Christmas on the Blue Ridge

This will go down as a strange Christmas. Christmas Eve is always rushed. This is especially true when Christmas falls on a Sunday, which means I have two messages to prepare… This year, I thought I would get ahead of myself. Partly, I was forced to because the guy who tapes the sermon for Mayberry Church was leaving town for the holidays. So I taped the sermon on Tuesday. Because he was traveling and a number of people in the church had come down with COVID, we took precautions and wore masks or stood (as with the taping) on opposite ends of the sanctuary.

Then I woke up on Wednesday, feeling congested and not very well. I tested myself. After almost three years of avoiding the virus, I was positive. The quarantine started… Thankfully, my library (and visitor guest room) is almost done in the basement, so I moved down stairs). I would not be there for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (which I never got around to preparing a sermon for). I am thankful for many people who stepped up and help make sure worship will continue.

Then there’s this bomb cyclone that much of the country faced over the past two days. Last night, when I went to bed, the temperature was at -2 with winds gusting. This morning, I got up at 6 AM and the temperature was -6, with the winds sustained around 18 mph and gusting much higher. Lots of people lost power. For a time, it was questionable if we’d have the service at Mayberry tonight, as their power was out, but it’s come back on. The power is still out at Bluemont Church and Appalachian Power doesn’t think they’ll get it back before tomorrow night, so we cancelled the Christmas Day service that was to be held there…

As for COVID, I was very congested for the first two days. Now, I don’t feel bad, but will abide by the recommended quarantine. I hope I’ll be back to normal next week. Here’s the sermon I was going to preach tonight. Instead, it will be shone to those who brave the cold on a big screen TV.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry Presbyterian Church
December 24, 2022

Isaiah 9:2-7

Homily taped at Mayberry on Tuesday, December 20, 2022

This evening, I’m drawing my homily from a well-known passage from Isaiah, one often read during the Christmas season. As I have been reminding you through Advent, the first 2/3s of Isaiah is filled with judgment with a few kernels of hope sprinkled in. We’ve been looking at these passages of hope. This is another one of these passages. As we’ve just past the winter solstice with the longest night of the year, it’s good to be reminded that darkness never has the final word.  Read Isaiah 9:2-7.


Benighted is a word that is often used by mountaineers. It refers to getting caught in the darkness when climbing or hiking.[1] Generally, one doesn’t plan to get caught out like that, but I often go out for a walk as the sun sets, so that I might hike back in the night. I love watching the light fade from the horizon and the stars to pop out in the sky as I acknowledge each constellation as old friends. If I’m walking back up Laurel Fork Road, some of the hayfields allows for long views off the west and in the winter, I can see lights twinkle at Crooked Oak and toward Hillsville. I take comfort in these lights, knowing they represent homes where people are warm and safe.

It’s a little more troubling to hike at night when there is no light. I’ve been caught a few times like that, when it’s dark and you can’t see more than a few feet ahead. Once, in a backpacking trip in Yosemite, I’d walked out to a ledge about a half mile from where we’d camped to watch the sunset. I stayed a little longer than planned and was making my way back in the dark. Suddenly, a bear coming down the path in the other direction, stood up in front of me. It was as startled as me, and thankfully took off in another direction. Darkness can be scary. 

Without vision, there is no comprehension of what’s out there, what’s around you. It’s all about what’s with the next step or within our reach. You walk slower and try to avoid running into things. It can be scary. We become confused and find ourselves lost. We’re become anxious and apprehensive, as I was the rest of the way back to my camp. 

This is the situation Isaiah addresses in this oracle. People walking in darkness, living in a land of absent of light. Tonight, millions of people in Ukraine live in darkness because Russia constantly bombards their electrical grid in an attack of civilians. Those civilians could identify with those whom Isaiah addressed in this passage. We’ve all dealt with similar darkness during ice storms. It’s frightening, but Isaiah offers hope. There is a promise of light filling the land. The light brings joy, there is a renewed confidence. As with the breaking of dawn, things are changing.  

We take light for granted. We flip the switch and like magic, light appears. We are troubled when the power doesn’t work, which is why many of us have generators. Candles and flashlights just don’t do it for us anymore. Especially now, at the time of the year when the nights are at their longest and the air is cold.

Yet, despite the easy availability of light, we still suffer from depression and want. The metaphor of darkness still applies to us as we worry about the present and fret over the future. We need to hear and experience Isaiah’s words again. 

This passage of Isaiah, possibility originally written for the birth of one of Jerusalem’s kings, offers hope to a people oppressed.[2] As a nation, Israel and Judah stood at the crossroads of mighty nations. In world affairs, they were a pawn, in the middle of a chessboard, with the powers of the Fertile Crescent on each side. The dark pieces of the chessboard could have been Egypt and the white pieces could represent a variety of nations (Assyria, Babylon, or Persia) depending on the era of history. Sitting in this crucible, Israel always felt insecure. But at the time of a new king there would be hope that alien rule would come to an end and their enemies would be defeated as the new king restores the prominence of Israel to what it had been under David. It would be centuries before Jesus’ came, fulfilling this prophecy.

In verse 4, Isaiah recalls the victories of Gideon at Midian, where he led the Israelites into battle. Over 32,000 Israelite men responded to the call to arms to save their nation, but God had Gideon whittle down the number of soldiers. In the end, he kept a force of only 300 who slipped into the Midianite and their allies, the Amalekites, camp and routed them. With just a handful of men, but more importantly with God’s help, they were victorious over a much larger army.[3]The promises in our passage all link to God working to end their oppression as God had done in the days of Gideon. This leads to verse 6, which is perhaps the most hopeful verse in scripture, where Isaiah’s oracle announces the birth of a child. But sadly, no such king was born during Isaiah’s era.

The early church quickly realized how this passage applied to Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tonight. Jesus came in humility, yet had the authority of God, was God with us. Jesus offers us a new way of enjoying peace. Of course, his reign hasn’t been fully realized and there are still those who oppose his kingdom, but his victory over evil and death has been won on the cross and it’s only a matter of time. For as we celebrate his birth, we also long for his return and the everlasting kingdom.  

On these dark winter nights, when you see lights glimmering in the distance, think of the hope we have in Jesus, the light of the world. As we heard earlier this evening from the prelude to the Gospel of John, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”[4]

There is a legend that one winter, the great church reformer, Martin Luther was walking in the woods at night. There was a cedar tree frosted with snow on a hill above. As he looked up at this sight, he could see the stars flickering behind and through the branches of the tree. He was so moved that he had a tree cut down and brought inside his home and decorated it with lights to recapture the glory he’d witnessed. This season, I hope you can capture that same glory when you look at the lights all around us and be reminded of the hope we have in Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this evening. For in Jesus Christ, born of Mary, God came into our world and lived among us, showing us how to live, and reminding us that we’re not alone. We should no longer live in the fear of the darkness, for unto us a child has been born….  Amen.  

[1] This word came from a Twitter post by Cian McCarthy:

[2] For a more fuller discussion of this passage as an enthronement oracle, see Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1:12, Old Testament Library, Second Edition, John Bowden, translator, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 210-214.

[3] See Judges 7.

[4] John 1:5.

A decoration on my tree

God Believes in Us

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
December 18, 2022
Isaiah 7:10-16

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, December 16, 2022

A thought at the beginning of worship:

You know, it’s tough being a Department Store Santa. Thankfully, most of the kids are good when they crawl up onto the chubby old man’s laps. Santa listens to their wants and desires for Christmas. But some lists breaks Santa’s hearts. Others, who come with a list that rivals the one their mom has for the grocery store, reminds Santa of how greedy some kids can be. And then, sometimes a kid pulls his beard to see if it’s real. 

And then there is Scottie. At eleven, almost twelve, he feels he’s too old for Santa. But he’s his mom’s last kid and she wants one last photo of him on Santa’s lap. Scottie doesn’t like it when his mother orders him to climb up in the Old Man’s lap. 

Santa doesn’t relish the thought much, either. Especially because Scottie was big for his age and had a few extra pounds to boot. But Santa has a job to do. He lets out a hearty “ho-ho-ho” and welcomes Scottie, asking the boy what he wants for Christmas. Instead of answering, Scottie looks Santa in the eye and says, “I-don’t-believe-in-you.” “That’s alright,” Santa says. “I believe in you.”[1]

I believe in you

“I believe in you.” That’s what God says to us and to all humanity.  

God believes in us even when we have our doubts. And when we least expect it, in the darkness of a depressed Palestine, God enters our world as a child. God believes in us, a truth that should empower our lives with meaning and conviction. 

Before the reading of today’s scripture: 

We’re again looking at hopeful passages found in the first half of Isaiah during this Advent season. Today’s passage is problematic. It seems odd for this passage to relate to this season. However, this reading (or verse 14 of the reading) is tied to the Christmas season thanks to the Matthew’s gospel.[2] It’s made even more famous by the rousing singing of altos in Handel’s Messiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us.” If God is with us, it sounds like God believes in us, doesn’t it? But it’s also a frightening thought. God being with us also brings judgment, as this chapter of Isaiah shows.

