Child of Promise
Advent IV; December 24, 2017
We tend to see promise in every child. At the baptism of a child, we hear parents make promises and we remember the promises of God, but we especially think of the promise of a life in its earliest stages. When parents are disappointed in their children, it's for their having failed to live up to the promise they see in them. Now, be honest: parents sometimes are disappointed in their children.
What child was the Prophet Isaiah singing about? Was it Crown Prince Manasseh, the son of King Hezekiah? Or was it Hezekiah himself, perhaps at his coronation? Maybe it was the Prophet's own child. We don't know, but we Christians have for 2,000 years identified it with the Baby Jesus, and we hear a choir singing Handel's musical setting, "For unto us a Child is born…"
The Prophet has great hopes for this child: the child will be a peacemaker for the people of God and will uphold justice and righteousness. The child's vast authority will give him the power to enforce peace and justice upon the people. There is something very appealing about the possibility of someone who has the power to make everything right, to make those people shape up, to get things in order. I think we often vote that way and I know we often pray that way.
I suspect we get lopsided in the life of the church. I have said in my preaching that we have a mission to save the world, to rescue the world from its self-destructive course. And it's true; we do have that mission. But we cannot get far on that mission without careful attention to the Child of Promise, without incorporating into our own lives the life of that child. It is, frankly, easier to write Congress about peace than it is to make peace with that friend who has hurt you. It is easier to clamor that the government needs to provide healthcare than it is to look after your own health. It is easier to talk about grace than it is to be gracious. I personally am devoted to the Church's mission of social justice or, as the Presbyterian constitution puts it, social righteousness, but we can be legitimate advocates for justice and peace only when we are just, when we are people of peace.
The Prophet may have thought that King Hezekiah was going to establish and uphold righteousness and justice "from this time onward and forevermore." It didn't happen, and Manasseh his son was a nightmare. The child of promise would not be a ruler who would make everything alright. The Child of Promise was and is a light shining in the darkness. You and I want God to make the darkness go away, but instead God sent a light shining in the darkness.
The other day some of us were talking about nighttime and darkness. We talked of the nightmares that frighten, of hours of sleeplessness and worry. Daylight has its projects, its challenges and opportunities, its chores and demands. When all is dark and quiet and you cannot sleep, or your sleep is troubled by nightmares, then you and I need the light that Prophet promised: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." I confess to you that when I have those times, when I am lying in bed, awake and fretting, I'll sometimes just lie in bed and fret. Sometimes I'll get out of bed to read a novel or even to read philosophy (not because I'm hoping to be bored to sleep, but because philosophy puts things into perspective for me). I need to learn where my Light is. The Light that God shines on us through Jesus Christ is what gets us through the darkness. Partly I'm thinking of his teaching and his behavior, of course. But I'm also thinking of what he means to me, on how that light shines in my own darkness.
He means salvation. I really don't know what the future will bring, but I trust Jesus Christ to look after the future. Sometimes I worry about my own life but mostly I worry about the future of our church and of our nation and of the world. But Jesus Christ is my salvation.
He means peace. If I insist on my own way or if I carry a grudge, then there cannot be peace between people. I cannot always make things work out between people, but I can pray and I can struggle to live in peace. Jesus Christ is my peace.
He means joy. I know well that I'll never be good enough. From my childhood I have had constant reminders of how flawed I am, and as a pastor in the public eye I never lack for someone to remind me of everything that is wrong with me. But Jesus Christ accepts me and loves me. Jesus Christ is my joy.
Whoever the Prophet Isaiah had in mind, Jesus Christ is the true Child of Promise. In our darkness, we need his light of salvation, of peace, of joy. We have been singing about our need every Sunday this Advent, "Christ be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness." The Prophet said that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. That light is the Child of Promise, the Child whose birth we will celebrate tonight as he sleeps in a manger.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master