It was a “long shear of light and then a series of low concussions” that set the world ablaze in Cormac McCarthy’s award-winning book The Road. Now the fire is out and everything is cold, ash-grey and deadly; the dying world is alive with marauding bands of cannibals and the darkest horrors of the human soul overshadow even simply surviving. A father and son, the man and the boy, walk the road. Their destination is the coast and maybe some hope of survival. They have nothing but a gun, a few bullets, and meagre supplies. They are “each the other’s world entire”.
Survival in a fire-blasted, post-apocalyptic, dead-land is a rather bleak story. We might ask, “Why would someone want to read something like that – so depressing?” Consider your own reasons why you read anything, but isn’t this at least true? Even the fictional story of a dark and dangerous world is one with which we can relate; it’s an idea with which we’re familiar, intimately. Old prophet Isaiah even knew it; brought it up in his 50th chapter. In v.10, he reminds that sometimes in life I find myself “walk[ing] in the dark” where I have “no light”. I may not know what a nuclear winter might bring, but do I know what it’s like to be in grey and dead places in life. Don’t you? Say there is what Isaiah described: mocking, spitting humiliation – the move toward the criminalization of Christianity in America, or the practical quieting of the same in the workplace and society, or the very close betrayal of family who can’t abide God’s truth… Or when the effects of sin laugh in our faces – disease in the body, uncertainty in our family finances, the plain difficulty of interacting even with other Christians… And, maybe most mocking and tragic, is when our own attempts at serving God leave us in dark despair because the failure is so obvious and regular. I know the darkness; you do too. There are times when I feel like I have no light; you have fumbled about in your own lives as well. That’s not in question. The question is, “When it’s horribly dark, what do you do?” And the answer is, in part: In the darkness, we want light.
In McCarthy’s story, the man and the boy walk the road. The cold creeps into their bones, they are tense with fear, more than once delivered from death. All they have is one another. A sentiment made all the more depressing and dark when, at the end, the man dies and his boy is all alone in the cold, grey, dark world. Just hours before he expires, the dying man tells his son, “You have to carry the fire.” He’s reminding his son of what he’d said again and again along the road: they are “the good guys”, they are the light in the darkness; they “carry the fire”. Not unlike Isaiah’s audience. In the verse after our section this morning, Isaiah had a similar thought about those in darkness. He talks about people “who light fires and provide [them]selves with flaming torches.” Isaiah’s talking about people who try to make their own light to battle the darkness, people who “carry the fire” if you will.
When life is at its darkest, do you ever do that? In the face of the world’s humiliations, persecution, mockeries, do you seek to light up the darkness with your own wisdom? Or maybe turn away, feeling as though God has not provided any help? Do you speak with a tongue that can kindle raging arguments to crush political positions? A tongue that doesn’t help but harms your neighbor who has annoyed you with their weariness? With an ear closed to the Word of God on the lips of those who have authority over you? Do you listen for some other wisdom: the appeal of gossip, the comfort of counting friends? When sin, infecting the world, brings uncertainty do you seek things, finances, power for warmth and safety and light? When life is dark, who’s carrying the fire?
When Isaiah said, “go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze,” he wasn’t suggesting a good solution – he was dismissing people in judgment. “This is what you shall receive from my hand [if you carry your own fire]: You will lie down in torment.” The end for those who finally trust in their own light to light the way through the dark world is fiery darkness, truly alone, bleaker than bleak – judgment and hell.
Instead, in chapter 50, Isaiah is making an invitation to the people of God who feel abandoned, who are alone, who may wonder what God is doing. It’s an invitation to receive true service. It is a picture of the Servant of the Lord – the Son of God, speaking as Savior long before he was born into the world. And look at how specifically and well he serves.
In v.4, with “instructed tongue” he speaks – like a disciple who knows and loves his master’s words – in order to sustain the weary, those about to fall down from burdens and weakness. Jesus, our dear Savior spoke with such a tongue, clear about God’s law (even with his closest friends), yet comforting those in need with the word of God’s love.
In vv.5-6, with open ear the Servant does not rebel or turn away but submits to every humiliation. Jesus served his heavenly Father perfectly when he listened to his Father’s will and didn’t turn back from suffering and humiliation on the way to the cross.
In fact, in vv. 7-8, because the Sovereign Lord helps, the Servant is not disgraced at all – not truly. As St. Peter said, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” And God judged that his Son, the only one truly innocent, should bear the sins of those who were guilty – and he should die so that risen from death and raised to heaven, seated at God’s right hand, vindicated and victorious, to speak a word of supreme comfort to those in darkness, weary and afraid.
V.10: “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” God, through his prophet, calls us to attend to the voice of his Servant – who, through his work, vindicates us. He calls us in whatever our darkest place, to put our faith in the one who has worked out our salvation. He calls us to rest the full weight of our lives in his loving hands, to rely not on our own strength but his. And when we heed that call, we can expect that Jesus, our Servant’s words will ring true: we will face trouble and hardship and darkness. But like our Servant, we can cry the reality with Paul, “Who will bring any charge against us? It is God who” has justified us through Christ! Who can separate us from him? And if no one can, there are great ramifications for how we serve… Can any humiliation, any abuse, any torment or trouble change how honored we truly are? Will any trouble or dark place turn us from our heavenly Father’s will? No! Because no matter how dark it seems, we know who’s carrying the fire. We don’t walk by the light of our own torches, the fires we have kindled, the things we’ve done. We simply reflect “the light no darkness can overcome”, that of our great Servant, Jesus, the one who vindicates you and me. Amen.