An odd passage for Advent?

As I said, the Isaiah passage from where this verse which brings so much meaning to Christmas seems quite odd for the season. After all, Isaiah deals with international politics and who’s aligned with whom. And we have a king, Ahaz, who fails to take God’s advice. If you read on to the end of the chapter, God judges the king for following his own way and not the ways of God. 

Take time this afternoon to read this chapter. There are some hidden meanings behind the “hair cut” the king receives in verses 20.[3] Again, in Isaiah, as we’ve seen all along in Isaiah, the prophet ties judgment and hope together. It seems an irony, but perhaps Matthew understood this for after telling of Jesus’ birth, he follows that hopeful story with that of another king. Herod finds the hope of a child too threatening and seeks to destroy him.[4].

Hope and Judgment.

Hope and judgment? How do we respond to the hope that God is with us? Is it good news or do we fear the judge?

Read Isaiah 7:10-16

Background info on Ahaz.

Ahaz, the king Isaiah confronts in today’s passage, isn’t a model of faithfulness. He’s remembered as one of the worst kings—one of the most idolatrous—in the history of the Hebrew people. His history is somewhat scattered. It must be pieced together from several books within scripture as well as from Assyrian sources.

World politics 2700 years ago

It seems Judah, some 700 years before Christ, found herself besieged by the combined forces of her northern cousins, Israel, and the Aramean or Syrian kingdom. Israel and Syria allied in an anti-Assyrian pact. Assyria was the unquestionable world power for several centuries during. Israel and Syria joined together to fight her dominance. Judah did not enter this pact; she was attacked because of this.

Ahaz, the king of Judah, calls on Assyria for help. The Assyrians attack Syria, which relieve Ahaz forces. After the capture of Syria, Ahaz meets with the king of Assyria in Damascus, and they set up a pact. The Assyrians would not conquer Judah, but the little state would become a vassal under the mighty Assyrians. Ahaz, the king, pledged his loyalty to the king of Assyria.[5]Can you keep Syria or Aramean, Assyria, Israel, Judah straight? Complicated, isn’t it? World politics always is.

Ahaz’s real sins

Had Ahaz just forged an alliance with Assyria, he might have been okay. But his loyalty went beyond a military alliance. While in Damascus, Ahaz eyes an Assyrian altar. It must have been pretty fancy because he orders his chief cabinetmaker to build one to put into the Jerusalem temple. Furthermore, Ahaz robs the temple of some of its treasures to pay tribute to the Assyrians. Ahaz seems to have a thing for the idols of Judah’s neighbors, preferring them over the God of Abraham. Many of these idols he places in the temple, too, making it into a pagan shrine as opposed to a place focused only on the worship of Almighty God. 

Today’s text

Now, with that background, let’s look at the text. The Lord tells Ahaz he should ask of the Lord whatever he needs. Ahaz refuses, telling Isaiah that he’s not going to put the Lord to the test. We’re told in Deuteronomy not to test God.[6] If we just read this verse, it sounds as if Ahaz faithfully tries to live by God’s commands. But, as I have shown you, history tells us otherwise. Ahaz isn’t going to test the Lord, even when given permission, because he has a bunch of other gods upon whom he can call. Perhaps this resulted in Isaiah’s sarcastically response in verse 13, “Is it too little to weary mortals that you weary my God also?”

God with us through a child

Isaiah’s use of “my God,” points to Ahaz’s faithlessness in the God of his ancestors. But God is not going to be unfaithful, Isaiah proclaims. God will come to this people. A young woman is to give birth to a child named Immanuel. The Hebrew word translated as young woman means a girl or maiden, someone entering the age for marriage. 

There’s a lot of confusion around this word. As I said, in the Hebrew, the word is for a young woman of marriageable age, but when the Isaiah was translated into the Greek, the words used was for a virgin. And that’s what is in our mind as Matthew quotes, not the Hebrew text but the Greek Septuagint.[7] This led to the veneration of Mary in the medieval world. And thanks to Matthew, along with Handel’s wonderful oratorio, becomes entrenched in our mind with Christmas. 

The real miracle in this prophecy 

But the real miracle here is not with the woman. I suggest the scandalous miracle is with the child. God comes to us in an infant. That’s the meaning of Immanuel. God is present, in person, in this child wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manager.[8]

You know, God could have washed his hands of Judah because of Ahaz. If God would be like us, the king’s unfaithfulness would be enough to find some new folks for the chosen people. But God doesn’t work that way. God remains faithful. As I said at the beginning of today’s worship, God believes in us. God believes in us so much that he sent his only Son.[9] God’s desire to be in relationship with us is so great that we’re given chance after change to get it right. God was willing to give Ahaz another chance. He didn’t take God up on the offer, but that was his decision. And in Jesus Christ, God offers the world a new way of being. 

Where do we see God’s presence? 

During the Advent season, we should think about where we see God’s presence in our lives and in history. Are we looking in the right places? Who’d expect an infant from a young mother to make such a difference?

In the 1975 movie, “Love and Death,” Woody Allen’s character says, “If God would only speak to me—just once. If He would only cough. If I could just see a miracle. If I could see a burning bush or the sea’s part. Of my Uncle Sasha pick up the check.” If only… We understand these feelings. An unambiguous sign from God would certainly be appreciated.[10] Instead, we’re to take hope form the birth of a child.

The season of expectant waiting.

This is the fourth and last Sunday of Advent. We now have four candles burning in our wreath. Advent is the season of expectant waiting. In Isaiah’s day, they longed for safety from invaders, someone strong and bold, yet Isaiah promises hope in a child. A child doesn’t come with armor and a spear. One must wait, as God’s people waited for a Messiah and as we wait for his return. 

Prison and Advent

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis just a few weeks before the end of World War Two, wrote in prison shortly before Christmas 1944, his last: “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent. One waits, hopes and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.”[11]

Bonhoeffer is right. Only God can come to us. Our sinful natures are unable to transcend the divine. We must depend on God to open the door… But don’t despair. Remember, God still believes in us. That’s the good news. God enters our world through Jesus Christ and ushers in his kingdom which is demonstrated when one of us accepts his rule over our lives. Christ has come and we should see evidence of his presence in one another as we gather to worship and to do the work to which we’re called. 


And Christ will come again. Until then, the question we need to ask is, “Will we be ready?” Or will we be like Ahaz and, in the meantime, run off after other gods? God believes in us. Will we believe in God? Amen. 

[1] This story came from an the old ECUNET internet bulletin board. I first told it on December 20, 1998, changing the kid’s name to Scottie to pick on Scott Burns, one of the great jokesters in the congregation I served at the time (Community Presbyterian Church, Cedar City, Utah). A year earlier, we had moved into the new church. When the building was dedicated, we hung in a hall 8”x10” photos of pastors who had served the church. At the unveiling of these photos, Scott created a special “photo” of me. It was poster sized. He’d taken a rather unflattering picture of me, at church camp that summer, sleeping in a hammock. It seemed only right to name the kid after him.

[2] Matthew 1:23

[3] See the footnote for this verse in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003). Dehairing describes destruction as in Ezekiel 5:1-4. 

[4] See Matthew 2.  See also Scott Hoezee, “Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 18, 2022: Isaiah 7:10-16” at

[5] Background information on Ahaz from the Anchor Bible Dictionary and John Bright, A History of Israel (1959, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 291f. 

[6] Deuteronomy 6:6.

[7] Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, The Old Testament Library, 2nd Edition, John Bowden, translator (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 154. See also Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah Updated Edition (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 145ff.

[8] Luke 2:12.

[9] John 3:16.

[10] Donald W. McCullough, The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1995), 119. 

[11] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (NY: Collier, 1953), 135. 

After sunset, last Tuesday

A shoot from a dead tree & the peaceful kingdom

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
December 4, 2022, Advent 2
Isaiah 11:1-10

At the beginning of worship: 

I can’t imagine what these mountains where we live looked like at the beginning of the 20th Century. In the mix of the trees were chestnuts, giants that grew straight. Chestnuts provided not only strong and rot-resistant wood for building, but they also gave an abundance of nuts. Our pioneer ancestors would gather them for eating. Furthermore, they were a cash crop that could be sold to supplement one’s livelihood. By the mid 1920s, long before any of us were here, they were gone. 

A fungus introduced in the United States in 1904, when some Asian chestnuts were brought to New York, spread into the American chestnut population. An estimate of 4 billion chestnuts trees died in the Appalachian Mountains alone. It is thought that one in every four hardwoods died. But still, in places, from old chestnut stumps, new growth sprouts. The sprout grows tall and straight. It looks promising. But before it matures, it too succumbs to the blight. Hopefully, one day, scientists can find a way for these trees to dominate the landscape once again.

