(watch here: https://youtu.be/VoK_sGIrk1o)
1But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 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 onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Going into a week when many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, we are again called to reflect on all the many blessings God has bestowed on us over the last year. Our God has been good to us, each one of us. Our God has been merciful to us. Our God has been gracious to us. Exactly how He has been good and merciful and gracious differs between each one of us but we all have something to be thankful for. We all can go into Thursday with an attitude of gratefulness.
As we heard last week, it is important to have such an attitude if we are going to adequately celebrate the day. It isn’t just another day to gather and feast and watch some football or a parade. No, it is a day that leaders in our society designated as a day for giving thanks. It is a day to allow us to count our many blessings and go to God with thankful hearts. The prophet Amos condemned the people of Israel for worshipping God without thankful hearts. The people of Israel had gathered to feast and gossip and engage in business and entertain themselves, all under the guise of worship. They weren’t grateful. They weren’t selfless. They weren’t humble before our mighty God. No, they were a proud, selfish, ungrateful people pretending to give God thanks and God saw right through it. God saw into their hearts and could see that their worship wasn’t genuine and this greatly angered our God. He gave Amos words of judgment and spite to speak to his beloved people and we are to heed his words in this time when we gather to thank our God. God knows whether we’re truly grateful or not.
Amos taught us that we need thankful hearts if we are going to adequately worship God and give him our thanks. The prophet Isaiah takes it one step further and suggests in our reading for today that we need remembering hearts if we are to offer our praise and thanksgiving. We need to not only remember all that God blesses us with but also why they are such blessings. A blessing isn’t a blessing without a back story. Good health isn’t a blessing without bad health. Good family and friends aren’t a blessing without bad family and friends. Good jobs aren’t a blessing without bad jobs. Wealth isn’t a blessing without poverty. All blessings have a back story, meaning a time when we were without. I can’t fully appreciate my good health and how much of a blessing it is if I haven’t first experienced bad health. I can’t fully appreciate my family and friends unless I remember a time when I had neither friends nor family or worse yet, had bad family and friends. I can’t fully appreciate my job without times of joblessness. I can’t fully appreciate my wealth without times of need. No, we need bad times to fully appreciate the good times. We need to remember the unblessed times to truly value the blessed times.
Beyond figuring out how God has blessed us in the last year, we are called into remembering why his blessings were blessings in the first place. Why was good health such a blessing for you this year? Why are your family and friends such blessings for you this year? Why is your job such a blessing? Your wealth? Try to remember why your blessings were blessings. The prophet Isaiah remembered for the people of Israel: “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…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.” The people of Israel were an oppressed, burdened people. Their land had split into two kingdoms: the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. The two kingdoms were in constant conflict, each trying to establish itself as the true kingdom of Israel. To make matters worse, its neighboring countries of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon were also attacking the two kingdoms. Israel was a struggling land, both within and without. It is no wonder its people were hopelessly lost in the darkness of their time.
Along came the prophet Isaiah who spoke words of hope and promise: they have seen a great light, light has shined upon them, the yoke/bar/rod has been broken. A son had been born to them, a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, a Prince of Peace. They were a people in desperate need of guidance and strength and love and peace. Why? Because their leaders hadn’t led them well. They hadn’t empowered them, loved them, defended them. The people of Israel were a broken people. God blesses them with “a son” who frees them from their oppression and darkness. Could they fully appreciate him without the oppression and darkness? Probably not, if they’re like the rest of all of humanity! No, they needed their darkness and oppression to truly value what “the son” had to offer. They needed to remember their bad times before they could appreciate their good times. Isaiah reminded them, and us, to remember before we receive. And not just what we’ve received but what made those blessings so special. For the people of Israel, it was the times of conflict and pain and suffering and aimlessness and doubt. What made your blessings so special?
Our God is a good, merciful, gracious God. We know this because we also know bad, hard-heartedness, and unkindness. We’ve experienced these qualities in those around us which makes God all the more special to us. Our God gives to us unconditionally and unendingly. Our God deserves our thanks and praise. Our God deserves our grateful hearts. When we gather this week, let us be sure to gather with grateful, thankful hearts. Let us remember the times when we were without; the times of bad health, the times of loneliness or hurting relationships, the times of joblessness or purposelessness, the times of poverty. In remembering these times, we come before God with truly grateful hearts. We come before God as He wants us to come before him—humbly and fearfully. All thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.