If there’s one thing that every Christian can say with full confidence, it’s what the choir just sang to us: “It’s gonna be all right.” That’s what the prophet Isaiah is saying to God’s’ people. I invite you to open your Bible to Isaiah 60:1-3. This is a classic Advent text. I encourage you to read the whole chapter. We’re going to hear the first three verses:
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord shines over you. For look, darkness will cover the earth, and total darkness the peoples; but the Lord will shine over you and his glory will appear over you.
In other words, it’s gonna be all right. That very statement implies that sometimes it’s not all right. Isaiah is neither an optimist nor a pessimist. He is a realist. There are times when “darkness will cover the earth”—times when your life will be plunged into dark bogs and miry pits and shadows so deep you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You know what that darkness feels like:
- I’m afraid it’s cancer.
- I want a divorce.
- The in vitro process didn’t take.
- There’s been an accident.
- We have your son in custody.
- There’s something wrong with your baby.
- Your wife is dead.
- We have to foreclose on your house.
Darkness. Shadow. A long tunnel of grief. A deep cave of despair. Dark as a moonless night. Is there any light to be found? Shadow can cause you to see scary things that aren’t there. Darkness can blind you to hope.
I remember one of my experiences with darkness. I had a lengthy surgery earlier in the day. I was hurting and struggling and just wanting to finish the day. About 5:00 in the afternoon I took a pain shot which helped me drift off to sleep. When I awoke, it was dark, but I figured it had to be almost morning. I was so pleased I had made it through my first night. “Thank You, Lord,” I prayed. “Just to get that first night over with. Thank You, Jesus.” As the nurse passed by after tending to my roommate, I asked, “What time is it?” She looked at her watch and said, “It’s 9:00.”
“You’re kidding,” I groaned. “Better stick me again or I’ll never get through the night.” So she gave me a pain shot, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “You’re going to be all right.”
And if you know Jesus, that’s what he’s saying to you in your darkness, “It’s going to be all right.”
That’s what Isaiah was preaching to Israel. The people to whom Isaiah is preaching knew something of darkness. Isaiah may be visioning Israel on the backside of exile. They were home now, but the exile was still fresh in their minds. They came home to a Jerusalem that still laid in ruins: its gates battered in, its walls knocked down, even the glorious temple of the living God looted, toppled, and burned to a pile of ash by a bunch of pagans. It still wasn’t all right, but Isaiah envisioned a day when it was going to be. Listen to God’s message through the prophet in chapter 60 …
It’s gonna be all right. It’s dark now, but the light is on the way. Your best days are ahead of you. Your light is going to shine so bright that nations and kings will be drawn to it. Your sons and daughters will come home. Your economy will boom. Your livestock will multiply. Your worship will be pure. Foreigners will rebuild your city. Your enemies will be destroyed. You will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and Redeemer. No more violence. No more destruction. You’ll call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. And I will be so bright among you that the sun and moon will be embarrassed to show their faces anymore. For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your sorrow will be over. It’s gonna be all right.
If you know the story, you know that God didn’t bring these promises to pass right away. The people lived in exile for 70 years. And when God got them home, things weren’t nearly so glorious as they anticipated. There were still pockets and seasons of darkness for God’s people to endure. God doesn’t always make things all right immediately. He lets us live in the darkness for a season. There are things we can only learn in the dark. Faith can be tested and grown in the dark. The dark can motivate needed change in our lives. Don’t be afraid of the dark. God does some of his best work there.
And the best work God ever did was when he finally sent Jesus into this dark and broken world. Messiah-Jesus and his salvation mission of cross and resurrection was no last-minute thought on the part of God. God promised Messiah centuries before he came. Our prophecy in Isaiah is part of that promise: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord shines over you.” Translation: “Messiah is on the way.” So sure was the promise that Isaiah could speak of it as if it had already happened. It hadn’t happened yet. Centuries would pass before it did. But Messiah Jesus finally came—the Light of the world in our midst.
“Oh yeah?” some of you are thinking. “The world’s still a pretty dark place if you ask me.” No argument here. The world is still dark and broken in so many ways. Sin sits on thrones. Disease wrecks health. Selfishness wounds relationships. Satan wreaks havoc on the earth. There’s still a lot of darkness in the world, but imagine how much darker it would be had Jesus not come to bring his light.
Wayne Dehoney tells of a preacher who was sitting in his study working on his Christmas sermon. He was having a hard time coming up with a fresh way to tell an old story. Down the street he heard some carolers singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He closed his eyes to listen, and drifted into a dream. He dreamed he was going to give his Christmas Day sermon at the church. He left the house with his Bible under his arm and started for the church. He noticed an eerie sight—the houses were dark, no lights in the windows, no Christmas trees, no wreaths on the doors, nothing. He walked past some stores and there were no presents in the windows, no decorations of any kind—just everyday stuff. This was getting weird. Finally, he rounded the corner to go up to the church, and to his surprise there was no church—only a vacant lot. He looked down the street and couldn’t see the steeple of a neighboring church either. There were no churches. Not a one.