A shoot for a stump

A shoot coming up from the roots of a dead tree is a sign of hope, as we’re going to see in text today. Advent is a season in which we are reminded that we live in a world that’s not our home. Our world is like a stump, in need of new life. We long for a better home, which will require God’s invention. God can do things that has mostly alluded scientist for the past 100 years—giving growth that continues from a stump that appears dead. As followers of Jesus, hold on to this hope. 

Before the reading of Scripture

Today, I’m going to read two passages of scripture for the sermon. The first is from Matthew’s gospel, in which we hear that madman John the Baptist rail against the people of his day. John knew something was happening and he wanted people to prepare by repenting and changing their ways. John speaks to our world today, and the need we have to prepare ourselves for God’s coming. I’m not going to say much about John in the sermon, but let’s hear his words and be reminded of the type of world in which we live. Are any of us fully content here? I hope not. I hope we long for a better world. 

We get a glimpse of this better world my second reading from Isaiah. We hear of a shoot growing from a stump and catch a vision of life as God intends. 

Read Matthew 3:1-12 and Isaiah 11:1-10

Edward Hicks

You know, sometimes artists appear to be in a rut. Think of Monet and his 250-some paintings of water lilies. Another such painter is Edward Hicks, a 19th Century Pennsylvanian artist whose favorite subject was “The Peaceful Kingdom.” Hicks painted an untold number of canvases that depict the scene we just heard from Isaiah. All the animals are at peace: predators and prey, along with children and snakes. The National Galley in Washington, DC have several of Hick’s paintings. If you are there, check them out. While you can look at his paintings in a book or on the internet, there is something about seeing it in person. 

Hicks’ mother died when he was 18 months old. Being unable to care for him, his father shipped him off to friends who raised him. Then he moved into a coach makers home, where he worked as an apprentice. He became known for his illustrations on the side of the horse drawn carriages he painted. This resulted in people asking him to paint furniture and signs. He was later given commissions for paintings to decorate walls. 

Depicting Biblical Scene

Hicks joined the Quaker Church. This created a tension with his art because Quakers were plain folk who shunned art for art’s sake. He then began to use art to interpret scripture, especially the peacefulness sought by Quakers. This is when he began his lifelong obsession with “The Peaceful Kingdom.”[1] I wonder if Monet and his waterlilies and Hicks and his peaceful kingdom were attempts to get it right. By painting the same scenes over and over, were they striving for perfection? It will take a lot of work to achieve such a kingdom. In fact, we can’t do it ourselves. Only God can bring such a kingdom about. 

The curse of Genesis 3 is remove

But just because we can’t, by ourselves, bring such a kingdom about, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it. Instead, we should mediate upon it, and ponder how we might help demonstrate the kingdom to the world. In doing so, we instill hope. Our passage from Isaiah showsthat the curse of the fall, from Genesis 3, has been removed. In the curse, the woman’s and the serpent’s descendants are to be in constant battle. Humans stomp on snakes while they bite at our heels.[2]But in Isaiah, and in the paintings, a child is safe around a poisonous snake. 

Now, I know my mother thoughts of heaven would be a warm place without snakes. She was afraid of them and didn’t want us to have anything to do with them. But perhaps this idea of the child and the snake being together is an example of how, in heaven, we’ll get along even with our enemies. 

Animals living in harmony

Furthermore, in this scene, as I’ve said, we have the predator and the prey lying together. Woody Allen once quipped, “the day may come when the lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”[3] Like the child, the ancient enemies in this imagined world are no more. No longer do the weak have to be concerned about being consumed by the powerful. Predators and bullies and rouge nations are no more. Everyone looks out for everyone else. That’s the Christian hope. We won’t be able to do this on our own. We’ll have to depend upon God. Thankfully, we worship a God of miracles who sent his only Son into our world. And that child, born in Bethlehem, gives us a vision of the kingdom that is coming. 

Two parts to this reading from Isaiah

There are two parts our reading from Isaiah. I’ve discussed the second one first. But let’s go back to that shoot growing from a stump which reminds me of the chestnut tree. The stump of Jesse represents Israel at a time when it was united between the north and the south and it’s greatest king, David, the son of Jesse, ruled. By Isaiah’s time, David had long returned to the earth. His united kingdom had split and those in the northern half were about to be consumed by the Assyrians, the raging lions as they were known, which gives us a new insight into the tamed lions in the second half of this reading.[4]

But for Isaiah and his contemporaries, with David a distant memory, things didn’t look good. And soon, things would get worse. But our God is a God of justice and miracles. God can bring a sprout out of a dead stump and send a Son to save the world. 

The Almighty prepares the righteous king

God prepares the righteous king proclaimed by Isaiah with wisdom and knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He’s able to judge, not by sight or ear, but by righteousness, granting justice for the poor and oppressed. The lion that was Assyria will not always be on the prowl. The predators who bring danger, whether wild animals or unscrupulous business leaders or rouge nations, will be destroyed or tamed. And God’s king will rule fairly. But that’s still in the future. 

The hope of a new world

Today, we live in the world much like that which John the Baptist condemned. But it won’t always be this way. Jesus has come to save us from our sin. Jesus will come again to rule. We need to prepare ourselves for what God is doing and be ready. We need to do what we can to herald the new world that’s coming. Remember, the old saying, “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Hold tight and trust in God. Jesus has come and will come again. Have hope, as we long for the day of peace promised in Isaiah. Amen. 

[1] For more about Hick’s and his paintings, see  

[2] Genesis 3:15. See Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12: A Commentary, John Bowden translator, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 260.

[3] See Scott Hoezee, “Isaiah 11:1-10” at

[4] Christopher R. Seitz, Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 106.

The tree at the Garrison’s home

The Peaceful Kingdom & the Importance of Children

This is a talk I gave to the Kiwanis Club of Skidaway Island on December 14, 2017. There were three of us. who gave a short talk on the holidays. The other two were Lutheran and Jewish. That’s why I began by poking fun at my colleagues at the head table.


An occupational hazard of being a Presbyterian minister is that its hard to stand before a group of people to talk without focusing on a Bible passage. It’s what we do. If I was a Lutheran from Minnesota, like Jason, I’d probably be touting some made-up virtue of godless-Vikings. I’d insist the purple color of Advent is deeper than its liturgical meaning.[1] And if I was Jewish, I’d be thanking God for yamakas, like Rabbi Haas wears. I don’t understand our God. Robert has nearly a full head of hair and has to hide it. Me, well, I’m just trying to figure out how to make such a head covering a part of my religious tradition.  

My Bible verse for the morning comes from the Hebrew portion of our Bible…  See, Robert, I’m trying hard to earn one of those caps.  Isaiah 11:6-9:

 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain…

From “The Peaceful Kingdom”. Edward Hicks, 1780-1849

The painting I displayed on the screen was based on this verse in Scripture. The artist, Edward Hick’s painted over a hundred variations of this painting. Hicks was a 19th Century Pennsylvanian artist and he titled this work, “The Peaceful Kingdom.” With so many paintings of the same subject, you’d think he fell into a rut. But he was a Quaker, and in addition to oatmeal, peace is something they do a better job striving for than most of us. The passage captivated Hicks.Highlighted in each piece is a child (or in some cases, children) along with the animals depicted in the poetry of the prophet.  

         And a little child shall lead them…  

Often, I think, we hear this passage and think we’re to follow that child. However, that’s not the point. The child in Hicks’ painting as well as the one referred to in Isaiah is leading wild and dangerous animals. In our world, the parents of such a child would be charged with neglect. Who let’s their children play with wild animals? Our world is too violent, too dangerous, as was Isaiah’s. The prophet’s vision, his longing, is for the peaceful kingdom to come about, and that’s something only God can instill. For Christians, we see this beginning with a child born in a manager. We are to follow thia child when he’s no longer in swaddling clothes, but crowned in righteousness, as we work to protect children and strive for a peaceful world as envisioned by the prophet. We have our work cut out for us.

For Christians, Christmas remains a season for children.  My best memories of the season is as a child. I didn’t have to worry about sermons back then. What few gifts I had to give were homemade and, I can assure you, a parent’s love is greater than a child’s skill. So, for a moment, think about the holiday when you were a child.  

How about that time you bravely climbed up into Santa’s lap and boldly told him you’d been a good boy or girl all year.  And remember how the old man in red could still be heard laughing as your mother dragged you out of the store?  

Or how about your first candlelight service on Christmas Eve, the mystery of the evening and the joy of the music filling the hour. Think about how especially proud you were when you were first able to hold a lighted candle by yourself. I know I thought I’d made the big leagues. And then, because we live in a fallen world, think about how you realized you could tip the candle just right and wax would drop, missing the guard, and plop on your sister’s hand she unsuspectingly rest it on the rail of the pew in front. I don’t know about you. I was married and with kids before my mother trusted me with another candle. One of the congregations I served must have heard of my sin and insisted on using battery powered candles. 

Think of how excited you were as a child to wake up on Christmas morning and discover the treasures left under a tree. In my family, there were three of us and we’d have to all be ready at the same moment to enter the living room where the loot had been stashed by St. Nick. We never understood how he managed this since we didn’t have a chimney. 

