Anchored Hope

By: Shannon Youell

As I write this article, it is snowing outside my window.  Big huge, wet flakes are plummeting to earth.  In only a few minutes everything begins to look a lot less green and a lot more white.  Of course, living in Victoria BC guarantees that this snow, especially in December, will be short lived.   

The snow causes me to pause and think about the elements that we consider necessary or even just enhancing for us to ‘feel Christmas’.  Bing Crosby’s classic lyric “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” floats through my thoughts.  Perhaps for you it is the “stockings all hung by the chimney with care” or, “… in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”  There are all sorts of perspectives on what makes Christmas meaningful, on what ‘the true meaning of Christmas is’ and what each of us needs or wishes for to have a happy or merry one. 

 For us as Christ followers, we also look through the Advent lens of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.  This year as I’ve been reflecting upon that lens and as I’ve spoken with many people struggling with the concepts of joy, peace and sadly even a sense of love, I realized how hard it is to hold on to them when we don’t have the anchor of hope holding us steady.  So often we try to manufacture peace, joy and love through all those things we ‘do’ and ‘create’ to make Christmas special, but in the end find ourselves celebrating the mediocrity of it all.   

Perhaps this was the sense of Zechariah as he carried out his priestly duties just as he’d spent his life doing, yet not seeing his own hopes of either a child of his own or the anticipated Hope of Israel.  Or of the shepherds, a social class of their own, huddling through yet another cold night watching dirty, stupid animals for little reward or hope of a better life.  I wonder whether, in the same-old-same-old cycle of hope deferred, they had lost any sense of peace or joy or love.  Without hope, can one even know or recognize the presence of the others?   

Yet.   

Yet when those same shepherds, chilled to the bone, resigned to their lot in life, saw those angels and hurried off to gaze upon the babe in a trough whose birth they announced, returned to their flocks, their whole countenance had changed.  They returned to the same mediocre life.  The same dirty sheep.  The same endless days and nights of poverty, marginalization, invisibility, disappointment that they’d always known, yet something had changed within them.  Luke tells us they returned ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen”.  Hope had been enlivened within them.  Joy sprang forth from their hearts and lips and God’s love in his promises blanketed them with warmth, comfort and a sense of knowing all will be put right in the world again.   

Zechariah, too, gazing upon his own promised newborn, explodes in joy with prophesy and praise.  “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”  He uses the language of salvation, rescue, tender mercy, forgiveness of sins and light shining on those living in darkness and the shadow of death, of peace.   

For each of these, the meaning of Christmas is found not in the weather, the feast, the gifts, the celebrations or even in the religious rituals thick with their own meaning.  It is found in a promise fulfilled.  A gift already given.  A future already in motion.  For each, this single moment, this single gift, this single event embedded such hope within them they could not contain it.  They carried it with them wherever it went.  It lasted.  It didn’t melt away in short order like Victoria snow.  It sustained them as they returned to the mediocrity and reality of life in a broken world where once they knew only the absence and fleetingness of peace, joy and love.  Now, with this anchor of hope, it welled over into the lives of those they found themselves among. 

Today may be heralded as the longest night of the year – yet – it is only a night.  The dawn comes each day.  It is in the night, in the dimly lit places where we often most need to embrace hope, take hold of it to bring us encouragement, rest in our souls, peace in our spirits and love in our hearts.  As Paul writes in Hebrews 6, this hope is an anchor for our souls, firm and secure.  It tethers us to God and changes our expectations.  It focuses us to fix our eyes on the Christ and the promises of God that have been enacted through him and the celebration God’s ongoing action within the world he so loves.  

Whatever your Christmas is this year, let it be rich and thick with meaning that comes from the fullness of what God has accomplished, is still accomplishing and will be accomplishing through Christ our Lord.  May our hope be so anchored in him that we are enlivened with his peace, his joy, his love in whatever places, spaces and circumstances we find ourselves in.  In him we find the true meaning, hope, that springs praise upon our lips and gives witness to the goodness of God in the land.  Merry Christmas. 