In a daze, he started back home. As he did he stumbled onto a man lying in the snow. He was half-frozen. The preacher tried to revive him, but couldn’t. So he picked him up to get him over to the ER at Baptist Hospital. But there was no hospital—just another vacant lot.
Now in a panic, he made his way home but a child stopped him: “Please, sir, help me. My daddy is dying!” The preacher followed the boy to his father’s bedside. He opened his Bible to read him John 3:16, but the page was blank. There was nothing about God sending His Son. Nothing about the love of God for dying man. Nothing about the hope of eternal life. The preacher left the man to die without a word of hope.
And later when he stood over the man’s grave, he started to read the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” But those words weren’t there—only blank pages. The best he could do was turn to the Old Testament and read, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If a man dies, shall he live again?” No hope in that, but it was all the preacher could offer. His Bible ended at Malachi. Everything else was gone. Most of his library—gone. Half of the pictures in his home—gone. And he was left to live on his own and in his own power without the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. Without the light and hope of Jesus, one promise the preacher could never make is this: “It’s going to be all right.” Who knew for sure? Life without Jesus is not only dark, it’s a crap shoot—sometimes you roll eleven, sometimes snake eyes.
It’s a dark world. You think Bedford Falls would have been a mess without George Bailey? But how much darker would the whole world be without Jesus? That’s what we believers have in our seasons of darkness. We have Jesus. And we have the promises—not the least of which is this promise: the Jesus who came in Bethlehem, who died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to the Father in heaven and who sits on the throne at the Father’s right hand, is coming again to put an end to the darkness altogether. Isaiah envisions far more in our text that Israel’s return from exile. He’s looking out to the end of days. He’s seeing the gathering of all God’s people in great celebration and victory. It is that promise to which we cling in the darkness of this post-Christmas world: the light is on the way. Just as God kept his promise to send Jesus the first time, he will keep his promise to send Jesus again … to finish what he began, to extinguish every inky spot of darkness, and to shine so brightly among his people that the sun and the moon can retire forever.
In the meantime, here’s how we can live in the present darkness …
We can wait in hope. And our hope is not just wishful thinking. Christian hope is not, “I hope I get a bike for Christmas.” Christian hope is, “I’ve seen the bike hidden in the corner of the garage.” We have the sure and certain hope that God keeps his promises, that the light will come, that darkness does not get the last word. The last word is light! We can wait in hope.
We can also bear witness to the promises kept. We can share the good news that God sent Jesus just as he promised, that Jesus is the light of the world, and that Jesus can bring his light into anyone’s darkness if they will turn to him in repentance and faith. You don’t have to wait for that: he can do that now. In the present darkness we can bear witness to the promises kept.
And we can also do this: we can worship the Promise-Keeper. Psalms is the worship and prayer book of Israel and the church. It’s interesting that anywhere from 65-67 of its 150 psalms are laments: moan and groan, woe is me, life stinks, kinds of psalms. It is also interesting that every one of those lament psalms except one ends in thanksgiving and praise. Living in our current darkness doesn’t mean we can’t worship. Worship orients us toward the big story and the truth. Worship teaches us to sing in the dark. Worship gets our head and our heart right. Worship provides flashes of light, glimpses of glory, even in our deepest darkness. Even though Jesus may not quickly bring us out of the darkness and into the light, he is quick to bring his light into our darkness. In our darkness, we can worship the Promise-Keeper. We can pray and sing our way to thanksgiving and praise because, as the old hymn, renders our Isaiah text …
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.
It’s gonna be all right.
On August 5, 2010, the earth rumbled, Chile’s San Jose mine collapsed and 33 miners were trapped 2300 feet under the surface of the earth. Left in the darkness of the bowels of the earth, they assumed they were goners. But they didn’t give up the fight. They had some cans of tuna and some cookies. They divided a tuna can into 33rds once each day—everybody got a sliver. They used dirty work water to drink. They managed to survive on those skeleton rations until August 23 when rescue workers were able to deliver some food and clean water through a small probe they were able to work down to the trapped miners.
The miners spent 69 days in that dark hole before rescuers brought them all to safety. After the rescue, they learned of a number of miracles that happened during their ordeal. There’s a song: “God will make a way when there seems to be no way.” God did that more than once in that 69-day rescue effort. The trapped miners began every day with a little prayer and worship service. Their darkness drew them all toward God and his light. It no wonder that as everyone celebrated the rescue of the 33 miners, many pointed to a higher power—a 34th miner— named Jesus who they say was with them all along.
I don’t know how dark things are for you right now. But you are not alone. Jesus is with you. Wait on him. Lean into him. Hold on to the promise. And when the time is right, he will enter your darkness, turn on the light, and it’s going to be all right.
Preached: December 3, 2017
First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR
John Scott McCallum II