are on notice.

The warnings are overwhelming:

get your act together! 

Walk in the light of the LORD.

We have four stunning pictures that were made with these Advent Isaiah readings (in 1993) which we will see over the next four weeks.  

It’s important to understand the context of these readings too.

Isaiah tells the story of God’s message 

around the time of the second great exile.

The nation is in dire straits.

It’s fracturing.

There are poor leaders in charge.

Imagine everyone harking back to the golden days with King David.

Nearby the Assyrian empire is booming.

It looms as a large and intimidating neighbour.

Over the following decades the cream of Israel’s leaders are taken. 

First the northern lands annexed.

Then Jerusalem, Zion, itself is ransacked.

The temple treasures and artworks are plundered and shown off in foreign galleries. 

These treasures are no longer items used in worship, but rather as playthings, or goblets for wine, in the foreign palaces (read the story of Daniel).

The wealth of the “great” nation under David and Solomon 

is flowing away, disappearing before their eyes.

Here is Isaiah’s message to the people feeling the 

heat of the judgment, 

to those still walking in the light of the LORD:

“In days to come 

the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; 

all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, 

"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, 

to the house of the God of Jacob; 

that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, 

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”

The nations will see Zion and stream like water to the mountain.

The Hebrew word is naharu. The nations will naharu 

toward the place of presence and worship. 

Water usually flows from a mountain 

just like Israel’s wealth has flooded away. 

The wealthy, powerful nations will flow to it, 

moving toward their high place.

There are two meanings of the verb naharu

"flow like a river," and "shine in joyful radiance." 

They will be transformed as they draw closer to God. 

They will become fresh, sustained, and a source of life and growth for the earth. We also see their joy and light as they celebrate divine presence on earth and receive, reflect, and radiate the light of God. 

( Anathea Portier-Young Commentary on Isaiah 2:1-5


Radiating this light is both judgement and hope, testing and comfort.

This is what the light shows up…

The wisdom from the mountain top,

the big perspective on how God judges:

He shall judge between the nations, 

and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 

they shall beat their swords into plowshares, 

and their spears into pruning hooks; 

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, 

neither shall they learn war any more.

Christmas time is not just the silly season

I often find it the ugly season.

Melbourne is a car honking cacophony  

where workers are under pressure to get things done before the holidays, where cutting corners creates bigger problems,

where family anxieties or tensions can surface 

and people feel their lack of belonging more keenly.

Pressure, change or crisis in the world makes people anxious

and stressed people often reach for the closest weapon.

Advent starts with dark or uncomfortable themes. 

I know of a church community that started with a black canvas and gradually over the weeks a picture emerged. 

Michael Leunig’s poem “love is born” reminds us this too.

This year at ABC (with Isaiah’s readings) 

we start this pilgrimage to the birth of Jesus

with a blazing desert and a mountain to climb. 

I wonder what and who we will discover on the way?

Isaiah reminds us in uncertain times

or in busy times

in troubled or desert times

to re-fashion and re-imagine 

our weapons into tools that create

rather than destroy.

To judge or arbitrate is to cut between and find the truth.

The sword becomes the plough.

The spear a pruning hook.

The shape is similar…

and they are still dangerous.

By giving up our swords and spears 

on retaliation, and violence, our own way,

by not buying into busyness or bullying,

we don’t lose our power. 

We invest our energy and resources 

in a different kind of work and transformation.

We channel our creative power into 

making things and growing things.

Knowing how much we are beginning to contribute to the extremes of climate (era of the Anthropocene), common sense calls us to re-arm with new technology to nurture life rather than extinguish it.

We use all our creativity to re-shape and re-cycle old materials into new implements that create rather than destroy.

So, let us plant, water, prune, plough, mulch

create vibrant communities

for all people in all seasons,

healing gardens,

productive farms,

shady havens for wildlife and people

and much more.

This kind of transformative work is the type of walking Isaiah calls us to “in the light of the LORD”. 

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Let me finish with Leunig’s “blessing of the flotilla” from last weekend, 

the launching of his naval fleet.

Notice Mr. Curly’s armed with a trumpet (or is it a microphone?) 

O come, o come, Immanuel, 

God with us,

take us from our grief, pain, disorientation

and restore your holy mountain, 

in us, with one another…

A blessing for each of us (by Jan Richardson - Circle of Grace, p.47)

Blessed are you 

who bear the light 

in unbearable times,

who testify

to its endurance

amid the unendurable,

who bear witness 

to its persistence

when everything seems

in shadow 

and grief.

Blessed are you

in whom

the light lives,

in whom

the brightness blazes -

you hear

a chapel,

an altar where 

in the deepest night

can be seen 

the fire that

shines forth in you

in unaccountable faith,

in stubborn hope,

in love that illumines 

every broken thing

it finds.

Together may we walk in this light of the LORD.

For further small group study: 

Read Walter Brueggemann’s - Chapter 5 “Four indispensable conversations” (From Deep memory, Exuberant hope). 

What speech resonates with you as the most important language to use in troubled times?