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Isaiah 60,61: The Lord, the Dawn

Good morning, church. Please go with me, one last time in this series, to the book of Isaiah, and we’ll be reading from chapters 60 and 61.

This sermon is my attempt to summarize everything I’ve taken away from pouring over this book for the majority of this year. God help me. I’m going to get right into it this morning, read with me, starting in Isaiah 60, v.1. [Isaiah 60:1-5; 19-61:4] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.

Our passage pictures a final dawn, the sun rising at the end of the world, except instead of the sun rising that morning, Isaiah writes “the glory of the Lord” will rise upon us in the end, and it won’t be a light far-off like the sun, but among us. Even we will shine, he writes, the dawn within us.

And at first glance, it seemed to me like an interesting metaphor, the Lord rising like the sun, and Isaiah has certainly been poetic and beautiful throughout—but I’m not so sure it is a metaphor. If it makes sense to say, I think perhaps the sun has been a metaphor through all these long years of the world, our sun a metaphor of the dawning of the Lord in the end.

Here at the end of this series, I found myself remembering the beginning. Do you remember the vineyard of the Lord? That image was meaningful to me, seeing so clearly our own sinfulness as the people of God. We were meant to be a people that pleased God, a delight to him—and the world desperately needs a place and a people who aren’t like the rest of the world, places of health and peace and healing—but instead, we so often taste like the world. We have the same divisions, the same injustices. We curse each other, we hurt each other, we refuse to forgive each other. We taste just like the world, even after everything God has done among us to make us into something in which he could delight.

In general, I’ve just been blown away by the way in which Isaiah conceives of and talks about sin. We, in our culture today, get so focused on what we’ve done or haven’t done good or bad. We excuse our actions as though, if we aren’t guilty of any terrible crime, we’re basically good people and have solved the problem of sin in our lives. We have done things that are wrong, but that’s not the whole of what he means when he says we’ve sinned. And we’ve not done things we should have done, we are the good men and women doing nothing allowing evil to prevail, but that’s not the whole of it either. Sin is distance, between what the world was meant to be and what we’ve made it. It’s that the world needed a generation to reject the evil of their parents without just doing the same thing with a different face on it, to actually fix what was wrong, right injustice, finally stop lying to each other. To not just tolerate each other, but to love each other deeply and intentionally.

We needed a nation, or a generation to set us on some track other than war, and hatred, and shame. And there never was that nation. There was no generation who managed not to repeat the sins of their fathers, and that’s sin. We weren’t what we needed to be to make the world the place it should be, the place we all want the world to be, if we’re honest about the deep desires of our hearts.

The sun kept rising on humanity, year after year, promising a new day, but it never was a new day. And in the midst of his generation failing and falling, I find Isaiah’s hope inspiring.

He never loses hope in the kingdom of God. Even when his nation falls, the temple is destroyed, as he’s writing he just keep talking about a kingdom of peace, that welcomes in all the nations. Where everyone is provided for and justice is the norm. War is forgotten, people make tools out of weapons because they don’t see any use or purpose for weapons anymore.

Probably the topic through this Isaiah series which most affected my life, practically—the things I do, and not just my thought, was talking about the ways in which God is going to bring about his kingdom on earth. Speaking of having no purpose for weapons, he takes the weapons of the enemy and breaks them, refuses to use any of them. Death foremost. Shame. Violence and threats of violence. Oppression. This is how the enemy fights, it’s how he gains power in the world.

Over and over again, we see the kings and kingmakers of our world take up the weapons of the enemy to expand their power. She’s criticizing me? Call her a marxist. Call her a racist. Put her on blast on Twitter, use shame to weaken her until no one remembers the criticism. That person’s a threat to power? Force him out, make him leave. Backchannel and gain support until the opinion of the majority is with you. These are the ways of the enemy, and these are our ways because we’ve envied the power of the enemy, so we’ve used his weapons, trying to wield them to our purposes, but really the weapons of the enemy only ever work for the enemy. Regardless of the person’s goals or intentions when they use the weapons of the enemy, they really only even serve one master.

