Thrust into Darkness

By: Shannon Youell

Here I am, and the children the Lord has given me.  We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.  When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.  Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God.  Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness, and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.  Isaiah 8:18-22 

Just before Isaiah wrote the famous Advent words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;”, he scribed the passage above.  He sets the context for what the world is like, where hope has waned, if not disappeared, where both the present and the future are painted as a bleak, gloomy fearfulness, where people curse and blame both their government and their god.  It all sounds so dismal, disturbed and pointless.  If one were to never go on to chapter 9, one would consider the calamities of the day as fatalistic and humanity as on the precipice of expiration. 

But, then, one has missed the beauty of what Isaiah is saying.  He first acknowledges that as far as it is up to him, he will wait for the Lord, he will put his trust in him (8:17) and then he echoes his words from chapter six, “Here I am.”  But he is not alone.  The people whom God has given him, the people of God with whom he journeys, are there with him.  And together they are “signs and symbols” from the Lord who dwells among them in the land. (8:18) 

Signs and symbols of hope when hope seems to have fled the hearts of people.  Signs and symbols of a light that pierces the fiercest darkness, saturating hearts with an unexplainable expectancy rising up in joy.   

The writings are a poetic reminder that we, the God believers, the disciples of Christ, are called to shine our light and not hide it under a bowl.  In that way we embody hope to the world.  

In one of the Advent Readers I am following this season, the writer wrote these words, “Hope holds steady, clinging to peace in the midst of chaos.”1 

This is powerful imagery in the reality of this particular Advent in 2020.  In a time when many are embodying fear, anxiety, despondency, cynicism, hopelessness and anger, Isaiah and the Gospel of God’s kingdom invites us to cling to peace in the midst of it all.  To be seekers of peace, joy and love.  To be the embodiment of the kind of hope that fosters hope to and towards the world.  God’s hope.  

It is our “God of hope” who enables us to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).  This reality isn’t true only in ‘good’ times; in fact, it is dark and difficult times when hope truly shows its mettle. 

Hope, God’s hope, disrupts the utter darkness we find ourselves plunged in.  It displaces it with “a great light” revealing the shadows we live in are only that, shadows.  They are dangerous, frightening, agonizing shadows that in the absence of God’s hope are bereft of any peace to cling to.  But with God, with Messiah, with this great light that has already dawned, when we embody the presence of God calm comes with us.   

In the midst of the chaos where suffering, grief and loss are so real, we, the people who call Jesus Lord and Savior, are to be signs and symbols of our God-With-Us.  His hope is with us when we can’t leave our homes and are lonely.  His hope is with us as we struggle with all the things that have been disrupted and displaced by this virus.  And the Gospel invites us to embody that hope for others, to be signs and symbols clinging to peace, and our very demeanor, language and gestures embodies a hope that is disruptive to shadows we find both ourselves and others living shrouded in as our world feels thrust into darkness. 

May each of us be signs and symbols of Disruptive Hope. Let us shine the light of dawn among our neighbours, our church families and our nation in humility and strength, love and grace, in this very different and modified Christmas Season. 

Hold steady. Cling to peace. Together we are signs and symbols of our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Shalom.

Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God

By: Shannon Youell with Karen Wilk

One of the key questions I believe the church should be asking during this time is “What are the opportunities God is opening up to us the church when our normalized ways of gathering as communities has been disrupted and evangelism seems paralyzed because of social distancing?

Many thoughtful, prayerful and reflective followers of Jesus are asking this, and through listening and discernment, are seeking to discover and participate in what the Spirit is up to in their neighbourhoods. They’re wondering if perhaps God is inviting God’s people to again be rooted in the local places where the Spirit has placed them to live, work, play and pray.  They’re wondering if this might be the way for the church to learn both to navigate the current crisis as well as the ever- changing landscape of our world in a post-pandemic, post-modern (or some say post-post-modern), post-Christian world.

Today we share with you a post by Karen Wilk who is a National Team Member for Forge Canada Missional Training Network, and a Missional Leader Developer for the Resonate Global Mission.  When Karen wrote this article it was pre-covid.  Recently CBWC Church Planting asked her to look at her article again against the backdrop of this shifted world we’re finding ourselves in, and share any new insights of engaging and living in a neighbourhood for the work of the Kingdom of God.  Karen’s response was there isn’t much she’d change even looking through our current lens.

That says a lot to me!  At a time when so many are feeling the void of community across the spectrum of whatever community may be for us, Karen is confident that community embedded in neighbourhoods is resilient to still flourish even during the strangest of circumstances and times.

This article by Karen Wilk was originally published on Forge Canada’s blog.

Lately, I have been learning a lot about what it means to be a healthy or abundant community and the importance of community for personal and communal well-being. How do you imagine an abundant, vibrant, healthy or competent – as some experts call it – community?

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I suspect many of us have nostalgic memories of neighbourhood.  For example, at a recent gathering numerous participants told stories about growing up on a street where, as kids, they roamed freely to the playground, to the corner store; where they ventured in and out of each other’s homes, played ‘hide and seek’ or ‘kick the can’ at night; never locking their doors and so on… One block connector told the story of how the neighbours would often say, when he got out of hand (which, from the sounds of it was quite often), ‘Remember, I know your Mom, now behave yourself!’  Now, they lamented, kids can’t even go to the playground half a block away on their own, and ‘the village’ isn’t ‘raising the child.’

We don’t even know the parents! We try to keep others out, rather than make connections with those around us.  We have somehow come to believe that our communal responsibility for the health, security, education, environment, economy, and vulnerable in our communities belongs to, or is better maintained and sustained by, social services, government agencies and/or the professionals.

What if a vibrant community is one which includes every resident and recognizes the abundance and care in its midst – the gifted people next door, the wise seniors a few houses down, the carpenter, electrician on the block one over, the gardener, the bicycle fanatic, the teen willing to shovel snow, the empty nesters willing to help the young parents on the other side of the alley…?

Sociologists and numerous studies are saying that neighbourhood community is the most effective means of addressing at least seven essentials that lead to personal and communal well-being and thus, an abundant community – an abundant community that, from the perspective of the Christian faith, reflects God’s Kingdom of Shalom, the Triune Communion of our God.

We all yearn – creation groans – for this kind of place: a place where we all belong, where all feel safe and secure, where all can grow and flourish, are cared for, work for the common good. In this kind of community, all contributions are welcomed and employed and the primary practice of inclusive hospitality pervades.

Perhaps an abundant community is exactly what God had in mind when he instructed the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah to seek the peace and the well-being of the city (29:4-7). Perhaps, the church – struggling to discern her role in post-modern post-Christendom – might begin to discern what God is up to by seeking to discover and join the Spirit on God’s mission in the neighbourhoods where He has sent her to remain.

Our society’s growing understanding of the significance of community seems to resonate with this text.  I think Jeremiah speaks a word not only to the people of God in Jeremiah’s day but in ours.  Both are called to nurture abundant communities!  We too are asked to seek the welfare and prosperity of the place God has sent us – to settle in, to stay, have families and gardens and do life together with our neighbours; to be faithfully present right where God has sent us and thereby declare that the Kingdom of God has come near!