First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720


Can You See It?

Sermon ~ Sunday ~ December 11, 2016 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Can You See It?

Isaiah 35:1-10

Well, here we are the third week of Advent! Can you believe it?

How did this come upon us so suddenly?

Well, Advent began the very first Sunday after Thanksgiving which isn’t all that unusual but couple that with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday giving us a full week of Advent after the fourth Sunday of Advent, it makes one feel like there has been a bit of a rush on the Sundays in Advent.
Not to worry. We’ve got 30 days of shopping before Christmas this year. Last year we only had 28. In 2017 we’ll have 31!! The merchandizers should be happy. Unlike in 1939 . . .

In 1939, the last Thursday of November was going to be November 30. (Lincoln’s Proclamation had actually set aside the “last” Thursday in November for Thanksgiving which in 1863 happened to be the fourth Thursday. 1 Retailers complained to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that this only left 21-22 shopping days to Christmas and begged him to push Thanksgiving just one week earlier. (Remember this was when most stores were closed on Sundays!) It had been determined that most people do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving and retailers hoped that with an extra week of shopping, people would buy more.

So when FDR announced his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1939, he declared the date of Thanksgiving to be Thursday, November 23, a week earlier.
The new date for Thanksgiving caused a lot of confusion. Calendars were now incorrect. Schools that had planned vacations and tests now had to reschedule. Thanksgiving had been a big day for football games, as it is today, so the game schedule had to be changed.

Political opponents of FDR and many others questioned the President’s right to change the holiday and stressed the breaking of precedent and disregard for tradition. Many believed that changing a cherished holiday just to appease businesses was not a sufficient reason for change. (Imagine that coming from Congress today! Not with the 1000’s of lobbyists business has in Washington!)

This idea of two Thanksgiving days split some families because not everyone had the same day off work.
And the question remained as to whether the extended holiday shopping season caused people to spend more, thus helping the economy. The answer was no. Businesses reported that the spending was approximately the same; the shopping was evenly distributed throughout the season. And for the most part, businesses experienced the bulk of shopping the last week before Christmas.
Lincoln had established the Thanksgiving holiday to bring the country together after a horrible war, but the confusion over the date change was tearing it apart. So on December 26, 1941, Congress passed a law declaring that Thanksgiving would occur every year on the fourth Thursday of November.

That was then, now, much to some’s chagrin, Black Friday has crept into Thanksgiving Day to the point where some stores are using the fact that they will not be open Thanksgiving day as a part of the good will advertising campaigns to get our support, portraying themselves as “caring about family time.”
And want more evidence? Look at the places Christmas decorations are going up as soon as Halloween is over. And if this isn’t enough we have “Christmas stores” open all year-round and Christmas Carols heard every day from Thanksgiving on! I know you thinking, “Pastor, you‘re a Humbug!” So be it! But I have my limits!

Some people wish that Christmas could last all year. (I’m not sure I could handle that!) But many of us wonder why it seems that everyone acts nicer and kinder toward each other during the Christmas season; couldn’t we treat everyone as if it were Christmas all year long? In essence, wouldn’t it actually be better if people were simply nicer and kinder to people all year long?

I would make the argument that many people are more hopeful at Christmas time, with the reason partly to do with the visions of hope our own cultural Christmas stories give us. Have you ever taken the time to consider what our classic Christmas stories are all about?

The outcast who becomes the hero . . . (Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.)

The heartless, mean one who becomes kind and caring . . . (How the Grinch Stole Christmas.)

The miserable miser who becomes the philanthropist of joy and hope . . . (A Christmas Carol)

The hopeless one who finds out that his life matters and whose family and friends band together to give him hope . . . (It’s A Wonderful Life)

The doubter comes to believe and the lonely finds acceptance and hope in friendship . . . (The Polar Express)

And perhaps I’m stretching it a bit but even the lifeless returns to life . . . (Frosty the Snowman)

In each of these Christmas stories there is a transformation of sorts, there is repentance (in terms of the Greek word metanoia “a turning around”, there is redemption and restoration, just like in our Isaiah text today.

I have to admit as I get older I love Isaiah’s vision of weak hands being strengthened and feeble knees becoming firm, and the anxious heart no longer afraid as it is made stronger. Beyond this, in fact, what all these remarkable restorations point to: there will be a highway, a Holy road that leads to God that even a fool cannot miss, that will be full of everlasting gladness and joy as all “sorrow and sighing scurry into the night” (The Message).
So, is any of this possible? Are these Christmas stories just fairy tales, and is Isaiah’s vision just the pipe dream of an old man, a man tired of growing old, tired of life in the wilderness, tired of war? Is any of this true? Are any of these visions really doable?

I can only imagine what someone from Isaiah’s day would think if they could see a cataract operation today as the blind now see. Or, a cochlear implant, and the deaf now hear. Or, a knee replacement, or hip replacement and the lame now walk. Or, bypass surgery or a heart valve replacement as the heart is made stronger. What would they think if they saw all the trees being planted in Israel, their homeland, to help revitalize the land so that rain will return to the wilderness areas, pools of life-giving waters will become the norm, and flowers will bloom in the desert places.

You see, there is a highway that leads to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” When we follow Jesus and learn what it means to truly love God and neighbor as we love ourselves, when we risk using the gifts God has given us to reach out in the love of God: the blind do see, the lame become able to walk, the deaf can hear. The land that was once barren wilderness and parched desert can spring to life again.

Our world can be such a fearful, barren, desert place without God. What better season than the season of Advent to teach people about this child born so long ago who fulfills the visions of Isaiah?

This child, wanting and waiting to be born in our hearts and in the hearts of our churches, so we can fulfill the visions of Isaiah and even fulfill some of the visions of our own Christmas stories right here, right now, today.

This child, who promised to come again so we can experience firsthand a place beyond what human imagination can imagine.

Now, that’s a vision! Can you see it? Can you believe it?

Is it one you’re willing to follow even now, even today?


1 I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

One day the wilderness will blossom with flowers;
and the desert wasteland will come alive with new growth.
And God’s glory and splendor will be on full display.

With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to save you.”

So go with confidence into the days ahead.
And may the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ,
and the presence of the Holy Spirit, be among you and within you.