When I was the youth pastor here at Avenue in the early 2000’s I had the privilege of leading a mission trip to Jellico, Tennessee for a week of home repair. We worked hard during the week and ended the week with a caving expedition. We hiked into the woods to the mouth of the cave and donned our flashlights and sweatshirts. As we walked through the cave, we came to what our guides called the “birth canal.” It was a narrow passage that I’m not sure was larger than 24 inches. We got on our bellies, crawled, sucked in our stomachs, and made our way through the passage into a huge Great Room with expansive ceilings.
Inside the Great Room, our guides had us turn off all our lights and encouraged us to five minutes of silent in a pitch-black room. It was the deepest darkness that I had ever experienced. If your hand wasn’t attached to your arm, you would have no clue it was waving in front of your face. The darkness was unsettling to think about people who get lost in caves and lose their lights! They would be walking around, groping in the darkness with no sense of direction and no ability to know the correct way out.
After five minutes of complete darkness in the cave, our guide struck a match and lit a candle. A single candle began to push back the darkness in the cave. We could see the features of the cave. We could see the rocks and other dangers around us. We could see our friends who were right beside us the whole time. As our group began to light their candles, the darkness was scattered away. The discomfort of the darkness dissapated and there was hope that we would not be left alone in the dark.
We are in the second week of our series, A Thrill of Hope, where we are looking for and living into the HOPE of Jesus Christ during the season of Advent. Last week, we shared how will keep us awake and cause us to roll up our sleeves to join the redemptive work that God is already doing in the world while we wait for Jesus’ return. This week, I want to continue to look at the idea of experiencing HOPE IN THE DARKNESS.
In the Prophet of Isaiah, the nation of Israel is in deep trouble. A darkness has covered the land. The sun has not stopped shining nor has the stars lost their light. Isaiah tells us that that the nation of Israel has been walking in darkness, a deep darkness. This darkness is the result of Israel choosing their own instead of following the ways of God. They have trusted human wisdom and glory rather than trusting in God. By turning away from God, the nation of Israel is plunged into darkness.
The depth of the darkness is seen in the Assyrian assault and destruction through Israel. The richest and most skilled were taken off to captivity. For Israel, it became a crisis of faith because if you believe that your God, the One True God, has allowed you to be carried off to captivity, what does this say about your faith? Darkness has covered the land. Death has become pervasive. Hopelessness is the feeling of the day.
In Chapter Nine of Isaiah, God provides Hope in the Darkness for Israel. In verse 2, God says,
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
Isaiah proclaims that though the darkness covers the land that dawn is on the horizon. God will enlarge the nation and increase their joy. The yoke that burdens them will be shattered. This is good news for Israel. This is good news for the people. After years of oppression and occupation God is bring new life to Israel. After years of silence, God is again on the move.
God is bigger than the Assyrians.
Imagine yourself listening to Isaiah. You hear the news about the light that is coming. You listen as Isaiah declares that the yoke will be shattered and that Israel will celebrate once again like they would when the harvest would be gathered. You would probably imagine that God was raising up a rebel-King to inspire the people to revolt. Maybe you’d think God was going to use a military leader who could out maneuver, outmatch, and outwit the Assyrians. Perhaps God would send a natural disaster to decimate Assyria and turn the tables of Israel’s predicament.
You listen and you hear Isaiah declare:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,Isaiah 9:6
And the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called,
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
The hope in the darkness is a child. Not a king. Not a military leader. Not a revolutionary or a celebrity. A child.
If you read Isaiah, you know this prophecy speaks specifically about a child that was born at this time who would lead Israel, but most Biblical prophecy is multi-layered because the child to be born is called “Mighty God” and will reign on David’s throne forever. No king in Israel was ever called “Mighty God.” The peace that The Child will bring will be an eternal peace. This is more than a child. This is The Child. The Messiah.
This child, The Child, will turn darkness into light. The Child will be a King to establish an everlasting Kingdom. The Child will take Israel’s conflict and turn it into peace. The Child will turn Israel’s loss into abundance and their despair into joy.
Like Israel in the book of Isaiah, we can easily find ourselves walking in darkness. We can choose to go our own way rather than following the ways of God. Things happen in life that cause us to doubt God or, perhaps, God’s silence causes us to go our own way. There are those in our community who struggle with drug abuse, alcoholism, marriage problems, financial shortfalls, and injustices that turn them away from the light. And we walk in darkness.
When we find ourselves in darkness, we can ask: Where is God? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why hasn’t God taken COVID away? Why did God allow my loved one to die? Will I ever get out of the cycle of debt? How can I stop feeling so hopeless?
These are Advent Questions. The Church has been asking them from the beginning. We do not know why God is silent. We do not know why God allows pain and suffering with such little meaning evident through the process. But what we do know is that there is a rumor, a hope, and an expectation that the night is nearly over. That the light is coming. God is working behind the scenes even when it doesn’t feel like it. God is at work in the darkness even when we cannot see it.
Where we began is not where God wants us to finish.
This Advent, Darkness may be where we start, but it not where God wants to leave us. Where we began in confusion, God brings us wisdom. Where we walk in sin, Jesus forgives us. Where we walk in despair, God brings comfort. We began with fear but God wants to bring us peace. We begin with mourning, God will bring us joy. God is working even when we cannot see it. There is hope in the darkness.
A child who is crown King over the universe. A Child who gives his life for us. A child whose kingdom will be filled with peace. This child is Immanuel, God with Us. This Hope is Jesus- who is the light of the world- who died on the Cross for our sins and was raised from the dead and who will return again- a light to disperse the darkness in the world.
As people of Hope, our lives should shine the light of Christ to the world. This could mean wearing a mask or staying home to slow down the transmission of a virus. This could mean making a handful of phone calls to those who are immune-compromised each week to check-in and help them stay connected. It could mean buying groceries or picking up prescriptions. We have the opportunity to be a light to those who are walking in darkness.
The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Have we allowed the child-King to take over the government of our heart and lives? Will we surrender our lives to God? Will we align ourselves with our kingdom or will we continue to mop and grope in the darkness?