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.