What we did have was a Super 8 motion picture camera and my dad wanted to capture all the action. We enter the room together, only to be hit by the flood lights with an illumination of a small nuclear explosion. The camera recorded us raising our hands over our bleached faces to shield our eyes. It would be another thirty minutes before our eyes adjusted enough to make out what was under the tree. But it was a magical day and we completely overlooked our parents’ exhaustion. (I never could understand why they didn’t go to bed like the rest of us on Christmas Eve.)

And those carefree Christmas Days were special. We’d play with friends and cousins, trying out everyone’s new toys. Early in the afternoon, we’d be called to a feast with an insane amount of food, which none of us were interested because we’d already been into the stuffing (that is the candy stuffed in the stockings Santa left).

That child born in Bethlehem serves as an inspiration for those of us who strive to follow him. And years later, when he was grown and wandering around the backroads of Galilee, calling the disciples and others to follow, Jesus reminded them (and us) of the importance of childhood. Jesus encourages us to hold on to the awe and innocence of a child, telling us that in order for us to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we must come as one.  

As Kiwanians, I know you’re about helping children make and experience such memories. During this season, I encourage you to watch the children and capture some of their excitement. Then, hopefully, you’ll be inspired as Kiwanians to continue the kind of building, Kiwanis is known to do with children around the world. Until God ushers in that Peaceful Kingdom, we have work to do.  Thank you. 

[1] Just in case you didn’t get my reference, look at the color of the Minnesota Viking uniforms.

Advent 1: A Call to be a Blacksmith

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 27, 2022
Isaiah 2:1-5

Sermon recorded on Friday, November 25, 2022 at Bluemont Church

At the beginning of worship:

I started reading Fleming Rutledge’s book, Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ a few weeks ago. In one of her essays, she mentioned how she experienced Advent as a child. Rutledge is an Episcopalian, and they have a much stronger Advent tradition than most Protestants. But her childhood experience struck home with me because I’m old enough to remember when they first introduced an Advent wreath in the Presbyterian Church we attended. 

This happened in the late 60s or maybe 1970 or 71. It was before I entered high school. We even had a workshop to make Advent wreaths for our homes. We would read a devotion and light candles before dinner. The problem with those wreaths is that the candles were so small, they became a fire hazard well before Christmas.  

Advent: life before Jesus

But what struck me about the Advent of childhood, as I and Rutledge experienced, is that we were encouraged to think of the world without Jesus. We were to imagine living in the first century before the common era and contemplate what it would have been like to have no hope because Jesus had yet to come. This makes Advent void of Jesus.

But Advent is about Jesus. Jesus, who descends from God, who was there at the beginning of creation.[1] Advent is also about God’s intention for the world as we look to Jesus’ return. As Rutledge writes, “Advent faces into death and looks beyond it to the coming judgment of God upon all that deceives, twists, undermines, pollutes, contaminates, and kills his beloved creation. There can be no community of the resurrection without the conquest of death and the consummation of the kingdom of God. In those assurances lies the hope of the world.”[2]

Before the reading of scripture:

This season of Advent, I’ll focus on readings of hope from the prophet Isaiah. As a prophet, Isaiah speaks of judgment, but also of hope. His judgment passages seem to go on and on but mixed in are bits of hope. Our passage this morning from the second chapter is wedged in the middle of Isaiah’s opening oracle of judgment. 

The first three chapters of Isaiah deals rather harshly with God’s chosen people. They have rebelled against God. Zion is to be desolate and trampled on by foreigners. Judah and Jerusalem will suffer because of their arrogance. They have ignored their covenant with God. Judgment is at hand. But amid these oracles of judgment, we also get a glimpse of hope. God is doing something new. And for that, we can rejoice.

Read Isaiah 2:1-5

Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like? I am sure most of you have, but what kind of vision do you have for heaven? 

Is our heaven hopes like Bunyan’s?

Last week, I wove into my last sermon on the Lord’s Prayer pieces from John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress. When Christian crosses over the river at the end of his pilgrimage (the river representing death), he’s met on the opposite bank by messengers who lead him up to gate of the Celestial City. There, people wear crowns and fancy gowns. Inside the city, the streets are paved with gold. Everyone sings praises to God and rejoice in his arrival. 

Perhaps something like this is your idea of heaven? But I’m not sure. I’m too much like Mark Twain. He wondered why, if heaven was just singing hymns, anyone would want to go there. Especially someone who couldn’t stay away in church on earth, why would they want to be involved in an eternal hymn-sing.[3]

Isaiah’s vision of the life to come

Isaiah, in the middle of prophecy of judgment, gives us a different vision of the future. This is a vision of Zion, and one that I can buy into, a vision of peace. From Isaiah we have those comforting passages about the lions and lambs and wolves napping together,[4] along with this passage where instruments of war are transformed to tools of peace. The world is restored to its original intention. We’re back in the Garden. This passage which focuses on Zion is my hope for the world to come.


Zion was a narrow ridge which contained the oldest part of Jerusalem. The name became attached to the city and to the hill upon which it sat. But in time, because of Jerusalem’s importance and the with the presence of the temple, Zion came to be understood more theologically than geographically. Zion is where God reigns.[5]

Our passage envisions the day when this will come to pass. The judgment promised in the chapter 1 and later in chapter 2 will have passed. The earth has been purified. Now that God has assumed his throne on Zion, it’s the highest mountain. 

In a literal understanding, this doesn’t make sense. Zion wasn’t a tall mountain. It wasn’t even the highest mountain around, there are many much higher to the south. Jerusalem itself is at roughly 2500 feet in elevation, about the same as we are here. But in our scripture, Zion is the highest peak. Either there are some unique geological changes occurring, or more likely Zion seems the tallest peak because we’re dealing with theology and not geology.  

Zion’s importance isn’t because of its physical height but because it is the Lord’s house. It draws people from all nations who desire to learn more about God’s ways. Zion becomes a center of learning, for out from it comes God’s word. Israel was to be the light to the nations.[6] Isaiah foresees Israel fulfilling this calling.


In verse 3, we see that in this new age of which the prophet envisions, the “With-me” principle works! Do you know the “with-me” principle?  It was a concept taught by Stan Ott and Lee Zehmer at our “Centered and Soaring” event earlier this month. The with-me principle involves us, when doing something with or for the church, inviting another to join us. Come “with me,” we might say. In Isaiah, we learn that people invite others to go with them to the mountain of the Lord, to learn of God’s ways. I can’t think of a better reason to invite someone along then to learn about God. We learn together!

Or course, some of this has already happened. The disciples, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, headed out into the world with the Great Commission. Their marching orders was to make disciples and to baptize them and to teach what Jesus taught.[7]And they went two-by-two. Jesus showed them God’s ways. Jesus then calls his followers, promising to show us the way back home to the Father.[8] But showing the world the way home is just a part of what Isaiah envisions in chapter 2. 

A message for the United Nations

In verse 4, we have a passage known beyond scripture. Even by those with little Biblical knowledge have heard about beating instruments of war into farming implements. You find these words chiseled into a wall across the street from the United Nations. Silently, as Fleming Rutledge images, it reads of beating swords into plows as it mocks nations that go to war.[9]

God’s view extends to the entire world

Looking at this passage, we see this is God’s kingdom. And God’s domain isn’t just for one nation, but the entire world. As judge, God settles disputes. There will be no more war or rebellion. God does this, but look carefully, God doesn’t do this all by Godself. God calls on us to participate. He hands us a heavy apron and calls us to become blacksmiths. How are you at swinging a hammer or heating up a forge? Ever see yourself working in a blacksmith’s shop?  See, there’s going to be a need for more than choir members in heaven! For some of us, this is really good news.

Converting the tools of war to instruments of peace

Notice the text says that God’s judges while they (think we) beat the swords into plowshares. The tools of war are repurposed so that they become instruments of peace and prosperity. Swords become plows; spears refashioned into pruning hooks. As a friend suggested in a sermon: tanks become John Deere tractors, gun barrels are fashioned into posts to hold grapevines, while missile silos find a new life as wheat silos. And the Pentagon, what to do with it? It can be converted into the world’s largest Food Court.[10]

Today, as we continue to read about the war in Ukraine, along with other places in the world like Somalia and Ethiopia, wouldn’t a little peace be nice? War brings destruction and famine, which is not God’s intention for the world. War is a sign our sinfulness. God desires us to live in peace, but a peace that involves more than the absence of war. A peace based on justice (which is why God serves as judge). And this is also why God sent his son into the world, to be born in Bethlehem. 

Bethlehem: The House of Bread

Did you know that Bethlehem means “the House of Bread.”[11]God desires the world’s abundance be used to feed everyone. And while war continues to exist in the present, there will come a time in which God will intervene. Peace will be established, and justice will reign. This is what we hope for when we pray, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. We long for the day when, instead of spending our resources on artillery shells, which only destroys, we invest in feeding and caring for people. 

