A Change Is Gonna Come

Dennis Sanders
Dec 15, 2014 · 6 min read

Isaiah 42:1–9

Third Sunday of Advent

December 14, 2014

First Christian Church

Mahtomedi, Minnesota

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

With the kids jingle belling

And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

It’s the hap -happiest season of all

With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings

When friends come to call

It’s the hap — happiest season of all

Those are some of the lyrics of Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” It was first sung by Andy Williams in 1963 and has been a staple of holiday songs ever since.

And. I. Can’t. Stand. It.

I know this is probably sacriledge, but I’ve never, ever liked that song. It’s just too…happy. And what’s with that part of the song that talks about scary ghost stories? Ummm, Halloween was two months ago.

Sam Cooke.

But I don’t like this song for a simple reason: for a lot of people this is not the most wonderful time of the year. I’m glad Andy liked this time of the year, but this is not a good time for people. It’s not a good time for those who are spending their first holiday without a loved one. It’s not the most wonderful time of the year for someone that has lost their job. It is not the most wonderful time of the year for families in Missouri, New York and Ohio, places where black men are being gunned down by the very persons that are supposed to keep the peace. It is not the most wonderful time of the year when you drop your child off to school, only to never see them alive again, which is what happened to the parents of Sandy Hook, Connecticut two years ago at this time. The joy and festiveness of this time of the year, at least in the wider culture is not sunny and bright for everyone. Many people are in pain. It is not a wonderful time of the year. No, it’s hell.

Today we are reading the last Old Testament passage in our yearly lectionary. Next week we start in the New Testament with Matthew. So, we find ourselves in Isaiah 42. The book of Isaiah is actually 3 books in one. First Isaiah includes the first 39 chapters and talks about life in the Southern Kingdom of Judah before it fell to Babylon. Second Isaiah is from chapter 40 to 55 and deals with the exile in Babylon and later Persia. Third Isaiah goes from chapter 56 to the end, chapter 66 and deals with the time when the Jews returned to their homeland. So chapter 42 is taking place during the exile, but in some cases, the exile was close to ending. They had spent time in Babylon who did not treat the Jews with respect and then when Babylon fell, they lived in exile in Persia. Their new king, Cyrus, is a more inclusive person, allowing for the conquered peoples to worship their own God. Cyrus even started building a new temple in Jerusalem for the Jews. It is in this context that we read chapter 42. In this chapter we hear about servant that will come to bring justice to the nations. This servant will be unlike anyone before them. They won’t overpower the weak or destroy the enemy. He won’t be stopped until their is justice in the land.

We have no idea who this servant is. It could refer to some known Jewish figure of the day. It could refer to King Cyrus. We don’t know. For Christians this has been interpreted to mean Jesus. While it will have a different meaning for our Jewish sisters and brothers, for Christians it is seems to talk about the coming of Jesus into the world. Jesus came to earth not a king, but as a servant. Jesus did not use force to bring his message.

The prophet continues talking about how this person or persons would free the captives, releasing prisoners from their dungeons and giving sight to the blind. The prophet ends by saying that God is doing a new thing.

We live in a world of troubles. We live in a world where it can be hard to sing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” when there has been so much sadness. But Advent is a time of waiting, a time of expecations. Something good is about to happen, even in the midst of sadness.

The reason that churches should observe Advent is because we need to be able to see the world as it is, not the image that the wider culture wants to give. Advent slows us down and makes us feel the sadness of this world.

But Advent also gives us hope. Even when we face the bad times, Advent reminds us that something good will happen, maybe not right away, but soon. Evil will not have the last word.

Of course we have a Christmas message to share, but right now we have an Advent message to tell to others. To those around us who experience pain, loss and hopelessness, the message is that hope is coming.

One my favorite old songs is one by the late Sam Cooke called “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I started thinking about this song because I heard over the radio that this week makes 50 years since his death. I remember hearing this song for the first time in a movie. The song come towards the end of the 1992 movie Malcolm X, the biopic on the life and death of the civil rights leader. What I didn’t know is the history of the song and them impact it had when it was released in 1964.

Part of the inspiration of the song came from Cooke trying to register at a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, Louisiana. He had called ahead to make a reservation, but when he, his wife and his entourage arrived all African Americans, the hotel said it had no vaccancies. Cooke of course was furious and demanded to see the manager. After a while they left the hotel to go to another hotel in town. As they arrived, the police were there ready to arrest him for disturbing the peace.

Cooke wrote this song about racism and the hope that things would change. The song became a staple in the civil rights movement because of the lyrics. I want to close with some of the lyrics:

I was born by the river in a little tent

Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die

‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown

Somebody keep telling me, “Don’t hang around”

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

We live in a time where gunman kill children, where a man is killed for selling cigarettes, where a child is gunned down for brandishing a toy gun. In this world, we live with the hope that Jesus is coming. It is a message we need to share.

It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will. Thanks be to God. Amen.

    Dennis Sanders

    Written by

    A middle-aged pastor living in Minneapolis. I write about politics, religion, sexuality and autism.

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