To introduce the 2017 Advent Season, I preached out of Isaiah 60:1-3. The first words from the first verse state, “Arise, shine!” The purpose of the sermon was to encourage my congregation not to fall into the trap of being deflated by these commands. The intent was/is NOT for us to think we have to “get up and get to work” to show the world what great Christians we are. The point is to free us, by pointing us to the reality that we don’t shine OUR light. We shine the light that has come upon us. The Light (Jesus) who has and will do everything for us.
Here is how I opened the sermon:
Several days ago, my family got in the car and drove around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights. Thanksgiving week had passed and many had gotten to work on their Christmas trees and homes, to celebrate the upcoming holiday. I guess maybe 40% or so homes had some sort of light activity to commemorate Christmas. We enjoyed seeing what others had done and how pretty some of the arrangements were, all agreeing that ours was by far the best.
It wasn’t long before I heard my kids giving letter grades to the houses we passed. One house would get a “C+!” another a “B-!” Every now and then I would hear, “Oh, that is an A!” Often I would hear “F!” Yes, my children are very judgmental and have strong opinions about how and whether or not a house is decorated for Christmas. I even found myself passing out some grades and criticizing the “Bah Humbugs” in our neighborhood.
But I got to thinking: “Why had so many people decided not to decorate their homes, yards, trees, with lights at Christmas?” Maybe they were still out of town from Thanksgiving and hadn’t had time yet. Maybe they got back from Thanksgiving with good intentions, but time with their family was so hard and difficult, they just didn’t have it in them to do it. Still others, maybe it had been a hard year. Maybe they lost a loved one and the thought of celebrating Christmas without them was horrifying. Maybe some simply cannot spare another dime this year, even if that means no lights or tree. Or, maybe being with aging parents at Thanksgiving again this year just took away all their Christmas spirit. . . at least for last weekend.
Some homes were stunning, beautiful, well-lit, festive. Others, a C+ at best. Still others, nothing. Maybe a kitchen light on, if anything on at all. According to the judges in the car, an “F-.”
I wonder what they think when they pull into their driveway and the house next to them is lit up like Clark Griswold’s? I wonder what they think when they drive by and see several homes on their street look really good and theirs is just a drab, dark, easy to skip over house? I wonder if they think, “I wish I could do something about it, but I just can’t right now . . . this year”?
You ever think about the witness you should be for Jesus? You ever walk by someone who is just eat up with the Christian spirit while you evaluate your own heart? You ever think, “Man, I should be doing ‘X’ like so and so is doing, but I just can’t.” You ever hear or read about what someone’s doing on social media – all in Jesus’ name – and think, “Well good for them!”? You ever wonder if certain people ever struggle with sin? You ever wonder why you can’t shine your light a little brighter or why your light won’t shine like someone else’s or why you don’t feel like shining your light in the first place?
That’s the feeling I get – if I am honest – when I read the first two words of Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine!”
Great. A plea from a prophet of God to get up and let it shine. I get a little deflated when I read that text. I get that sinking feeling I got when I went to summer camp as a kid and camp counselor came into the bunk singing, “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory; Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory; Rise and shine and – give God the glory, glory – children of the Lord.” I hate that song. I never wanted to wake up at camp. I never wanted to get out of bed at camp. I especially didn’t want to get out of bed when I heard that song.
“Get up! Matt! Shine that light!”
“Get out of bed you people of God! Shine on!”
I feel like an owner of a house with no lights on it, living next to captain smarty pants who has all the lights perfect.
Speaking to tired “churched” people, my aim was to cause the congregation to lean in a bit, hoping to lead them to the freedom found in the text.
How would you kick off a message from Isaiah 60?
How did you start the Advent season?