Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Endless, by the Rev. Joel Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH

December 19, 2021

 

The Book of Isaiah 9:2-7 (NRSV)1

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority[a] rests upon his shoulders; and he[b] is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

 

 

Haven’t we all experienced times felt [would] never end? Maybe there is the pained smile of surviving a business dinner that never seems to provide an appropriate time for you to bail out. Or the times you’ve felt so bad that you just want the day to end; for tomorrow’s promise to eclipse the suffering of today. Or perhaps you have worked hard your whole life for this one chance, this one opportunity, only to see the small window close: crushing your aspirations and dreams, along with your heart.

Friends, there are—without a doubt—many experiences we survive which seem to have no end in sight; they can quite often cast a shroud over our deepest hopes, plans—over the things we hold most dear. And, without attempting a false apples-to-apples comparison, can’t we see just how much of this associates “endlessness” with the negative, painful experiences of our lives? We might think, hey, why do only the awful things feel like they have no end? Why not have the joyful, fulfilling things easily feel so everlasting in our daily lives?

Indeed, what kid [doesn’t] wish [that] playing with a favorite toy [will] last forever? What child ever wants to leave a best friend’s [or] Grandma and Grandpa’s house? What adult wants their hard-earned vacation to end? Who [would] possibly want to witness the end of the love they have received? If I may be so bold, I’d hazard a guess that we don’t. We don’t want the love… the beauty in our lives to end. And, without a doubt, we do want the bad things—the injustice, the prejudice, anger, divisiveness, the danger—to end. Lord! have mercy. God [certainly] knows how much we want these bad things to end… Christ! have mercy. If not for ourselves, at least for someone else, maybe even for someone who may desperately need it more than we do. Lord! have mercy.

But this is us. These are the wants, longings, and desires of people. Flawed as we may be, each one of us has the hope that we matter; that what we do and who we are all will have mattered when all is said and done. Sure, we [understand] that toward one another we [often] behave poorly. We can hurt each other’s feelings [or] neglect one another. We can harbor deep resentment, implicit bias, or outwardly expressed hatred. We can even gather to oppress one another—not just once, but for generations, nearly to the point beyond memory.

Oh boy, how we’ve messed it up. I’ve messed up. You’ve messed up. The yous and mes of a decade, century, a millennium ago…we’ve all messed up, and in the process messed it up. With the Bible as our witness, we’ve been at this brokenness thing a long time.

You see, we want our joys, our fun time, to rein over the joys, even the [very] freedom, of others. Somehow, we come to think that only our positive experiences should be endless. And it’s so easy to deny it, to look the other way, to keep our heads down and duck when the messiness [and] problems of the world fly toward us.

But you know what? When we duck, that nonsense doesn’t just go away. No, it hits someone else straight in the face. Maybe they thought you’d be a real friend; that you’d warn them about the brokenness; that you’d even be brave enough to walk alongside them—if not taking the full brunt of it, at least providing some sort of shelter [or] some sanctuary for them. And why shouldn’t they expect that?

Friends, when we forget the problems of the beginning, we don’t easily remember them later. Buried in the hearts of those long since dead, the sins of brokenness go back to [the] first [book][c] of Hebrew scripture, when we thought we knew better than God. Tricked by the serpent? (See Gen. 3.) Possibly. But we sometimes lie to ourselves, don’t we? Maybe we want to be tricked, so we don’t have to feel the guilt of shamelessly neglecting our responsibility; we pull the wool over our own eyes.

In today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah,[d] we are met with one of what is largely considered to be the strongest references to the foretelling of Jesus [of Nazareth] as [the Jewish] messiah. Fans of Handel’s beloved Messiah will recall how the oratorio includes a well-known movement on this passage: “For unto us a child is born.” In his commentary on Isaiah,2 biblical scholar, [academic], author, [and United Church of Christ pastor] the Rev. Walter Brueggemann, Th.D., Ph.D., invites us to see in this passage a great Davidic newness. In the Church, we may not always see this passage through [its original, Israelite lens], so it may be helpful to be reminded of a few things here. (1) Isaiah is directing this passage to Judah—the southern people of what had become a divided kingdom. The “darkness” of Judah was the failure and injustice of the rule of Ahab. Thus, (2) the “great light” points to a new time when peace and justice would reign. Many[e] find that this passage refers to the future King Hezekiah. While this may point to Hezekiah, Brueggemann indicates that the passage need not be limited in connection to the great king alone. Instead, we witness that God, “through a human Davidic king, will create a wondrous new possibility for Judah that is unqualified and unconditional.”

While at the beginning we see mainly God as actor and creator of Judah’s newness, near the end of this passage we learn that “a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority[f] rests upon his shoulders.” A new king is to sit on David’s throne, “and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [To Christians] this indicates Hezekiah [as well as] in Jesus the Christ [later].

It also speaks to our present, where we may bear witness to God’s call for renewal. “…Even…rehearing with reference to Jesus is not exclusive. Alongside that, we may entertain many rehearings in which new human agents enact the light that shines in the darkness.” (From Brueggemann’s commentary cited below.)

Friends, while we do feel that brokenness will be endless (and that feeling is valid!), Isaiah reminds us that this is not something that is forever. God’s love and zeal to bring about good are as eternal as God. What does it mean to believe in God’s endless peace which only God can achieve? Well, for me it is a reminder that God works through people to achieve these ends. “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.” (Is. 9:7) The only thing that is endless here is the peace for the throne and kingdom. Note: not a peace that we want [made] of whatever we want—and certainly not a false peace that brokenness paints prettily. Rather, the endless peace which God achieves [by] those charged with the task [of bringing it]. It is sacrifice; it is hard! But the difficulty is not endless, [and they who are called will not be abandoned.] This true peace—this endless peace—will be established and upheld “with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Is. 9:7)

Sisters and brothers, bad things and bad times will end. They do not stand a chance [against] God. [Yet] we are not off the hook: God calls us to keep working; to keep working for tomorrow. May we follow the King; for someday, on God’s timing, that tomorrow will be always.

 

May it be so. Amen.

 

 

 

 

  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Brueggemann W. Isaiah 1-39. Westminster John Knox Press; 1998.

 

[a] Heb., misrah (government).

[b] The child is the future King Hezekiah, according to both Rashi and ibn Ezra in their commentaries on the Tanakh.

[c] That is, Bereshit; more commonly known as Genesis.

[d] Heb. translit., Yeshayahu (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ‎).

[e] E.g., Rashi and Ibn Ezra above.

[f] Lit., government.