We’re always in Advent

You know, Advent isn’t just four Sundays before Christmas. In a way, the church exists in Advent. Ever since the first coming of Jesus, we long for his return to consummate God’s kingdom. Until then, we hope and pray for his return. As Paul teaches, communion, or the Lord’s Supper, celebrates Jesus’ return.[12]We strive to live in a gracious manner that shows the world kingdom values. And we share this hope with others, as we invite them to catch a glimpse of the vision the Bible gives us of the world to come. 

Our hopes and fears…

As the Christmas Carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” reminds us, “Our hope and fears of all the years are met in thee (or Jesus).” Place your hope in Jesus. Yes, we live in a world of war and hate, but it’s not the way God intends. Imagine a world without war. Pray and do what you can to make this world a better place. Help create a small place where we can display Kingdom values. Invite others to also dream and vision a new future. 

And perhaps we should all learn some blacksmithing, just to be ready for when Christ returns. Amen. 

[1] John 1:1-3, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:15-17, & Hebrews 1:1-2.

[2] Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 22. 

[3] I think Mark Twain said this in his Letters from Earth, of which I no longer have a copy. 

[4] Isaiah 11:6, 65:25

[5] See “Excursus: Zion in Prophetic Literature and the Psalms” in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 960-961. 

[6] Isaiah 42:1, 6; 49:6; 51:4; 60:3.

[7] Matthew 28:16-20.

[8] John 14:6-7.

[9] Rutledge, 208-209.

[10] This came from Neal Plantinga, and was cited by Scott Hoezee in his commentary on this passage:

[11] ibid.

[12] 1 Corinthians 11:26.

The blacksmith’s hammer is a prop for the sermon (and a way to threaten those who sleep)

Why Church? For proper worship

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Isaiah 6

April 3, 2022

Sermon recorded on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at Mayberry Church

At the beginning of worship:

Each of us are instilled with the need to worship. Whether or not we’re Christian, whether or not we’re religious, we have a desire to find meaning in something larger than ourselves. That “something” becomes the object of our worship.  

The “atheistic Communist,” whom we used to so fear, believed in a dialectical materialistic philosophy they saw giving rise and power to the proletariat to create a new state. They worshipped the state. We see this today in Putin’s nationalism extended to all Russian speakers. 

Even the most apathetic couch potato, who never darkens the door of the church, may worship a basketball team, a NASCAR driver, or a movie star. The narcissistic believe they are larger and more important than others and worship an inflated ego with no relationship to reality. We all look for meaning; it’s just that a lot of us attempt to find meaning in the wrong places and end up restless and disappointed. Augustine, writing 17 centuries ago, said our hearts are restless until they come to rest in God.[1]

Why church?

Today, we continue to ponder “Why Church?” Church should be the place we learn who’s worthy of worship. It’s also an outlet for such worship. Here, we should encounter the living God and find satisfaction to our desires. 

Other “Why Church” Sermons:

To reorient our lives

To care for the world

We’re a place for questions

Because Jesus set up the church to continue his work

Read Isaiah 6

After the reading of Scripture:

Our scripture for this morning, Isaiah’s call, is an example of what should happen in worship. In this passage, Isaiah encounters God in all his holiness and majesty. This occurs the same year that King Uzziah died. Such reference provides a timetable for the vision, but also contrasts the transient nature of earthly kings and powers to the eternal nature of the King to whom our allegiance belongs. Uzziah is dead, his throne empty. But Isaiah witnesses a greater throne and king.[2]

Setting Isaiah up to hear his call

We’d think Isaiah would be overwhelmed and overjoyed to see God, wouldn’t we?[3] Isaiah, however, realizes he has a problem. He sees the real King and prevailing wisdom has it that for a mortal to see God brings certain death. Our sinful state leaves us vulnerable before God’s holiness. Isaiah knows he’s in deep sneakers as he cries, “Woe is me; I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and I have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” In other words, because of his condition, Isaiah cannot join the song of praise to God.[4]

But all is not lost. One of the seraphs before the throne takes a coal from the altar, flies down and presses it to Isaiah’s lips, proclaiming that his sins are forgiven. At this point, Isaiah can now hear the call of God, asking who will go and take a message to the people, and Isaiah pipes up and says, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”

A call is not necessarily a good thing

It all sounds good, doesn’t it? That is, until we read the rest of this chapter. Starting in verse 9, we realize the job for which Isaiah volunteered wasn’t a coveted one. His words are to harden the hearts of his people as he speaks judgement. This forces Isaiah to ask, “How long?” How long will Israel’s heart be hardened? How long will the people be punished? Isaiah asks.[5] The answer isn’t hopeful: Till the cities become desolate and the land empty. Even if a piece of it survives, we’re told in verse 13, it will be burned again.

We find hope only at the very end of the chapter. God condemns his people, keeps them from repenting by hardening their hearts, but there is hope that a sprout may rise from the stump.[6]

Be careful about what you ask 

I’ve known people who have wanted a sign from God to help their belief. “If I could only have a sign?” You might have even said this. Be careful about what we ask. Those who receive the best signs in Scripture are those from whom God asks the most. God doesn’t give signs so we can believe. Such a sign would make faith lame. Instead, the good signs—like the burning bush, Isaiah’s call, Paul’s conversion—all come with difficult assignments. 

We can also think about Peter’s call from Jesus himself by the lake.[7] Jesus clarifies it later, informing him when he was young, he went where he wanted, but when he is old, he’ll be taken where he does not want to go, indicating the kind of death in his future.[8] One thing we should realize: Authentic worship isn’t about us; it’s about God. Ultimately, it isn’t about how we feel or what we want, but what God wants us to do.

Lessons from Isaiah being in God’s presence

What can we learn about coming into God’s presence and worship from Isaiah?  First, we see that true worship, worship which encounters the holy, is dangerous. When we truly worship in the presence of the Almighty, we play with dynamite! There’s a power greater than ourselves, and if we tap into it, we will have little control over where it will lead. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, we read in Hebrews.[9] But with the disciples, we must acknowledge, “Where else can we go to find the words of eternal life.”[10] So we stick around, even though it can be scary.  

Like Isaiah, we find that worship is also redemptive. Where else can we go to find forgiveness, to be offered a new chance, to have our guilt erased and set free to start over? And then, like Isaiah, we find that not only are we forgiven, but we’re now open to hear God’s word, so that we can hear the Almighty call us to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives. 

Purpose of worship

Ultimately, worship is to be life changing. Coming into the presence of God does that! The sanctuary, or wherever we worship, isn’t an escape from the world, but a place to equip us to go back into the world to fulfill our roles as disciples of the living Lord.  

Understand that worship is something that needs to be done throughout the week. We’re to worship God throughout our lives. But it also important that we come together as a community to worship. As Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there.”[11]

The Cycle of Reformed Worship

Think about what we do here and how it relates to Isaiah’s experience. We come into God’s presence, we realize God’s holiness and our lack of it, and we are forgiven and then sent back into the world to further God’s work. That’s the cycle that goes on Sunday after Sunday in a Reformed service of worship. The Call to Worship and the Opening Hymn of Praise reminds us that this a sacred place and time. The prayers of confession, both those spoke corporately and privately, remind us that we need forgiveness. Corporately, we’re reminded that as a people, we are guilty. The private prayers of confession spoken to God silently in our hearts, remind us that as individuals, we are also guilty. The Assurance of Pardon reminds us of the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ, that frees us up to hear God’s word and to go back out into the world. 

I know some churches don’t use a time of confession, but they miss the meat of the gospel.[12] We stand in need of forgiveness and through Jesus Christ, God stands willing to offer forgiveness.

Making the most of worship

How might we make the most out of our time for worship on Sunday morning?  First, begin your preparation for worship early. Go to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday night so that you are well rested. The Jews begin their Sabbath at sundown, which would not be a bad habit for us Christians. Prepare for Sunday morning on Saturday. You could set out clothes to wear or prepare food for the Lord’s Day. Put your Bible (and your journal if you use one) next to your clothes to bring to worship. This will assure that Sunday mornings are not hectic. Then, when you wake up, you can easily get ready for worship and perhaps even have some time to go to God in prayer. And pray for our worship. I can’t imagine the blessings we would experience if everyone took the time before coming to church to pray for the experience! 

Next, when you come to worship, come with a holy expectancy. Come, expecting that you will encounter God. Now, not every Sunday is a mountaintop experience.[13] In fact, few are going to be mountaintop experiences and if we strive for that, we’re probably focusing on what we want and not what God wants. But that said, if we don’t expect anything out of worship, we’re probably not going to receiving anything. What would happen if just a few of you came expecting God to show up? It could be dangerous; it could be glorious!

Next, arrive early. Here, do as I say not as I’ve been known to do. When I am not preaching, I’m not known for arriving too early (you can ask my wife or daughter). They call it Garrison time. But if you are here five, ten or fifteen minutes early, you have time to focus on God, to calm your hearts, and to put away distractions. Spend this time making a mental note of that which to thank God or of the deeds you stand in need of confessing. 

