Summary: Knowing the hope of God With Us through every circumstance of life
The Gift of Hope
Nov 30 / Dec 1; 2002
A number of years ago researchers performed an experiment to see the effect hope has on those undergoing hardship. Two sets of laboratory rats were placed in separate tubs of water. The researchers left one set in the water and found that within an hour they had all drowned. The other rats were periodically lifted out of the water and then returned. When that happened, the second set of rats swam for over 24 hours. Why? Not because they were given a rest, but because they suddenly had hope!
Hope is a powerful force. As we begin the season of Advent, preparing to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, I want to reflect together on the gift we have of hope in Christ.
And to do that, I want to look again at a familiar passage, often read during the Advent season. It is Isaiah 9:1-7. Christians throughout the ages have read this passage as looking ahead to the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, as a prophecy of His birth. I invite you to read along.
A Brief History Lesson:
We can¡¦t help but read those verses in the light and knowledge of Jesus¡¦ birth ¡V we have seen the fulfillment of the prophecies recorded here by Isaiah. But I want to invite you to try to take a mental step back to Isaiah¡¦s time, and try to hear these prophecies from their place of desperation and difficulty. Because the hope offered through Isaiah is offered still.
Isaiah spoke during a time of great political turmoil. The people around him lived in constant fear, new political alliances jumping up all over the place, various different foreign powers threatening to over run the people of Judah and carry them all off into slavery. One moment they were being pressured into an alliance with one group, the next that same group was turning on them and threatening at their borders. It was a time of great, great uncertainty. Isaiah spoke into that uncertainty, providing guidance to the king of Judah regarding all these political and military dilemmas. But, as so often happens, the king relied on his own judgment instead of the wisdom from God, and so the trouble increased.
The bottom line for the people of Isaiah¡¦s day was that same as it is for us today ¡V we have a choice, to follow God¡¦s way or to follow our own way. Listen to Isaiah¡¦s prophecy in the previous chapter: 8:6-8 "Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River - the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land.¡¨ It is a prophecy of destruction, of being overrun by the King of Assyria, as a result of rejecting God¡¦s way and choosing instead to trust in some military alliances.
Chapter 8 ends with this description (21-22): ¡§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.¡¨
I read those two passages so that, as we look at the beginning of chapter 9, we might have an appreciation for the desperation of the people of Judah. They are at a point of seeing only ¡§distress and darkness and fearful gloom.¡¨ ¡§Utter darkness.¡¨ I want to pause there and ask ¡V have you ever been at such a place? Feeling like there is nothing but despair ¡V feeling enraged when you have the energy, but often just slumping into bed, crying yourself to sleep, looking around and seeing nothing but darkness. Have you ever felt like that? Do you feel like that now? There is something more¡K
Isaiah Offers Hope
Chapter 9 begins with the words, ¡§Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom¡K¡¨ He continues that theme throughout the first few verses of the section I read, noting that the people who were ¡§walking in darkness,¡¨ who were living ¡§in the land of the shadow of death,¡¨, who were in vs. 4 burdened with a ¡§yoke that burdens them, a bar across their shoulder, a rod of their oppressor,¡¨ who faced all of these places of hopelessness and despair ¡V to those people, in that situation, Isaiah offers hope.
those in darkness „³ see a great light