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What's the Point? ~ Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1: 6-13

Hope JOY star

When our son Jack was almost two–sometime during the first few months of our coming to Cleveland – he would, while sitting in his car seat, all of a sudden point straight ahead, indicating that there was something up in the sky, and utter “Uh!” We’d look to where he was pointing, but neither Deanne nor I would see anything.

“Uh!” Clearly he saw something we did not. After several moments of staring at the sky, we’d finally catch on that there was a plane up in the sky he was focusing on. But these planes he noticed were never obvious if you only looked.

No, the planes he pointed to were the tiniest specks on the blue sky, pin-pricks on the heavens. In fact, they were invisible, unless you were really attentive – or a two-year-old child.

This memory came to me this week as I was reading these passages from the prophet Isaiah and from the Gospel of John in these weeks when everything is pointing to Christmas.

Isaiah was pointing to the return from exile in Babylon and trying to communicate that what was unthinkable and unforeseeable – merely a speck on the horizon of hope – was going to happen.

Isaiah was pointing to the day when good news would be preached to the oppressed, and liberty would come to the captive, and prisoners would be released.

Isaiah was pointing to the impossible – the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor – the day of vengeance – which was going to be like no day of vengeance anyone could imagine – because instead of pay-back there would be comfort, garlands, oil and the mantle of praise.

Isaiah was pointing beyond the desert, beyond the wilderness, beyond the exile to the day when the ancient ruins would be re-built, and the ruined cities repaired.

No one could see it happening: a garment of salvation, a robe of righteousness, a wedding feast, dry earth bringing forth gardens.

Impossible, naïve, Pollyannaish, irrational, whatever. But Isaiah saw and pointed!

John the Baptist pointed to the coming of Jesus – the light of the world. He was a lone voice in the wilderness; “A candle in the wind”…. Or so it seemed. Because it was impossible to imagine that there would be light in those dark days of Roman occupation and oppression–no one could imagine it. In fact, it seemed as if things were getting worse, not better.

But John saw and pointed. John knew that something else was going on… that history had moved.

Today – right now – to you and to me, the word is humming with liveliness. Yes, into our world – for there is no other time, and no other place, and no other people – for this word to come.

God, do we need to hear these words of good news today! “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

The prophet points, the Baptist points, Jesus points beyond any present madness to something else breaking in.

And almost never in my life have I felt the living word come with such power. Isaiah, you and I are all anointed with a word, and a pointer finger!

John, you and I – voices in the wilderness – are appointed to point to the light that is in the world. A light that dispels the darkness!

If not us who, if not now when. We can no longer remain a people waiting. We are now a people pointing, pointing to some deeper reality and more profound truth that runs in, with, and under what we read about, and experience.

It is true as the verse of the hymn “This Is My Father’s World” sings: “Although the wrong seems oft so strong…”  And yet you and I have the temerity to stand in the midst of a troubled world and sing: “God is the ruler yet!”

There was a person who wrote these words before she died: “I am giving up the hope that the past could have been different.” Those are profoundly despairing words. It is devastating to be locked in remorse. To me that is a definition of hell.

For people who are grieving – and struggling through the darkest of times – it is hard to know what to say, and we have to be careful saying simple platitudes that do not help. Things such as  “God had a plan!” Or “it’s going to be okay.”

But as people of the Way – we do indeed believe that God has a plan. We truly do believe that “it is going to be okay.” But we honor and do not cover up the sadness – for even the sadness points to something deep – “Blessed are those who mourn.” As a community of faith we keep pointing to that truth that grounds us.

Isaiah calls my attention to the fact that you and I are shaped as Christians not so much by what has happened in the past (although the past is important) but by what we anticipate is on the way – by what we point to.

As followers of Jesus, it is not so much about “what has been” but “what will be.” And even if you, right now, are going through the worst of times, grieving mightily, holding burdens of sadness about those you love, remember…

You are in a community that is shaped by good news, by release, by favor, by comfort – the day is coming, there is one among us, here and now…. so let us as a community of hope support you.

There may be one among us – right here, right now, that is going to say what needs to be said, or do what needs to be done– may be it’s you.

Maybe it’s you who the Lord is calling to witness to what is hard to see, but which you have caught a glimpse of.

Maybe it’s you who knows that the time of release is near; maybe it’s you who can see the one who is to come. Maybe it’s you. You never know.

It is easy to look out and judge all that is wrong. It is necessary, mind you, to name what is unjust, what is broken, what is dead. But our primary call is not as a judge but as a witness to that which we believe is true – that the sparkle on the horizon is a light so radiant you will have to hide your eyes when you come face to face.

Did you read in the Plain Dealer last Sunday (Dec. 7) about “The Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word” and their founder Ms. Honey Bell-Bey?

“The Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word” are a group of young men who use poetry and the spoken word to combat stereotypes and mis-impressions of Cleveland youths. They study Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Kendrick Lamar. They hope to fly to France on Martin Luther King Day to share their vision of what young men can do! They are pointing the way!

Did you hear that Malala Yousafzai – the Pakistani girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban for wanting to go to school – won the Nobel Peace Prize? Oh, the light is shining.

Charles Blow of the New York Times in his article, “This is your moment,” writes that he was born in 1970 after the Civil Rights Movement. His knowledge of that time was more “pedagogical than experiential,” he heard stories – he didn’t live it.

But now, in this present moment of unrest and mistrust in our nation, could things get worse? Charles Blow writes; “This is a moment of civic awakening and moral maturing for a generation, and they are stepping boldly into their moment. Yes, they are struggling to divine the most effective way forward, but they will not accept being dragged backwards. It is a profound moment to which we should gladly bear witness!”

The light shines, the exile is over!

The prophet points!

Look ! Uh! 

Amen.

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