Pray for the worship experience

Look around and see people who are in need and offer intercessory prayer. Pray for the preacher (I need all the help I can get). Pray for those who might be new in our fellowship. Pray for those not here. Read through the bulletin, internalizing the prayers so that they can become your prayers. Look over the scriptures so that you might receive more out of the sermon or get more out of the prayers.  

While in a worship service

While in worship, learn to absorb distractions. We’re all human here. I am going to make some mistakes. Others are also going to make mistakes. God doesn’t use perfect people. Instead of fussing and fuming over such mistakes, pray silently that we might get over it, that God might bless such blunders and use them for his glory. As Paul tells the Corinthians, God uses the cross which is foolishness to the world to bring about salvation.[14] Focus your energy on what is positive, not on what can be negative and destructive. Embrace worship as a sacrifice, as your sacrifice, to God.  Remember, what happens here “isn’t about you!” It’s about God! Keep focused on that which is important.  

And finally, when you leave worship, go out to live your life as an heir to the kingdom, listening and obeying God’s word, and continuing to worship throughout the week. In so doing, your whole life will be more worshipful, and you’ll continually praise God.


We’re all to be worshippers. In worship, our restlessness finds peace in the heart of God. In worship, we move from the position of the guilty one, “Woe is me!” to the response of a confident disciple, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Amen.  


[1] Augustine, Confessions, 1:1.

[2] Christopher R. Seitz, Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 54.

[3]Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, Old Testament Library, second edition, John Bowden translator. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 128.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Seitz, 57.

[6] Compare Isaiah 6:13 (“the holy seed is its stump”) with Isaiah 11:1 (A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse). 

[7] Luke 5:1-11 (a different version of this call occurs in John 1:40-41).

[8] John 21:18.

[9] Hebrews 10:31.

[10] John 6:68

[11] Matthew 18:20.

[12] There are many things that the church does which can be done just as well by other groups. What makes the church unique is the message of forgiveness through Christ which he shares through the church. 

[13] Even the disciples found that they couldn’t stay on the mountaintop.  Life is to be lived in the valleys and on the plains, where people are at.  See Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36.

[14] 1 Corinthians 1:18, my paraphrase. 

Okefenokee Sunset, March 2019, near Monkey Lake

Reformation Sunday: God as a Fountain of Goodness

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
October 31, 201
Isaiah 12

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, October 29, 2021

At the Beginning of Worship

Today is Reformation Sunday. 504 years ago, on this date, Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Thesis. This marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. I will use the gap between now and the beginning of Advent (as I don’t have enough time to complete our study of Daniel) to give you a primer on our Presbyterian or Reformed heritage. Today, I am going to highlight the work of John Calvin and the important concept within our tradition, the sovereignty of God. 

The Reformed Tradition

Our tradition began in Switzerland, at approximately the same time as Luther’s Reformation in Germany. The first city to convert to a Protestant faith was Zurich under the leadership of Urich Zwingli. The Reformation spread to other cities within the Swiss Confederation. Geneva adopted the Protestant faith in 1535 under the leadership of William Farel. The next year, Farel encouraged John Calvin, a refugee traveling through Geneva, to join him in the work.  

Calvin’s Influence

In many ways, the Protestant movement has never been the same since Calvin placed his imprint upon it. Foremost in his teaching is the sovereignty God. To understand Calvin, we must examine him in light of the 16th Century and get beyond the view of him being a grumpy old man.[1] He wasn’t! Calvin’s impact on our world is immense, far beyond theological and biblical studies. At the turn of the 21st Century, one survey identified Calvin as one of the ten top individuals within Western civilization that defined the previous millennium.[2] His writings, teachings, and sermons influences not only theology, but government and economics. You see vestiges of Calvin’s thought in the founding of our nation. 

In this service in which we draw from Calvin’s worship style, I hope that not only do you learn about him, but why he felt so strongly about his theological convictions which should strengthen our lives as followers of Jesus.

Calvin’s Life

To be fair to Calvin, I should acknowledge he’s probably rolling over in his grave at all the fuss made about him. Calvin was a simple man: a pastor and a teacher. He didn’t seek publicity. Upon his death, he insisted he be buried in an unmarked grave. His wish was granted. But Calvin’s influence is still felt. 

Born in France, on July 10, 1509, Calvin fled from his home country due to religious persecution. He ended up in Geneva, where he spent most of his life. Geneva, in the 16th Century, was far ahead of the rest of Europe, politically and economically. Then, as today, it was a banking capital. Compared to the rest of the continent, Geneva was a relatively tolerant city.[3] (Relative is the operative word—this was the 16th Century, after all.) Due to the turmoil of the times, Geneva attracted large numbers of refugees from all over Europe. Calvin was one of these refugees.   

In Calvin’s ministry, he encouraged the city to take care of the poor. With so many refugees, the city was overwhelmed. Calvin had the church receive and give out an offering to the poor, a practice he tied to the Lord’s Supper. Such gifts should remind us that after being nourished by God, we should consider the nourishment of others. But Calvin wasn’t just content to take care of the poor. He also encouraged everyone to work, including refugees of noble birth, many of whom felt they were above such tasks.[4]

Calvin also turned the medieval usury laws on their head. He felt it was okay to charge interest if one made a loan to help someone start a business—the person who made the loan should benefit from the success of another. But he did not think it was okay to take advantage of the poor, loaning to them with high interest rates and forcing them into a subservient position.[5] Calvin would be quite critical of today’s “pay day loans.”   

Education was another focus of both Calvin and the city of Geneva. The city required children to be educated, and it was provided free to the poor.[6] Calvin started the Academy, where he taught refugees about the Bible and the Christian life. When these refugees returned to their homes, they took with them Calvin’s teachings which emphasized the importance of God’s Word. One such student was John Knox, who led the Reformation in Scotland, where the word “Presbyterian” was first used. 

Calvin’s Worship Style

Calvin grounded his worship in two things: God’s word and prayer. God’s word was quoted at the beginning and end of worship and was used throughout. The Bible was also read right before the sermon. The Word was heard through music. Generally, like the Hebrews before them, the Psalms were put to music. In addition to God’s word, prayer was important and offered throughout the service—starting with a prayer of confession. Calvin realized that it was important to come before God with a clean heart; therefore, worship began in confession. The Lord’s Prayer was also important and often repeated three times in the service, a trick I won’t try today. [7]

Before the Reading of Scripture

For my sermon this morning, I want us to look at Isaiah 12. It’s a short chapter which will allow me to draw some conclusions about Calvin’s theology and how it should influence our lives of faith. 

Read Isaiah 12

Calvin’s Seal

The seal Calvin adopted for himself had a hand offering up a heart. The words around the seal read, “My heart I offer to you, Lord, promptly and sincerely.”[8] This symbol reflects Calvin’s faith grounded in a sovereign and loving God. 

Today’s Text

The seal of Calvin University based upon Calvin’s seal

Isaiah 12 is a Psalm of Thanksgiving. Israel can rejoice because God’s anger has been turned away. In the face of such news, offering ourselves to God—heart and all—is an appropriate response.[9]   

Verse one tells us that God’s anger has been removed which leads Isaiah in verse two to proclaim God to be his salvation! There is no longer a need to be afraid. When we are in bondage to sin, we are cut off from God, and there are plenty of reasons for us to fearful. 

John Calvin, writing on this passage, speaks of how sin clouds or fogs our mind. When we are away from God, we are filled with dread. But when the news of God’s salvation is heard, experienced in the coming of Christ, it’s like the sun burning away the fog; and we can have confidence in God’s mercy. Drawing upon Colossians 3:15, Calvin continues saying that this confidence should fill our hearts and “banish all fear and dread.” We are not “free from all distress,” but we have the assurance that in the end we will be victorious.[10]

Calvin is realistic. Although we have confidence, we still battle sin.  Our hope is that because of God’s love and mercy, we will be successful and reunited with our Savior. There will be times in our lives when we are distressed. Those who suggest that the Christian life is free from all troubles don’t know what they are talking about, but we can hold tight to the promises made in Scripture and have assurance and hope.  

God as a Fountain of Goodness

In the third verse, “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” we come upon one of the two main metaphors Calvin uses for God. Calvin sees God as being a Father, and frequently uses the parent metaphor for the Almighty. The other metaphor that Calvin commonly uses for God is that of the fountain or a well.[11] This metaphor ties into our baptism; God is the fountain of all goodness. Isaiah refers to this fountain or well as a place from which we are nourished. “This is a very beautiful metaphor,” Calvin writes, “for in this life nothing is more necessary than water… Thus, by this figure of speech… [Isaiah] declares that everything necessary for supporting life flows to us from the underserved goodness of God. And since we are empty and destitute of goodness, he appropriately compares the mercy of God to a fountain.”[12]

Nathan Coulter

You know, when you are thirsty, there is nothing better than a good cold drink of water drawn from the depths of the earth. Wendell Berry’s novel, Nathan Coulter, ends at such a place. Nathan and his grandpa have been out watching the men cut hay. As his grandpa is now too old to work the fields, Nathan escorts him back to his home. 

