By the time you read this column the first Sunday, and maybe even the second Sunday, of Advent 2016 will be past and you may be well aware that all the Advent and Christmas sermons at Lakeshore this year will be taken from the book of Isaiah. The Oxford Companion to the Bible tells us that “Isaiah is the first of the Major Prophets in both Jewish and Christian tradition. The book consists of sixty-six chapters. The book can be divided into five major sections and all except one begin with an attack on arrogance and an appeal for justice and culminate in a hymn or prophecy of salvation.” In that the words of the prophet are addressed to the people of God in times of national uncertainty and social upheaval, they often sound like they are intended especially for us.
In his lecture series Reading Biblical Literature: From Genesis to Revelation professor Craig R. Koester of Union Theological Seminary says of Isaiah, “Isaiah is one of the most widely read prophetic texts of the Bible. It’s rather long, and its contents are rich and varied, but perhaps the one feature that has contributed most to its popularity are its visions of hope. Of course, the books have scenes of outrage at injustice and hypocrisy, which in the prophet’s eyes are destroying society. Yet, the visions of hope also challenge the audience to resist the tendency toward despair – closing off the possibility of a different future.” Thus our theme for Advent of “Defiant Hope.”
On the first Sunday of Advent Minister in Residence Sydney Webster preached from Isaiah 2:1-5 and its promise that the time will come when our swords will be beaten into plowshares. It is a compelling promise but one that often seems so distant. The nations of the world are much more likely to be involved in arms races than they are in plowshares races.
The preaching schedule for the remaining Sundays of Advent, as we study the Defiant Hope of Isaiah is:
December 4 – I will preach from Isaiah 11:1-10. The title of my sermon will be “Don’t Be Naïve.” This text contains the promise that the “wolf will live with the lamb.” Those of us that quote it are often accused of being naïve. “That will never happen,” we are scolded, “get real.” However, Isaiah’s hope is not naïve optimism. It is a defiant way of life based in the promise that peace is the ultimate will of God.
December 11 – I will preach from Isaiah 35:1-10. The title of my sermon will be “Failure Is Not the Enemy of Hope.” This text contains the promise that the barren desert will become a verdant garden. Most of us are not strangers to failure. This text promises that failure, which is experienced as burning wilderness, is the raw material of hope.
December 18 – Minister in Residence Paul Keener will preach from Isaiah 7: 10-16. In this text the hope of Immanuel, God With Us, is announced. Of course, the promise of Immanuel is our strongest and greatest source of hope for it is the promise that we are never alone.
December 24 – Our Christmas Eve Service will begin at 5:00 this year. I will preach from Isaiah 9:2-7. My sermon will be “Fame Is Overrated.” In this text the hope is that “a child will be born for us…he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” It is noteworthy that this child was not Caesar Augustus, Quirinius Governor of Syria or Herod the Great but the son of Mary, the one born in a stable and placed in a manger.
December 25 – On Christmas Day I will preach from Isaiah 52:7-10. My sermon will be “It Comes Down to the Carols.” In this text the promise is that the people will sing for joy. We will sing many carols as part of worship this morning. I trust that the carols will connect us to the defiant hope of the prophet.