When I was a wee little lad I suffered a recurring nightmare which I have never forgotten. In this terrible dream, all is darkness. Darkness is everywhere. There is no light and there is nothing to see around me, at least nothing that I recognize. At some point in the dream, a large, thick rubbery, grayish blanket descends to cover me. At this point, I am so frightened and panicked that I wake up. I’m convinced that waking up in the middle of a nightmare is one of God’s wonderful blessings. I have no idea why we have nightmares. I certainly have no understanding of what purpose they serve. Perhaps that’s better left to those who study them.
But when I read this morning’s passage earlier this week, I was immediately reminded of that awful dream. I’m just glad that it didn’t come back this week in my dreams while I was thinking about it. It seems as though something very similar has come upon the people of God. A shroud of darkness and death has descended upon them. And if they are not absolutely terrified of this pall of death and darkness that has settled on them, I would be very much surprised.
If we were this morning to look back at chapter twenty-four, we would discover the source of this miserable situation. Chapter twenty-four reads like a terrible nightmare. Its the stuff of a horror movie. Nothing is right, all is wrong, the earth is desolate and under a curse of destruction. Here’s just a sample of what we could read in chapter twenty-four: “The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left.”
That’s scary stuff, but its not the scariest stuff that we could read in chapter twenty-four. It gets worse, much worse. I chose to quote that section though, because it clearly indicates that the stress that the earth is suffering is directly related to the sins and the transgressions of the people living on it. In the Scriptures, and especially in the prophets, there seems to be a direct correlation between the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of the people and the health of the planet. Sin is destructive not only to us as human beings, but also to the entire cosmos. Our sin has far reaching consequences.
But when we come to chapter twenty-five, a fresh wind of hope begins to blow across the face of the earth. And that’s why I’ve chosen all Easter hymns this morning. Generations of violence and hatred have brought devastation to the land as an inevitable consequence, but the Lord is about to change all of that. God is about to bring about a great and glorious reversal of this frightening and devastated situation. A broken and spoiled land with broken and downhearted people is about to be redeemed.
The shroud of death and darkness, that heavy rubber blanket, that pall of destruction and loss that has been cast over all nations, yea even over the whole earth, is about to be lifted.
And not only is it going to be lifted, it is going to be destroyed. The shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations is going to be obliterated, light is going to prevail, and death will be swallowed up forever.
This promise, this prophecy, can only be making reference to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ on this earth. At Christmas we sing of the power of light overcoming darkness, and at Easter we sing about our Lord’s triumphant victory over death. When Isaiah received this vision, he saw the fulfillment of these promises, even as he waited in a land that was plunged into darkness and suffering the thrones of devastation. And this morning, we stand in solidarity with the prophet. We have seen the light that Jesus brought to this earth, and we have become ambassadors of that light. Wherever and whenever we go, we bear that light, we bring that light to every place where darkness prevails. Jesus told us very plainly that we are the light of the world.
And we have witnessed our Lord’s victory over death. We know that God has swallowed up death forever, and so we no longer fear the prospect of our own deaths. We have been redeemed; we will live forever. Death has no power over us. We have received this as a promise; it is sure and certain.
And yet, like the prophet, we have seen these things, we have experienced a foretaste of them, and yet we await the final consummation. But we wait not with fear and dread, and not with sorrow and loss. We wait with joy and with thanksgiving.
This passage ends with a glorious and wonderful and awesome song. It is a song that should fill our hearts with joy while we wait. Here it is:
“Lo, this is our God; we have
waited for him, so that he
might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we
Let us be glad and rejoice
in his salvation.”
But there’s more! There’s the promise of restoration of relationship with God that includes an amazing degree of intimacy. John of Patmos, who wrote the book of Revelation, saw the same thing that Isaiah saw.
God himself will be our comforter. God himself will be the one who soothes our griefs and sorrows. Like the ultimate loving parent, God will personally wipe away all of our tears. God will abolish our grief and remove all of our disgrace, for it is often our disgrace that leads to our tears. We know this, and God knows this. And yet redemption is complete. The tears are gone and the disgrace is removed forever. We are made whole.
And then, those who once lived in darkness are invited to a great feast. A feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. In chapter twenty-four, not even the wine was fit to drink. It brought no joy to the hearts of the people. It spoiled before it reached maturity. The spoiled wine was an apt metaphor for a land and a people who were languishing in despair and darkness. And now the wine serves as an apt metaphor for a land and a people who have been redeemed. Like the sure and certain promises of God, the wine has reached maturity. It has come to fulfillment. And it is good wine, clear and sparkling and a source of joy and celebration for God’s people.
Let us wait for that day with joy and anticipation. For this is our God for whom we have waited. This is the God who has destroyed the shroud of darkness that once covered us. This is our God, the one who gently and intimately wipes away every tear from our faces, and this is the God who swallows up death forever. Let us come to the feast, for it is our Lord Jesus Christ who invites us to this table.