As they make their way across fields and pastures, they come upon the spring in a notch in the rock down by the brow of the hill. The old man sits down to rest. The boy goes and draws a cup of water for his grandpa. He takes the cup and cuddles it in his hand, looking at the spring and commenting that he’d never known it to go dry. As he drinks from the cup, Nathan thinks of all who’ve drunk from the spring, his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather and of those who inhabited the land before them.[13]  

Spring as a Foundational Metaphor 

Berry’s description of the spring reminds us of why the metaphor of a well (or spring or fountain) is foundational for John Calvin. Like the Coulters, we drink from this spring, generation after generation, as we are nurtured by the God of our salvation. We drink from the same well as Calvin and the believers in the church throughout the ages. God never changes and when we study scripture, we learn of God’s eternal truths. When we drink from this well, we will be strengthened and more confident. This new disposition will embolden us to sing God’s praises and to proclaim his great deeds. 

Concluding in Praise

Our chapter ends with Isaiah calling on Israel, who has experienced God’s salvation, to praise God and to tell others—all the earth—about the goodness of the Lord. We’re not to just praise God as individuals; we’re to draw others into our celebration. We’re a part of a world-wide community that praises the Lord. Here I think we see the essence of our faith. When we experience God’s love, we react in joyful obedience. By the way, worship is a form of work and yes, works are important. This isn’t because our good deeds get God to notice us or because we can earn our salvation. Works are important because they are the consequences of our salvation.  

Having been freed from God’s anger, we rejoice and encourage others to rejoice. Having experienced the goodness of the Lord, we should also show goodness and mercy to others.

Be the Salt of the Earth

One final thing about Calvin: he encouraged believers to get involved, to be the salt of the earth.[14] We’re to work for the betterment of others, and in doing so, we praise God. All of life is worthy of our religious attention. Once we’ve been freed from the bonds of sin, out of joy, we should praise God and share his love. That’s the essence of this passage.  

The next time you’re thirsty and go for a cold drink of water, pause for a moment, and think about how God is like a well that never goes dry, always refreshing us with crisp cold water that quenches our thirst. And then remember to give thanks.  Amen.  


[1] See Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin (Louisville: Westminster, 2008), especially his opening and concluding chapters.  

[2] Richard John Neuhaus, editor, The Second One Thousand Years: Ten People Who Defined a Millennium (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 2001).

[3] For a discussion of Geneva’s tolerance, see Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (NY: Picador, 1998), 198.

[4] Alister McGrath, “Calvin and the Christian Calling,”, The Second One Thousand Years: Ten People Who Defined a Millennium, Richard John Neuhaus, editor (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 2001), 73.

[5] McGrath, 70.

[6] Robinson, 199.

[7] For information on Calvin’s worship style, see Larry Sibley, “Ten Worship Planning Ideas from John Calvin, Reformed Worship # 92 (June 2009), 34-35.

[8] For a background to this symbol, which is now used as the seal for Calvin University, see

[9] For the setting of this chapter, see Christopher R. Seitz, Interpretation: Isaiah 1-39 (Louisville, KY : John Knox Press, 1993), 111. 

[10] John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah 12:2

[11] See B. A. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 25-28.

[12] John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah 12:3

[13] Wendell Berry, Nathan Coulter (1960: New York: North Point Press, 1985), 179-180.

[14] McGrath, 75.

A Prayer for God to Enter History

The sermon prerecorded on December 23rd

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
December 27, 2020
Isaiah 64

At the beginning of worship, in preparation: 

Jesus’ birth came at an interesting time. Luke provides the historical setting: Augustus ruled as emperor, Quirinius was governor, and a major census was underway. On one hand, it was a time of stability. But the peace was fragile, maintained by terror and force, as I pointed out last week.

In Simply Jesus, N. T. Wright tells Jesus’ story by delving into the background of this world. As an analogy, he draws upon the story of the fishing trawler, Andrea Gail. If you read the book or seen the movie, you’ll remember she was lost in the North Atlantic during a storm created by the confluence of three weather systems: The Perfect Storm.  

This first century perfect storm involved the confluence of the Roman world. Their infrastructure provides the means for the message to get out after Jesus’ resurrection. Second, the Jewish world longed for the Messiah and hated the Romans, which set up conflict. The sovereign wind of God was the third “storm,” challenging everyone’s assumptions.[1]

What does it mean for God to come among us?

When God comes into our midst, we need to be careful. Such presence is dangerous. Things will be shaken up. And that’s what happened when God came as a child born in Bethlehem. Today, we’ll go back into a world without Jesus as we explore Isaiah 64. The prophet cries out for God to intervene. Would we be so brave? 

After the reading of Scripture: 

Although Isaiah lived centuries before the birth of Jesus, they resided in a similar world. As a small nation, Israel served as a pawn on an international scene dominated by foreign armies. It started with the Egyptians, then the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. The march would continue with the Persians, the Greeks and finally the Romans. This world of power spins around Israel. God’s people become dizzy and feel lost and abandoned. The prophet’s cry captures their anguish.  

The need for God to enter history:

This is a cry of lament! Isaiah knows God is not locked up in the heavens. God exists! God listens. God hears. Tearing open the heavens is metaphorical language. God’s present! It’s just that God doesn’t seem to be doing anything. Israel would like to see some tangible evidence. Therefore, the prophet calls on God to reveal himself in a manner that his presence will be unmistakable. Israel wants God to show up and scare the pants off her enemies.

You know, Isaiah’s request is a familiar one. We’d all like to witness such power. I’ve been told many times by individuals that if he or she just had a sign, just a piece of tangible evidence, it’d make all the difference. But would it? After all, the Hebrew children in the wilderness witnessed God’s power and fury with the plagues and the parting of the sea. Yet they still continued to turn from God. The disciples witnessed Jesus’ miracles, and they still denied him. 

There’s just something about us wanting God to step into history and to solve our problems. We want God to be on our side. We want God to do our bidding. 

It’s as if it’s after school and we’re in a pickup basketball game. We want to choose God for our team. We forget that we don’t choose God. God chooses us! Instead of us trying to lure God over to our team, we should make sure we’re on his team.

Isaiah 64: A Prayer of Lament 

       This prayer, or lament, of Isaiah’s can be divided into four parts. If we separate them, we can better understand the prophet’s theology. 

An appeal to history

The first five verses ask God to act because God has acted in the past. Isaiah knows what God has done for the Hebrew people; therefore, he bases his request on past history. Asking God to come down is an appeal for God to act in the world—to enter human history on behalf of his people.   

You may be in the situation of Isaiah, knowing God but only in the past tense. Do you think God stopped acting with Jesus or the Apostles, or maybe with your baptism or confirmation? If so, join in Isaiah’s lament. Cry out for God to make himself known once again. God is the capable of meeting our innermost longings. We cry out to the Almighty, who already knows our needs. Our cries led us to reevaluate our lives and how we relate to God. This is what happens to Isaiah.

The need for confession: 

       Isaiah, after recalling God’s past grace, reflects on his and his people’s sinfulness. The second part of the petition involves confession. In verses five through seven, Isaiah admits the problems from which they need deliverance are result of their disobedience.[2] They have sinned; they are guilty; they need God to pull them out of the deep and troubling water.  

Here again we often find ourselves in the situation of Isaiah. At such times, we should ask ourselves what we have done to cause God to seem so far away. Do we turn our backs on our Savior? Is the problem with us? Probably, and we need to confess those sins which drive us away from God’s holiness. We need to root out our indifferences toward God that cause Him to seem so distant.


       The third part of this lament affirms a trust in God while continuing to plea for God’s help. In a fashion reminiscence of Moses, who shamed God when the Lord wanted to destroy the people after the fashioning of the golden calf, Isaiah reminds God that the Israelites are his people.[3]“God,” he says, “those destroyed cities are your cities; that ruined temple is your temple.” God has big shoulders and Isaiah brings his petition before God, dropping his concerns on the Almighty.


Next, Isaiah waits. There is nothing more to do but to carry on as he waits for God’s answer.

       In the fourth verse of this chapter, we are told God works for those who wait. And when we think about it, much of scripture is about God’s people waiting on God. Abraham and Sarah waiting for a child; the Hebrew slaves waiting in bondage; those exiled in Babylon waiting for release; the waiting for the Messiah. 

It’s now our turn to wait for Christ’s return. At times, at least within the measurement of human history, God seems slow to act. Yet, in the meantime, we are to wait faithfully. Our willingness to wait reflects our trust in the Almighty.

Our lack of interest in waiting:

       But our culture doesn’t value waiting. We want things immediately! Instant gratification! Fast food and faster computers, interstate highways and supersonic jets. Instead of mailing a letter, we zip ‘em off by email, or we shoot a text and expect an almost immediate response. We don’t make time, nor do we have time to wait. We need that vaccine NOW! 

