"Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. – Isaiah 9:1-7
Hope. How are you doing with hope these days?
We are approximately nine months into this COVID thing and by all appearances, what started off as a reprieve from the busyness that had assaulted our day to day lives, has turned into a monotonous world of endless video meetings, isolation, and internal and external disfunction.
I don’t have to tell you that the world around us has changed and changed dramatically. Here in the US and in much of the world, we have rapidly shifted from a culture of free association and the joy of community and family gatherings to one of fear-based isolation.
This isolation is rapidly taking its toll on both our hearts and our culture. Addictions of all kinds are up, counselors are overwhelmed, and the core of healthy society, the family, is stressed as never before. Suicides, both adult and teen, have skyrocketed. Addictions of all kinds, from medicating with drugs and alcohol to TV and pornography along with the abuse both mental and physical that issues from these addictions is also on the rise. Divorce and the continued disintegration of the family continues to ramp up.
Many of us have experienced loss. The unexpected or expected death of a friend or relative. The loss of the ability to say goodbye and to grieve at a funeral or memorial. The loss of a wedding. The loss of a birth. The latter two hit home for me … my eldest daughter got married this year … it was 15 minutes on a Zoom call. My youngest daughter brought her own daughter into the world. Our first grandchild. She is two months old and we have not met her. It’s as if in many ways we have stopped living.
Think about it for a minute … Fear. Fear has stopped us from living. And yet, God has given us the answer.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – Jesus, John 10:10
“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – Paul, 2 Timothy 1:7
One of my favorite books of the Bible is Luke. Not only does it bring to life the birth of Jesus, but Luke brings to us Jesus’ stunning proclamation in Nazareth …
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” – Luke 4:16-19
Jesus lays out his mission, his plan of attack. He reads from Isaiah 61 and then … he does it! Jesus steps squarely into a world of oppression, opposition, death, loss, and hopelessness and brings … Hope!
As a culture, we are not as resilient as we once were. Our ability to both discern reality and cope with the world around us has been diminished. Where once we, as a people, were use to and even expected hardship; now, we are stressed and angry if Amazon doesn’t deliver what was ordered today, tomorrow.
I came across this account from Marvin H. Neel in a small memoir entitled “As I Remember It” from 1977. It chronicles some of his experiences growing up in southwestern Virginia in the early 1900s and this one hit a chord.
“We got one pair of shoes a year. After the first frosts in the fall Dad would go to the store and buy each of us a pair of new shoes that were sold under the name "Locust Posts." With them came the admonition: "Kick them out before spring, and you'll be on the ground!" He meant that literally. At that time overshoes were almost unheard of. None of us had ever had a pair, and it was many long years before we did. Wading in the snow, mud and water, our shoes would become soaked through and through, and when they dried it was almost like putting on shoes made of cast-iron.”
Most, if not all of us, can’t imagine this. One pair of shoes a year and if you wear them out before next year comes around you go barefoot? Talk about resiliency. Stop here for a moment and count. How many pairs of shoes do you have?
Ok, now let’s turn back to hope. Especially in times like these we need hope if we are to survive. If we are to be resilient. If we are to be able to reach out in expectancy for the good that is all around us. If we will just have eyes to see.
Go back to the top of this blog and read Isaiah 9:1-7 again. Do you see it? Do you see the hope? Right from the start -
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
Hope! The first Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ brought hope to a desolate and weary people and continues to do so today in the midst of isolation, lockdowns, and fear. Find a practice this Christmas season that sets your heart on the hope that Jesus promises, the hope his life brings, the hope he desires to give us. If we will just set our eyes on him.
So, my practice this Christmas season is to hug. I am going to hug the ones I love. Family or not. Where it's appropriate, I am going to hug. And, in those hugs remember and embrace the hope our Lord placed in our hearts when he ascended and sent us the Holy Spirit. Eyes on Jesus and a hug. That is my Christmas of hope. My Christmas of love. Out of that hope and love I am determined to live free from fear and to answer God’s question, “Is your fear greater than my love?” with an emphatic NO!!!!
Godspeed and may Jesus invade your world with hope and love! Amen! Amen!! Amen!!!