Sermon on Isaiah 9:2-7 – A Christmas Eve 2018
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. You 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. For 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. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His 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.
+ Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes I like to imagine what it would be like to watch the Vikings win a Super Bowl. It would happen something like the victory over the Saints in the playoffs last year, with some fantastic last second play to secure victory over either the Patriots or the Steelers—I’d be happy with either. The team would storm the field in joyous exaltation, the opposing team would hang their heads and slowly shuffle off. Kirk Cousins would lift the Lombardi Trophy over his head while his teammates lifted him over theirs. It’s a glorious scene. In my head, that is; I don’t anticipate ever actually knowing that feeling. But imagining it is a form of torture I’ve come to enjoy inflicting upon myself.
The Prophet Isaiah uses a similar image in the lesson we read this evening. He says that the LORD has increased the joy of his people and that they rejoice before him “as people exult when dividing plunder.” The common theme here is one of victory. The thing about victory is that it’s typically something you enjoy over someone else. That is, your victory is someone else’s defeat.
I once had a job working for an abusive drunk at a fertilizer plant. It’s the only job I’ve ever quit without giving notice. When I quit, it involved me telling him off in what I thought was rather glorious fashion, walking off the property, and never going back. I won’t tell the whole story now because it’s a story I probably enjoy telling a little too much (also there’s quite a bit of profanity involved). But the reason I love telling it is because even though I had to deal with months of abusive behavior from my boss, in the end, I got the last word—I won. He lost. It was awesome.
That is, in fact, half the fun of my little Vikings fantasy. Because as much as I would enjoy seeing my team celebrate, I would also absolutely relish the sight of Tom Brady’s (or Ben Roethlisberger’s) face falling as he realized that he’d been beaten. As the great prophet, Conan the Barbarian so wisely said when asked “What is best in life?”, “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women.”
That’s one of the most troubling things about our desire to win in this world. Winning can be a good thing. It feels great. And if you’re working toward something good you certainly want to win. But at times it seems like, even more than the actual winning, we enjoy hurting the opposition. We like to see the people who disagree us—whether it’s in personal disputes or work disputes or political arguments or religious disagreements—humiliated and destroyed. Like that old comic with the two dogs wearing expensive suits, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars in some fancy club. One of them says to the other, “It’s not enough that dogs succeed, cats must also fail.”
“You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you…as people exult when dividing plunder.” You can’t divide plunder without doing some plundering. And yet this language is used by the prophet to talk about the kingdom of everlasting peace that the God promises to bring in Christ Jesus. The promise in this seems to be that somehow, in Christ, we’ll experience the joy of dividing plunder —of victory—without lording it over another, without standing in conquest over a loved one or a neighbor or a foreign army, or Tom Brady.
Because here the enemy isn’t any of these common foes. Here the enemy is the warfare itself—not just the kind of thing that we’ve had going over in Afghanistan the last couple decades, something from which we’ve been mostly insulated—but the warfare we wage in our own lives, in our own relationships and workplaces. In Christ we’ve been promised a peace in which we can all share together. A peace and a joy and an exultation that all the victories we could even win, and all the plunder we could ever divide, in this old world could never produce.
Because Christ has conquered that final enemy: the strife and divisions and hatred—the death—that we cling to in this old world. He has taken it on himself and promised to give you a new life of peace in his kingdom. For he has come for your sake, begotten of the Father, born of a woman in a cattle stall.
“For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child is born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace.”