This lack of interest in waiting is true in religion, too. We want immediate salvation. We want to accept Christ and all-of-a-sudden have everything better. We want to have our spiritual longings filled, instantly! But it doesn’t work that way. Anything worthwhile takes time.

       Even the church stands guilty. “We read one-minute Bibles, pray through five-minute devotions, wander from one conference to another to get five keys to Spiritual success,” we’re told. “We except Spiritual maturity in 40 days of purpose-filled studies… One of the lies of the world is that we can have instant discipleship. We think we’re tourist, after instant gratification, forgetting we’re pilgrims in for the long haul to our new heavenly home.”[4]

Advent emphasizes waiting:

       We’ve just finished four weeks of Advent, a season of waiting. During these weeks, we were reminded of the centuries God’s people waiting for the Messiah, even as we wait for his return. As we saw last week, God encourages us to be still. We might substitute the word “wait.” We are still and we wait, and then we know God.[5]  At times, waiting may be our only real option. We can barge ahead without God and screw everything up, or we can patiently wait for God’s direction.

Isaiah is far from inactive:

       You know, the ironic thing about this passage is that even while Isaiah calls upon God to come down from the heavens and make himself known, God was there. At the beginning of Chapter 65, God replies: “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am’ to a nation that did not call my name.” God’s present, but Isaiah’s contemporaries are unwilling to seek Him out. God worked to get Israel out of exile and back to the Promised Land. God forges a new relationship with his people, one that would in time cumulates with the birth of a Savior.  

       Amidst the chaos of the world, God was present just as God is present now in our world. At times, from our point of view, we might wonder where God hides. But, when we look back on where we’ve been, we often realize God has been with us. God guides and works through us to bring about his purposes.  

Opening ourselves for God to change us:

       Let me clarify something. Don’t leave thinking that our waiting on God means no action on our part. Isaiah wasn’t inactive. He was proactive, taking his concerns to God and admitting his and his people’s shortcomings. In so doing, opening himself up for God to reveal himself as we see happening in the 65th chapter of Isaiah.  

Craig Barnes, in Sacred Thirst proposes the point of hope is not just to hold on. I suggest it’s the same for waiting. We hope so we can be free to seek holiness where we find ourselves.[6] And isn’t that what Isaiah does? 

Externally, Isaiah’s situation doesn’t change, even after God replies.[7] But he’s changed. He’s changed because having called upon God and reflected upon his sinfulness, he’s now opened to encounter God and to know God’s presence. Knowing God’s presence makes all the difference. When we know God is with us, we can undergo any obstacles and face any challenges. Amen. 

[1] N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus” A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (New York: Harper Collins, 2011), 13-56.

[2] It is interesting that Isaiah began by blaming God (we sinned because you away-verse 5).  But the tone changes as he takes responsibility (you have delivered us into the hands of our iniquity-verse 7).

[3] Exodus 32:11-14. See also Numbers 14:13-17.

[4] “Spiritual Shortcuts,” Christianity Today (January 2005), 27. The article is about today’s crisis of cheating, but the author ties it to our lack of interest in waiting and preparing.

[5] Psalm 46:10.

[6] M. Craig Barnes, Sacred Thirst: Meeting God in the Desert of our Longings (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 175. Barnes is now the president of Princeton Theological Seminary. This was an earlier book of his while he was pastor of National Capital Presbyterian Church. 

[7] Isaiah 65,

Flip the Switch

Jeff Garrison 

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Isaiah 60:1-7
January 5, 2020

Tomorrow is Epiphany, a word that means a manifestation. Think of it as an “a-ha” moment. It’s the 12th Day of Christmas, but in the Western World, Christmas Day has overtaken his feast day in which we recall the coming of the Magi or the Wisemen. The Wisemen followed the star to Bethlehem. Their coming to the manager is important because it fulfills, as we’ll hear from Isaiah, the light shining in the darkness that draws people from all nations to experience what God has done. Jesus was not born for just Mary and Joseph to cherish. His birth was not just a way to relieve the boredom of a few shepherds. His birth was to offer hope to the entire world. His birth shows that God is not done with us. Let’s listen to Isaiah as I read from the Message version of Scripture. Read Isaiah 60:1-7.


         I was blessed as a child to spend many days camping on an undeveloped beach, generally in the fall of the year when the bluefish were running. We’d crawl out of our sleeping bags while it was still dark and start a small fire on the beach to drive away the chill. You could only make out everyone’s shadows created by the light of the fire or lantern. Before the stars began to disappear and the sky lightened, we’d have a line in the water, baited with cut mullet. You’d cast the line out beyond the surf, hoping you were in a good spot. Gradually, the shades of black and gray would be replaced by color as we shivered in the chill and held our rods high, an index finger touching the line waiting for the signature bump of a fish.

When darkness began to fade, birds would take to the air. It was often then, right before the sun rose, that the bluefish would begin feeding. They’d take the bait and we’d feel the bumping of the line. We’d yank the rod to set the hook, and began to haul them in, trying to keep our feet out of the breaking surf. (as a young-one, I didn’t have any waders). Soon, we’d see a fish flapping in the receding waves and not long thereafter, a few of the fish would be roasting over the coals of the morning fire. But as busy as we were catching fish, we’d pause to watch the sun come up as a bright orange ball. It was a few minutes of amazement. Afterwards, as the sun rose even higher, and its orb seem to shrink (it doesn’t, that’s an optical illusion), we’d begin shedding jackets and no longer needing the fire to stay warm. Now that we could see where we were casting, we’d change from cut bait to a lure or spoon, casting out toward the birds which hovered over the feeding fish.

There’s something magical about the sunrise. The new day is filled with possibilities. With the rising of the sun, there’s hope. It’s a time to give thanks for the day God has given us and, on these mornings, for the fish destined for the freezer.

         You know, the Prophet Isaiah had a lot of depressing things to say. He wrote about the fall of Israel and the coming exile for Jerusalem. War and destruction is at the forefront of his message, but occasionally Isaiah breaks out of the darkness. In Chapter 9, he writes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,”[1] a text read often during the Advent and Christmas seasons. In Chapter 42, Isaiah recalls Lord’s promises by reminding the Hebrew people that God is turning darkness into light.[2] And as his book moves toward its conclusion, he again brings up the coming of light. “It’s time to rise and shine.”

This passage reminds me of that old camp song, “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory.” Isaiah is reminding his readers that it’s time for God’s people to be “the light to the nations.”[3] Isaiah’s viewpoint is that the world is in darkness, but God is bringing about a change and it will be up to God’s people to help light shine in the world. As God’s people, it’s as if we’re given flashlights. We’re not to hoard our light, but to share it share with others as we draw them to the beach to watch the greatest son-rise of all (that’s son with an “O”), the coming of God in the flesh.

         As Christians, we read these passages through the lens of Jesus, the light coming into the world as proclaimed in John’s gospel.[4] Furthermore, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to be a light to the world.”[5] Think of it this way. Jesus is the light of the world, but he calls us to also be lights of the world. Maybe we’re not as bright as his light, maybe we’re more like the moon than the sun, reflecting the light of the true light. But that’s okay. Remember it doesn’t take much light to offer hope. It was mere star that drew the wise men from the East. On a dark night, a few small red and green navigation lights show us the channel. It doesn’t take much to provide hope and guidance, and if we’ve seen the light, we can also be that light, that hope, for someone else.

         Years ago I had the opportunity to spend a few days spelunking (or caving) in eastern West Virginia. It was an incredible experience. When you are below ground like that, there is no light at all. Turn off your light and you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. At one point, we gathered in a huge underground room. Our guide had us place our cameras on tripods and to open the shutters, then had us go around the room popping flashes. Each splash of light would illuminate a section of the wall and ceiling, which we didn’t see until after the film was processed (these were the old days, long before digital). By bringing light into this cave, we got to experience on film the incredible beauty of this huge underground chamber that was dotted with crystals.

         This is what we as Christians are to be doing, bringing light into the world. Yes, there are problems. There are evil people who do terrible things, like the Iranian general who was just killed. There are hateful people who want to wipe others off the face of the earth. There are dishonest people who will lie and cheat to get ahead. There are misguided people who create chaos and whom try to profit at the expense of others. We live with partisan hatred in our own country and under the threat of terrorist attacks, both domestic and foreign. The possibility of war is always on the horizon. But despite all that, as believers in the one who came into a troubled world as a child, the one who was willing to die for our sin, the one for whom the grave could not hold, we have hope. There is much that’s good and beautiful in the world which, like that wall inside a cave, only needs a little light to shine upon it. That’s our job, to point people to all that’s good in the world and to what God is doing through his son, Jesus Christ.

        As we enter a New Year, flip the switch and be the light of the world. Hold tight to the faith we have and share the hope that in Jesus Christ, God has things under control. The good news is that we’re not alone as this New Year begins. Remember the truth of the Psalmist, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.[6] Amen.


[1] Isaiah 9:2.

[2] Isaiah 42:16.

[3] Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6.

[4] John 1:1-5.

[5] Matthew 5:14.

[6] Psalm 30:5.