Lent 4, 2017
"He Turns Darkness Into Light"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Living in darkness. That's what many people use to describe their battles with cancer, dementia, and depression. A man named Henning Mankell speaks about such darkness: "There are days full of darkness. When the voice I use to talk to myself is draped with mourning crepe. Days that are hard-going, depressing. Days when the only thing to do is to grit one’s teeth and force oneself to think different thoughts. It usually works. There are few days when apprehension gains the upper hand. I am usually stronger than the dark forces that are trying to drag me down into a spiritual abyss." Others that work with dementia often refer to that disease as walking through the darkness. The darkness of not knowing what is going on. The darkness of not remembering. The darkness of being alone when loved ones aren't recognizable. And darkness is used to describe depression...which many suffering from cancer and dementia battle through...Depression: "It’s like falling into a well or a deep dark hole and having no ladder to climb to help you get out of it. You get trapped in the darkness feeling cold and numb."
Most of you know someone or have battled or are battling one of these diseases. Each and every one of you battles the darkness and disease of sin. The nation of Israel that Isaiah was preaching and prophesying to certainly battled the darkness of sin. They had abandoned God for false idols. They rejected His Word and His prophets. Their priests were corrupt. Isaiah warned them that if they did not repent that they would become so spiritually weak that they would accuse God of being silent and absent...of abandoning them when they needed Him most. Israel would be sacked. Solomon's temple would be destroyed. Of those that survived...their families would be torn apart. Many would be taken slaves into Babylonian Captivity. The people did blame God for this. Many lived without hope. They were in the darkness of despair and couldn't be consoled.
Even though we, 21st Century Christians, know through Scripture the infidelity of the Israelites and their rejection of God...we can sympathize with their struggles because we struggle with the darkness of sin as well. We stumble and fail...we have questions and doubts... we blame others and even God. We are just like our forefathers...we are sinners.
In the midst of His people's spiritual darkness and impending punishment and captivity... God has something to say to His people then and for all time. "For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them." (Isaiah 42:14-16)
God waited for His people to repent. He was long suffering. He kept sending prophet after prophet. Now he cries out like a woman in labor. He warns His people of their impending punishment. Yet in the midst of the painful cries that our Lord makes... in the midst of these harsh words of law to ungodly people...is the joyous news of forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. In the midst of God's suffering through the punishment of His beloved children is the joy in the knowledge of the birth to come in Jesus. God promises to His people of all time that live in darkness that the darkness will be turned to light. God will do these things...even though His people do not listen...and reject Him...and turn away from Him to idols... God will not forsake them! He will not forsake You!
Even as we are often in Spiritual darkness and blinded by our own sinfulness...God does not forsake us. Even as we are unfaithful...God is always faithful. God continues to watch over and bless His people...even when they don't see Him or His blessings. Though the world was evil and corrupt... though His own chosen people rejected Him...God promised to restore His people; forgive His people; save His people. But when? How? God's people would be freed from captivity to Babylon. They would return home. They would partially rebuild the temple. But their true redemption and salvation would come much later.
"And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17-19, 21)
Jesus reminds us that He is "the light of the world. Whoever follows [Jesus] will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) This disease of sin and the darkness it brings is a battle...but it is not a battle between us and God. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Romans 6:12)
Many people trying to comfort others even in the worst of circumstances say "it's always darkest right before dawn." Dear brothers and sisters in Christ your dawn has come. Jesus Christ the light of the world has come. And although this Lent we seem to live in the darkness of our Lord's impending death...we know the end of the story; we live in the light of His resurrection. Jesus is the light which no darkness can overcome. Your sins are forgiven. Heaven is yours. Sin, death, and Satan have been defeated. The darkness of every disease...physical, mental, and spiritual has been defeated. And we shall be reunited with all the Saints...and there shall be no more sickness or disease of any kind. That is our hope and our confidence. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.