31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 19, 2017
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Times were tough in ancient Israel, when our scripture reading from Isaiah was written. Just the promise of there someday being no gloom points quite clearly to the fact that this was a dark and gloomy time.
There are lots of things that are gloomy. Much of the weather this past week has been rainy, gray, and rather gloomy.
The character Eeyore, from the Winnie the Pooh stories, is gloomy, with his fatalistic “nothing ever goes right for me” attitude.
The song “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” is gloomy, which is why characters from Princess Vespa in “Spaceballs” to Zazu in “The Lion King” to Will Smith on “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” to Beverly Goldberg on “The Golderg’s”, have all sung it to express their feelings in a moment of hopelessness.
None of those characters’ trials compare though with what the Israelites were going through. Gloomy is an understatement for how they must have been feeling.
The Israelite regions of Zebulun and Naphtali had been taken over by the Assyrians. The Israelites were an occupied people. Their cities and homes and lands had been devastated by the conquering Assyrian army; their loved ones deported; their lives lived every day in fear. Which is no exaggeration when you have been conquered by a king who came to power during a civil war, where he murdered the entire royal family. This was a ruthless man, and his army followed his ruthless commands.
When scripture says “the people who walked in darkness”, they really meant it. This was a very dark time for the Israelites. Our translation says “gloomy” however the word in Hebrew “moo-awf” meant that you were covered in darkness, covered in distress.
Covered in darkness, covered in distress. Imagine someone took a large, heavy blanket and covered you with it. You would not be able to see. You would not be able to breath well. You would not be able to move. And most of us, when we find ourselves in any of those situations, not able to see, breath, or move, become very anxious and afraid. Panicked even.
And according to the theories of neuroscientist, Dr. Paul MacLean, when we are anxious or afraid, we start to think out of our reptilian brain, the part of the brain that is only concerned with eating and being eaten. There is no room for problem solving in the reptilian brain; there is no room for love, peace, or joy; and there certainly is no room for hope.
The Israelites were a people walking in darkness, covered in gloom and despair. There was no way out. There was nothing they could do. There was no hope.
Have you ever been in that place? Have you ever felt trapped by the darkness, covered in gloom and despair?
Many in our world feel that way. Those who are clinically depressed often speak of it as being at the bottom of a dark, dark pit with no way to get themselves out, and no will or energy to do so either. Domestic violence survivors would say something similar. They are trapped, and while they have the will, they also know that to leave might guarantee their deaths. There are those who live in the darkness of addiction, being taken over and occupied by alcohol, heroine, or prescription drugs.
The Israelites were not the only people walking in darkness, covered in gloom and despair. The Pilgrims as they sought to survive in this strange new world. The Africans who were kidnapped and forced to find a way to survive in this strange new world. The people all over the world who live in war zones or whose rulers are as ruthless as that Assyrian king of long ago.
We are a people living in darkness, and that could be the end of the story. Paralyzed by distress, unable to see or breath, totally without hope. That could be us. That was the Israelites – and then into that darkness were spoken these words, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2b)
And in this poem recorded by the prophet Isaiah, the author promises three things to the Israelites living in darkness: that God will release the people from their oppressor, that God will destroy the battle gear, the equipment the army uses to do harm, and God promises a “Prince of Peace”.
Actually, God has already done these things. “For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken” (Isaiah 9:4) “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;” (Isaiah 9:6)
You have broken. A child has been born, a son given to us. On them, light has shined.
On us, light has shined.
We most often hear this poem from Isaiah during Advent or on Christmas Eve. We most often hear these words as words of promise, words of hope, and they are very much that. We wait with promise, we look forward with hope for the coming Messiah, for Jesus, who is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of peace. We eagerly anticipate the day when there shall be justice and righteousness as well as endless peace.
This poem from Isaiah is one of promise and hope, and it is also a poem of thanksgiving, a song of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for what God has already done. Thanksgiving that we already have a savior. Thanksgiving that we have already been freed from that which oppresses us. We are a people who walked (past tense) in darkness and now we walk in the light.
There is something miraculous about the act of thanks giving, something changes in our hearts and lives when we focus on our blessings, the good things that are ours.
Focusing on the positive, focusing on our blessings, focusing on what God has already done and will continue to do starts to make a tear in that covering of darkness, starts to make a rip in that heavy blanket of despair. And the light starts to come in. The hope starts to come in; the joy and peace start to come in; the love starts to come in.
This Thanksgiving, if you have been feeling gloomy, in a funk, or walking in darkness, don’t sing, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen”. Count your blessings. Even better sing your blessings. God has already freed us from our oppressors; God has already destroyed the instruments of war and hatred; God has already given us a Savior, a Prince of peace.
And as you gather around the Thanksgiving table this week, pay attention to others who might be feeling gloomy or walking in the darkness of despair and walk with them, faithfully carrying the light of Jesus Christ in their darkness. Sing a song of harvest home, of God’s abundant love to them, until the time when they can sing a thanks giving song themselves.
“Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving to God our Creator triumphantly raise; who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us, by guiding us on to the end of our days. God’s banners are o’er us, pure light goes before us, a pillar of fire shining forth in the night; till shadows have vanished, all fearfulness banished, as forward we travel from light into Light.”
Jesus is the light of the world, as you follow him, you will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12) Thanks be to God!