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. At some point though, in the dream, a thick, rubbery, grayish blanket descends to cover me. When this happens, I am so frightened and panicked, that I wake up. I am convinced that waking up in the middle of a nightmare is one of God’s wondrous blessings. I have no idea why we have nightmares. I certainly have no understanding of what purpose they serve. Even the great Clive Staples Lewis had troubles with understanding nightmares and he had this to say when considering his own childhood and his own experience of “…the terror of certain dreams. It is a very common trouble at that age, yet it still seems to me odd that petted and guarded childhood should so often have in it a window opening on what is hardly less than hell.”* Pretty profound, but still no answer.
This mornings passage makes a horrible allusion to my dream, or maybe it is the other way around. Something very similar has come upon the people of God. And if they are not absolutely terrified of this pall of death and darkness that has settled upon them, they very well should be. It is a horrid specter.
If we were to look back this morning at chapter 24, we would discover the source of this miserable situation. Chapter 24 reads like a terrible nightmare. It is 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 24: “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.” When Isaiah looked around he didn’t see a thing that brought any encouragement to his soul. Our world is bad, and it is getting worse by the moment. Death and destruction have both descended and settled onto our planet. The world desperately needs followers of Jesus Christ who will live in and proclaim God’s redemptive acts, especially as they are revealed in his covenants.
And so chapter 24 has some really scary stuff, and it is required reading for all who would hope to fully understand the good news of chapter 25. We don’t often think about the far-reaching consequences of our sin. Sin is destructive not only to our own souls, and to everyone else around us, but also to the entire cosmos. Chapter 24 clearly indicates that the trauma that the planet is suffering is directly related to the sins and the transgressions, and the covenant breaking of the people living on it. Failure to live in covenant relationship with God and with one another creates an environment in which death and destruction reign. We need only to look around us to know with a certainty that is is absolutely true. We need no lesson in this.
But when we come to chapter 25, a fresh wind of hope begins to blow across the face of the earth. God is about to act. And when God acts, glorious things happen, 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 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, the heavy rubber blanket of my nightmares, that pall of destruction and loss that has been cast over all nations and 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 coming promise, this prophecy, can only be making reference to the coming of Jesus Christ into our world. But it is not merely the coming of Jesus Christ that is eagerly anticipated, it is also the redemptive and transforming work that Jesus will accomplish while he sojourns on this planet. And, as we saw last Sunday, it is also the redemptive and transforming labors of all blind beggars such as ourselves, who once were blind, who now continue the ministry of Jesus.
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 both of these promises, even as he waited in a land that was still plunged into darkness and in the throes of devastation and loss, and death.
And this morning, we stand in solidarity with the prophet. We have seen the light that Jesus brought to this earth, and we know with a surety that the darkness has not overcome it. But perhaps we do not really believe that we, like our Lord, are the light of the world. Perhaps we do not realize that wherever and whenever we go, we must shine that light into every place where darkness lurks.
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 have been transformed; we will live forever. Death has no power over us.
And yet, like the prophet, even though we have seen these things, even though we have experienced a foretaste of them, we still 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 and with sacred anticipation.
This passage ends with a glorious and awesome and wonderful song. Listen to it with anticipatory joy.
“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 until that day, let us fulfill our calling to be and to become the light of the world. When God’s light shines into the darkness, it exposes all sin, all despair, all hatred, all bigotry, all self-centeredness and all division. These are some of the evils that plague our world today. But they can only thrive in the darkness.
When light shines, we can also see our way more clearly to minister to those who are left behind in this world. They include that familiar by now list of the poor, the outcast, the sinner, the blind, the broken, the sick and the lonely, and they all live in our neighborhood.
When all has passed, and when God’s work is done on this planet, all who have lived in covenant relationship with God are invited to a great feast. This feast is the covenant feast of God. This is a feast of rich foods
and well-aged wines, strained clear. Sadly, back in chapter 24, 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 good wine, the well-aged 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.
We still wait for that day when God’s great covenant meal will be served. But as we wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises, we celebrate a covenant meal that our Lord instituted in anticipation of that great meal that lies in our futures. The communion meal, modeled after the covenant that God made with his people in the days of Moses, provides a foretaste of that day when we shall forever be with the Lord for whom we have waited. This is our God. 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 feast, for it is our Lord Jesus Christ who invites us to this covenant table.
*From my handwritten stash of C.S. Lewis quotes that I have managed to amass. I’m not sure where I first read it.