Christmas Eve Candlelight Service
Monday, December 24, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
The song, “Imagine”, was released in 1971. It was a time of great turmoil and war all around the world – in Jordan, India, Eritrea, Israel, Turkey, Ethiopia, Iraq, Angola, Lebanon, Kampuchea, Laos, East Timor, Mozambique, Libya, Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, Chad, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
I was 21 years old. It was John Lennon’s hymn to idealism that remains his most celebrated and controversial work. It provoked controversy four decades ago and still does today.
At the time there were those who condemned the song because of its opening line: “Imagine there’s no heaven.” Such words were nothing short of blasphemy.
There were others who condemned the song not only as blasphemous but also as unpatriotic especially in the following lines: “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.”
Whatever criticism some may make of Lennon’s view of the world then and now, it would seem that some of the same things could be said of Isaiah, an 8th century prophet who lived in the Kingdom of Judah.
It was also a time of great turmoil and war. When the northern kingdom of Israel and the Aramaeans of Damascus tried to force the kingdom of Judah and King Ahaz to join their rebellion against Assyria in 733 BCE on the advice of the prophet Isaiah, Ahaz refused.
But then Ahaz joined in a rebel alliance and called on Assyria to intervene. They did so with devastating impact, eventually leading to the destruction of Samaria and end of the kingdom of Israel.
Isaiah objected to this dangerous move by Ahaz but he was hopeful that the young Hezekiah who followed Ahaz might become the ruler many long hoped for. It is out of this context that our reading from The Book of Isaiah is drawn.
It is a hopeful passage reflecting the rising hope that Hezekiah will be the one who will usher in a time of peace. We also know that it is one of three passages in The Book of Isaiah thought of oracles or prophecies of the coming of a Messiah or “anointed one.”
In the first two, Isaiah seems hopeful that a ruler might be near at the hand of Israel’s future, perhaps even beyond his own lifetime. Such peace would be the final consummation of God’s kingdom, not something Isaiah himself would expect to see.
I imagine that there were those who lived in the 8th century who took a dim view of Isaiah’s vision of the future and wondered whether or not he had lost his mind. Imagine the wild wolf, leopard, lion and bear will live in harmony with the domesticated lamb, calf, kid and cow.
Imagine lions eating straw like oxen. Imagine a child playing over the holes of poisonous snakes.
We are quick to dismiss Lennon’s vision and Isaiah’s vision of the world as utopian. But whether we share in Lennon’s vision or Isaiah’s vision both offer us a vision of hope for the future and that is especially true of Isaiah’s declaration.
What Isaiah offers to is in sharp contrast to the terror and brutality we see in our world. We may find ourselves anxious about terrorism, war, economic collapse, climate catastrophe. We may find ourselves troubled by the fear and violence we see around us. We may fear for our children’s safety and future.
Isaiah offers a vision of what is possible. If we are to be transformed as individuals and as nations from a culture of fear and violence to a world at peace it will begin with a stump.
Out of something that seems lifeless will come new signs of life. This is how hope starts. We acknowledge the pain and suffering in our lives and in our world and then hold fast to the promise of new life, of new hope and get on with what needs to be done.
Isaiah’s hope is not just for the future, but it is a hope that is ours now – in this moment and in our time. It is a hope that we affirm as we remember and celebrate the coming of the Christ Child. We are not afraid for we have heard the good news of great joy for all the people for to us is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah.
Four years ago Keola Beamer, a kī hōʻalu guitar player whose family comes from the Lāhainā area and Raiatea Helm from the island of Molokaʻi joined with the late Charles Kaupu who was a Maui-based chanter, to record “Inā”, the Hawaiian-language version of “Imagine.” I invited Keʻala Pasco, a member of our church, to come and share this song with us in hula.
The lyrics are sung in Hawaiian and English. It includes an interlude with a chant by Kaupu in which he speaks of love and aloha for our islands, the mountains and the seas. He admonishes us: “Arise and stand together, all children of the land.”
And we will stand together. We will rise up and declare with the writer of The Book of Revelation another vision of hope:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . I heard a voice saying: ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them and they will be God’s people, and God will be with them and wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.’” (Revelation 21:1, 3-5)
On this Christmas Eve 2012 we offer to one another and to our children the promise of new hope and new life. We will inā—we will imagine—as did the prophet Isaiah of ourselves: “We will not hurt or destroy . . . for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” “He moemoe a kēia; ʻaʻole naʻu wale nō. E hui pū nō kākou i hoʻokahi ko ke ao a pau.”