So I’ve been asking God to divest me of the weapons of the enemy. I would rather fail by doing the right things than succeed using the enemy’s methods. If there is any argument I’ve won by making the other person ashamed, let me go back and lose that argument instead. Apologize, try again. If there is any time I’ve gotten my way because of violence, heavy-handedness, manipulation, let me go back and give in, let them have their way. It would be better that way. In every place I’ve let louder voices carry the day, go and speak truth. Time, memory, truth-telling, hospitality, and a rescuing kind of judgement. It’s in these ways God’s kingdom will break through the present darkness until Christ, himself comes, until the Lord dawns. I wait for that day; I long for it; I have hope because of God’s promise to make the world right again, and to make me alive again to live in it when his kingdom is come.

Hope is important. Life without hope is a life in waiting, stuck. I lost hope a few times over the past few years, I’ll admit it. Phil’s faith never faltered, but mine has, and all I was facing was a sickness and a storm. Isaiah wrote to a people besieged and conquered, enslaved and made destitute. They planted gardens, and other people ate the fruit, people they didn’t know. They built houses, labored long years, and other families took them without payment and occupied them.

The whole time, Isaiah is hopeful. As the world about him grew dark, he was hopeful that one day the Lord would dawn instead of the sun, and instead of the world of the same, it would be the world we’ve always hoped we could one day live in.

Many of Isaiah’s readers would have spent time as young men, watching on the walls. Or as young women, waiting anxiously for him to come home from the wall or from battle, which is itself a kind of watch. Most of the time watching on the wall would have been monotony. I imagine bored young men pacing the city walls, talking in spurts as you came near each other, making up stupid games just to have something to do. But every generation would have their stories of the nights spent with enemies at the gates, where the dawn meant you had survived, that you would go home again after all and see your family.

I’ve never kept watch over a city. I don’t know what that’s like, to stand for hours staring into darkness trying to discern if there’s any danger in it for you or your friends, family. Some of us have, I know, worked security, and that’s a similar thing. We’ve probably all spent the night, or at least part of it, up waiting for something, worrying about something.

I’ve never kept watch over a city, but I’ve kept watch over a sick child. When AJ was little, over and over again, he would get these terrible respiratory infections, every time he got sick, even with a slight cold—which was the most part of my fear the past two years. I’ve spent nights listening to his breathing, weighing in my mind as it worsened through the night if it was time for the hospital, or to wake him up to give him meds, or to let him sleep. When the morning finally came, I knew I could wake him, sit him up to cough and clear his sinuses. In that kind of anxiety, the night stretches endless, and the light just before sunrise isn’t just light. It’s hope, itself, and life and survival.

I’ve also kept watch over a house. During hurricane Isaac, this was in 2012, Annie and I were living in a first floor apartment level with the ground, Uptown—in New Orleans we call them basement apartments, because usually you don’t finish out the first floor of the house. The hurricane kicked up in the evening, and we had already put everything on blocks, but I kept watch anyway, because we didn’t know how high the water would go, or if we would be able to do anything to stop it; I spread my blankets on the tile floor in front of the doorway, waiting through the night.

At one point, the water stopped draining out of our street, and when it reached the door I decided I needed to try something, anything, to try to save the apartment. This was in my motorcycle years, so I put on my helmet and jacket, like truth and a breastplate of righteousness, and I went out into the storm. At one point I did get hit by a large branch, and my helmet probably saved my life. If I were a cleverer preacher, there would probably be some point here about the helmet of truth saving you from the dangers of the storm. I waded into the street and found another large tree branch largely blocking the drain in front of our house, and when I pulled it up out of the drain, the water literally sucked down, like it was being pulled, and our apartment didn’t flood that year. But regardless, after that, I watched and waited, afraid it would flood again, until I could see light in the sky, then in the heat and the quiet I was able to sleep because that light meant we had made it through.

