The Second Wednesday in Advent
December 8, 2010
Text: Isaiah 9:1-7
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the images of God’s presence is light. But light is also always connected to the forgiveness of sins. The tabernacle was constructed at the time of Moses. It was to be God’s house in the midst of His people. Central to it was the Ark of the Covenant which would be placed in the Holy of Holies. In front of the Holy of Holies was the Holy Place. This is where the Altar of Incense was located. To the left of the Altar of Incense was the golden lampstand - the Menorah. It had seven branches, each with an oil lamp on the top.
For Jews, the Menorah has a special place. About 150 years or so before the time of Christ, Judea was ruled by the Successor King Antiachus Epiphanies. The Successor Kings are the heirs of Alexander the Great, whose empire was divided between his generals. Antiachus was a militant promoter of Greek culture and religion. He was determined to stamp out the Jewish religion. He set up a statue of Zeus in the temple in Jerusalem and sacrificed, on the altar, 1000 pigs. This led to a revolt led by Judah Macabee. Miraculously, the Jews prevailed though they were greatly outnumbered. At end of the revolt Judah Macabee ordered the restoration of the temple. The rededication lasted for eight days. According to Jewish legend, though they only had oil enough to keep the lamp burning for one day, it burned for eight. This miraculous sign was seen as a mark of God’s approval of their independence movement.
Jewish independence was short lived. About a hundred years later, they came under the control of the Roman empire. The Romans installed their man as king - Herod the Great. This lust for political independence was still fresh in people’s minds at the time of Christ.
For the Jew, the Menorah, the temple lamp, symbolizes Jewish independence. Judah Macabee is considered their greatest hero. I heard this in a Jewish song on the radio. The restoration of the temple is the basis for the celebration of Hanukkah, which will end, for this year, tomorrow.
For the Christian, the Menorah, the temple lamp means something quite different. For us it is about forgiveness. God’s light is not just illumination. It is a light which purifies. It is a light which makes us clean to stand before God. Thus the prophets speak of God’s light coming. Isaiah speaks of the light first appearing in Galilee, in the land were the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali had once lived. This is a reference to the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. But what did Christ do when He started preaching. He forgave sins. In fact Christ made a big deal about forgiving sins. He went out of His way to prove He had the power to forgive sins. Many of His miracles were done to show that He has power over sin and all its effects. This is the light that Isaiah was talking about in our text.
Sin is often illustrated by darkness. We think of nefarious deeds being done in dingy establishments where nice people don’t go. That image can be good and bad. If we think that’s the only place sins are committed, we will fall into self righteousness. But if you think of your sins as figuratively putting you into that dive, you’ve got it. We want to deny our sins. One way to do that is to keep the world dark. We want to keep information private. Politicians have long desired to keep their actions hidden. But today the internet has become like a flashlight beaming into the face of the Washington rats scurrying for cover. But the light of Christ is different. It is light that exposes our sins and removes them. It is a light that makes us able to stand in the light. Christ Himself is that life giving light. His coming was about the forgiveness of sins. That is light indeed.
The Jews idolize the Menorah. They celebrate Judah Macabee and his rebellion in the festival of Hanukkah. In fact they have made this the central fact of Jewish identity. Their light is political victory. But such earth bound things are fleeting as the centuries have shown. The Jewish people have spent far more time in countries that are not their own over the centuries than they have spent in their own country. The true meaning of the Menorah is not found in political victory or in anything earth bound. The Menorah’s light symbolizes for us the forgiveness of our sins. That is the light that would be revealed by the sea and beyond the Jordan. Christ came and brought to us the light of the forgiveness of our sins. That is something far more important to celebrate.