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.

God-With-Us is Hope 

By Shannon Youell

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day? 

How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” 

This plea, this lament from Psalm 13 written by the Hebrew David, King of Israel, may resonate with you—perhaps from a time when circumstances were bleak, dreary, seemingly endless and without any hope of changing. 

Perhaps this is how you feel right now.  

David’s lament, one of many poured from the depths of his soul, reminds us how easy it can be to lose hope when we are not seeing or experiencing the promises of God that we long to know. It is the sad reality of our humanness: it is easy to lose hope. 

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I suspect, however, that when we do lose hope, it is likely because that hope is dependent upon some kind of determined outcome, some kind of action, some kind of mystery, miracle, provision.  How many times have we, in lamenting prayer, reminded God of His promises towards us as a passive-aggressive way to demand they be so for us now. For us, disappointment denotes the absence of hope fulfilled.  Yet… 

 “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
Martin Luther King Jr. 

Finite hope may or may not appear, but infinite hope, ahhh, that is something different all together.  That hope is not just wrapped up in a promise, but a person, and not just any person, but God Himself.  God-With-Us. 

Often, we look to the promises of God as our hope, when our hope is simply Himself. Incarnated. Emmanuel. With-Us. Here amid our sorrow, our how long! pleas and cries.     

There will be trials and disappointments, but God does not leave us without hope.   

There is hope because God is still With-Us. 

Here’s the thing about hope: it may not always look the way we expect it to, but in the end, it always looks like God. God-With-Us. 

Our hope isn’t found in the promise fulfilled. Our hope is that God-With-Us is our hope. 

God-With-UsChrist, Emmanuelpours upon us the hope of His presence and it leads to the way of peace, and to the way of joy, and the way of love and then to promises fulfilled. Hope is not only clinging to a promise of the future, but more so clinging to the Person who is present, now and always. 

This is the message of Advent. Advent is not an extension of Christmas; Advent links our past hope, our present hope and our future hope. 

Our God-With-Us is hope, and that hope restores our hearts, our minds, our soul and strength towards peace, towards joy, towards love so we can worship fully in the knowing that our God never leaves us nor forsakes us. 

David, as in most of his laments, remembers that hope. He finishes his anguished cries with these words: 

But I trust in your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
For he has been good to me.” 

God-With-Us is Hope. 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 
Romans 15:13
 

The Hope of Advent

What are you hoping for this Advent season?

Chris and Lois Naylor of Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship on Vancouver Island share how we can join them in prayer and hope this season:

Both Lois and I are now into our 80s. God called us into church planting in the early  60s and the Lord is still using us as the Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship began when a few met regularly together for worship and prayer in our home. We now have Pastor Norm Sowden and our fellowship has grown as we meet regularly on Sunday in the Mill Bay Community Hall. There are two mid-week prayer and study groups. There are also outreaches into two senior care facilities as well as reaching out to a First Nations Community.

Chris Naylor, second from right, and the MBBF worship team

Chris Naylor (second from right) and the MBBF worship and audiovisual team.

We have a real burden for Mill Bay, which has no church facility. The Lord has lead us to bid on a 5-acre parcel of land with highway frontage located in this strategic area. We desperately need our own facility and are praying for the Lord to provide the funds needed. We are trusting the Lord’s word when He said “Whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you” (John 16:23). This IS His work and we trust Him fully to meet our every need.

We are praying too for wisdom to reach the many students in our Middle and High schools as well as into Brentwood College and Dwight International Schools. There is also a great need to reach our own Malahat First Nations band. May we have the faith of William Carey who said, “Expect Great Things from God. Attempt Great Things for God.”

Our prayer is that God would keep us together in harmony and unity seeking His guiding and leading that souls may be reached and His plans and purposes be accomplished but above all that His name be glorified in all the vision we have for the harvest field of Mill Bay.

Chris Naylor

To learn how else you can join in prayer for Mill Bay Baptist, check out their article in December’s Making Connections.