Have you ever thought about what it must have been like in the ancient world to keep watch on a wall in the rain, in a storm even? How much you would crave light and heat. I’m sure fathers bragged about those nights to their sons whenever they complained about something being too hard or unpleasant or taking too long. The ancient version of walking to school in the snow, uphill both ways.

When you’re watching through the night, dawn is not just dawn. It’s hope, itself, and life and survival. It means you’ve made it through the anxious difficulty and come out the other side.

“Lift up your eyes all around and see.” Isaiah writes, “Get up, for your light has come…The Lord [like the Sun] has risen…and the Lord will be your everlasting light.” Sometimes light is not just light. Sometimes your watch is ended, your duty done; you can go home and stay.

This passage, of course, is not just talking about the end of this book, this passage is talking about the end of this age, the moment, Christians believe, God himself will return and restore Earth to the way he always meant it to be. Imagine with me for a moment peace on earth. Not just the cessation of war, but real peace. The end of all wickedness, meaning the end of oppression and unjust rule. Every person made equal, every race, every nation, every language, seated at the same table.

This passage implies our lives on earth are a kind of watch, which I can understand. There have been many times in my life I’ve been bored with the monotony and just glad to have someone else with me; and as I’ve already admitted, there have been many times I’ve been anxious. I’ve felt beat down. I’ve mourned, seen people I’ve loved overcome by death. I’ve lost friends, and had jobs where I felt enslaved and abused, hated for things I couldn’t change. The older I get, the more I agree with Isaiah and understand my life as a watch. Not that all I’m doing in life is waiting, but I find myself longing for dawn. Not just another day, but another world, one that’s not so broken.

Honestly, as I’ve been thinking through Isaiah, and what I’ve taken away from this series, the main thing I’ve gotten from it is just a kind of longing. Longing for the world God is making, and any kind of glimpse of eternity I can get in this life. Which is to say, I’ve been longing for Christ.

Through this whole series, I challenged myself to stay in Isaiah, to keep our eyes on the promise rather than the fulfillment, so we could know what it meant to Isaiah’s people, this hope and longing for God’s kingdom to come. So we could learn in our lives to hope for the kingdom to come. But here at the end, as we go into advent and the year comes to a close, I want to look forward.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him,” in Christ, so in Christ we find the fulfillment of our hope, the fulfillment of the promises made to and through Isaiah. In Christ we finally find a savior, a man who is actually strong enough to do a new work in the world, to change it for the better.

We’ve been longing through all of our long generations on this earth for a generation of people who would do better, who would change the world in all the ways we knew it needed to change. A person who would bind up the brokenhearted, comfort the mourning, reunite us with the people we’ve lost to death or division, and proclaim, at long last, the Lord’s favor, that God would again look at the earth and say, “it is good.” This is what I had in mind when I labored to create it. These are the nations, these are the peoples, this is the peace and joy and life I wanted for my family.”

In Christ, all of our hopes find reason. He died because he knew death would break. He was put to shame so everyone could see the cruelty of shame. He made himself poor to proclaim good news to the poor. One by one he took the weapons of the enemy and shattered them. When he rose from the dead, the world changed for the better. After generations of death taking every last one of us down, here is one who rose again, and ascended. Asking the question, “Did we do enough to turn the story around, to undo the wrong?” Generations of “no’s” through the history of the world, and then in Jesus we finally hear a yes.

Yes, peace will reign. Yes, the hopeful one’s won’t be ashamed. Yes, your life can change. Yes, the world can be filled with beauty instead of sadness. Yes, there will be a new day dawning where instead of the sun coming over the horizon, it’s the fulfillment of the promise the sun has been making every day since it started on it’s course, the promise that God’s kingdom would come on earth, his will be done. Every person righteous, joyful, and free, without suffering, or oppression.

He’s the fulfillment of every promise, the anointed one bringing good news to we poor, we sinners. Yes, and my invitation to you today is to believe in him, that because God, himself, came, suffered, and died, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

My friends, believe and have hope. Lift up your eyes and see your salvation dawning in the world.