“Reference points” are an important part of life! Take, for example those brass United States Geological Survey bench marks cast in concrete… or GPS (global positioning system) coordinates... or simple landmarks (such as Connecticut’s Constitution Oak”)... or buoys... or mile markers... to help us find our way! They are all a necessary part of life!
The mysterious flight of a U.S. Air Force B-24 heavy bomber named the Lady Be Good took place over 70-years ago – during WWII in April of 1943. Its crew of nine took off from the Bengazi Air Base (in Libya, North Africa), then climbed northward into the sky for a night-time high altitude bombing raid of port installations at Naples, Italy.
That starlit night, as the Lady Be Good returned her crew back to their Air Base in Benghazi, they somehow became lost… and disappeared! Both the plane and its crew could not be found… no trace of their vanishing was discovered! There was no lead whatsoever!
Their disappearance remained a perplexing mystery for sixteen years... until in 1959 an oil exploration team discovered her well-preserved remains 450 miles south of Benghazi… in the vast Libyan Desert where it is not uncommon for temperatures to reach 130º F.
An Air Force investigation revealed – to everyone’s surprise – that all flight instruments were still in perfect working order! What happened that night was not caused by any equipment failure... or enemy sabotage... In retrospect, they discovered the reason the Lady Be Good and her crew both perished was simple … they missed their reference point…
That fateful night, unbeknownst to the crew, they were carried along by very strong tail winds… so strong, in fact, they flew right past their ADF signal (Automatic Detection Finder signal) hours ahead of their scheduled arrival. When they finally descended through the clouds, they looked for a light beacon they would never find… for it was 450 miles behind them… and they were almost out of fuel over the shifting sands of the Sahara.
At 2:00 am they ran out of fuel and parachuted into the night sky. A diary was kept by the crew – and later found – that detailed the horrors of their eight final blinding days in the desert heat with half a canteen of water to support the entire crew.
In the same manner, God’s people (Israel) missed an important reference point in their day! It was a critical juncture according to God’s spokesman, Isaiah!
The days were dark and troubled! To the north of them sat the great imperial war machine – Assyria – growing rapidly toward its prime, led by the brutal and fearful commander, Tiglath-pileser III…
Isaiah tried to rally his people and their leaders to return to God and His protection, but they would not! Their historic reference point – the Almighty – had been lost, and they had become recalcitrant – obstinately defiant of God’s authority.
Isaiah excoriated their national leaders for viewing the nation’s situation politically and assessing it humanistically. They had forgotten God! More accurately, they had chosen to ignore Him! And they daily wandered ever further from His path of safety.
Isaiah tersely labeled their treaties – first with Assyria herself, then with Egypt -- “agreements with hell.” Their alliances he bluntly acknowledged as “covenants with death.” He warned the leaders of the land this would be their undoing! Their sins would bring the nation to moral ruin!
Isaiah went on… I have heard from the LORD word of impoverishment that will cover the land. It will flood as a scourge and wreak its deadly havoc… and all of their leaders’ lies would offer no safe refuge. Their falsehoods would not be able to hide them from its painful outcome!
Just as a person cannot obtain a good night’s sleep in a bed that is too short or too narrow, he continued, so your treaties will not furnish you the comfort you are envisioning.
Just as a small blanket that does not cover a person’s shoulders… or feet... or back… or legs… robs that person of precious sleep in the cold, so too, your pact with the enemies of the LORD will rob you of the safekeeping and preservation you are hoping to acquire.
Then Isaiah addressed their false security by referring to the actions of the farmer – who does not spend his entire effort only plowing the land over and over again… or harrowing the land (that is, breaking the dirt clods) over and over again into dust. He goes on in sequential fashion to plant the seed… to water the seed… to harvest the crops… and then eventually to thresh them.
In threshing, he beats and bruises the harvest – in order to separate the precious grain… and gather it for good use.
The leaders of God’s people were mocking God -- the Governor of this universe with impunity – just as their offspring continue to do today. But a day was coming, Isaiah warned, when its logical end would exact a dear price… Theythemselves would be threshed…
Well, 700-years later, God’s people missed yet another reference point – the coming of the Messiah Himself! -- described for them so eloquently through His prophet, Isaiah, in the lesson before us this morning!.
Isaiah could see His Coming so clearly – His Person, His Office, His Sufferings, His Kingdom – that he has been called the Fifth Evangelist!
Isaiah referred to the coming Messiah as a sure foundation stone – massive and true… immovable and reliable. A reference point!
He described Him as “tried” – chosen and certified by the Father. And by Him all things would be rightly measured…
He was described as “precious” – radiating beauty and glory – that He might be seen from afar… and draw all men unto Himself…
Yet all, but only a few, missed His Coming. They did not recognize God’s work... His “strange work.” They did not identify His act... His “strange act” spoken of in our lesson.
How important it is for us – individually… and as a Church Family… as a community... as a nation… as the world to remember God’s ultimate reference point – Jesus Christ – and not pass Him by! He is the only reference point of life by which we may navigate safely.
He comes so silently... without fanfare... unseen by those too busy to notice Him! All too many distracted by the gifts of the season... undetected among the tinsel and the music!
Let us never ever underestimate the importance of reference points in life… Let us never miss them... let us never miss the Christ Child! For He is the reference point of life, par excellence!
In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we discover mankind’s eternal reference point… Who guides us through life to perfect meaning! To perfect safety!
Let us not miss Him Who came to show us the Father… and all things good and worthy and true…
Let us make haste to prepare ourselves for His arrival in four short weeks. Let us cast off our works of darkness. Let us put on the armor of light! Let us open our hearts to Him this Advent Season… and prepare Him room.
He is mankind’s consummate reference point for life…
World without end...