Summary: God’s people can hope for deliverance, because God guarantees it.
“For Unto Us a Child is Born”
INTRODUCTION: It’s an unlovely tree in an unlikely place with an unmistakable message.
The tree sits along Interstate 30 just outside of Fort Worth, Texas. It is a mimosa tree that appears lifeless, except at Christmas. Each December, for the past ten years, the tree has been decorated, its scraggly limbs bearing a few ornaments and a garland.
The original decorator was a homeless woman whose health has prevented her from the task for several years. Other hands have carried on the work ever since. "Everyone sees it, but no one knows who does it," said one woman.
Sitting on an isolated hill absent of other vegetation, the existence of the tree itself is a bit of a mystery. When gardener Neil Sperry first spotted the tree, he was surprised because a mimosa tree should not be growing in such a place. "It’s just a God thing when a tree grows where it’s not supposed to grow," he said.
Passersby say they have never noticed a single leaf on the tree, but every December life blossoms in the form of a few Christmas decorations. Jodi Hodges, a member of the Texas Department of Transportation, acknowledges that the decorations are technically not permitted on state property. Hodges says, "We have motorists call in thanking us for the tree, and we have nothing to do with it. It’s just a mystery…. It’s just a tree mysterious people decorate. It gives us hope."
I. While in darkness, we can hope for deliverance (1-3)
A. The context for Isaiah’s vision the devastation of the northern lands, about 733BC.
1. The land of Naphtali lay along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and extended northward; that of Zebulun was west and southwest of Naphtali, midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean.
2. These areas were the first to fall to Assyria. Under Tiglath-Pileser III, (sounds like a Klingon name, doesn’t it?) the Assyrians invaded, the people were deported, and their lands became Assyrian provinces.
B. In the first hurt of seeing homelands alienated and fellow-Israelites carried captive, people would have looked to the prophet Isaiah for a word from the Lord.
1. Like the aftermath of 9/11—people seek a word from God
2. Isaiah prophesied that where darkness had fallen light would shine Those walking in darkness can see the light ahead and are sustained by hope.
3. God’s people are a people of hope. For the present we know that God is with us. For the future we await the day when the hiding of His face is past and His promises are fulfilled.
4. This hope is sure. In Hebrew, these verses are couched in past tenses. Isaiah writes the future as something which has already happened, so confident is he in the mighty acts of God: “Look forward to it, it is certain, He has already done it!”
C. APPLICATION: God’s people see gloom and distress but affirm that, real though it is, it is not the final reality. As always, we must decide what reading of our experiences to will live by:
1. Are we to look at the darkness, the hopelessness, the dreams shattered and conclude that God has forgotten them?
2. Or are we to recall His past mercies, to remember His present promises and to make great affirmations of hope?
3. Isaiah insists that hope is a present reality, part of the constitution of the now. The darkness is true but it is not the whole truth and certainly not the fundamental truth.
D. ILLUSTRATION: There are many Christmas lights on our block, as there were in MN. One house in MN kept their Christmas lights burning long after the season was past. They burned through January. Even through the first of February those outside lights burned every night. Finally, about the middle of February neighbors became a bit critical and grumbled. But about the middle of March there was a sign outside that house that explained why they’d left the lights on. It said simply, "Welcome home, Bobby." That family had a son in Iraq, and they had left their Christmas lights on in anticipation of his return. Lights are a symbol of hope.
II. While under oppression, we can hope for deliverance (4-5)
A. Isaiah gives two historical references in v.4.
1. First, vocabulary is used which recalls the exodus from Egypt, which offers a background to the coming child.
2. Second, the defeat of Midian (Judges 6-8) is remembered. This is apt, for Gideon was in particular the deliverer of Naphtali and Zebulun, and the narrative labors to emphasize the victory as an act of God, excluding human glory.