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Isaiah – Hope

 
Scripture Focus: Isaiah 40:1-5; Mark 1:1-8
 
Hope is the most powerful and the most dangerous of things. When people are surrounded by bad news, when people are prisoners, when people are blinded by lies and are trapped by evil plans, when people are oppressed, when people are taken away from everything they treasure, the hope of freedom into better days is the most powerful of gifts to keep living. When people have misplaced hope in a person or promise that cannot possibly occur and fails, a dangerous effect follows leading to a loss of spirit, a loss of trust, a loss of life. Where we place our hope matters. The season of Advent brings a time each year to remember and celebrate the hope that comes from Jesus Christ.
 
Hope on the horizon is one of the central themes of Advent and is from the Old Testament prophet named Isaiah. His prophecies extended from 739-681 BC to the people of God primarily living in Jerusalem. His prophecies spanned over the reign of four Judean Kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. In this slice of history, the Israelite people find themselves living in dark times of judgment because they have broken their covenant with God and pursued idolatrous and rebellious lives leading to sin. The judgment of God comes throughout the Book of Isaiah in the form of foreign nations such as Assyria and Babylon overtaking God’s people and eventually leading them into exile.
 
People that experience exile long for hope to hold on to until they can be rescued and released from their captors. Exile is a place where people desire for someone to save them. Luke 4:18-19 reminds us of the hope given to those in exile through Isaiah (61:1-2) by God:
 
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
 
Jesus Christ would be the fulfillment of this hope and continues to be our hope in our life on earth and in heaven. But, do we still need help from exile, I live in a country of the free and the brave? Could today possibly get any worse than yesterday? Some may say that reading the daily headlines now in the 21st century brings echoes of a type of exile from what life could and should be like. Stories dealing with:
 
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Abuse in all forms
  • Corruption in government
  • Epidemics in society from human trafficking to opioid addiction
  • Power and hedonism leading to oppression and exploitation
 
All these dark issues and more that surround our lives each day in the form of news stories can make it feel like a modern-day exile from what God intended and desires our lives to be. Sometimes the stories are not in the news; rather, they are our own stories that seem to find us wandering in a dark season. Perhaps even our stories dealing with divorce, disease, debt, depression, death trap us needing hope most of all. Whether living 700 years before the birth of Jesus or almost 21 centuries after His first Advent, people experiencing the effects of exile need hope to hold on to in life.
 
As we remember and celebrate the Advent of incarnate hope, hear again the good news of hope through our darkness from Isaiah 9:2, 6-7:
 
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
 
While yesterday in exile may have been bad and today may not seem to be much better, we have hope knowing that if not tomorrow, soon, He will come again. The second Advent is closer than we may realize even if we feel like exile has lasted far too long from our vantage point of life. If we feel like we are still in exile, may we join with the monks and the many throughout the ages who have sung the song of advent hope: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel.
 
Pastor H. John Lewis