• Steven Marsh

Hope–Light and Hope Converge: a Reflection on Isaiah 52:7-10

The hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ candles have been lit. The birth of Jesus calls you to walk in the interval between birth and death with the future and present hope that God is the light of your way and the foundation of your hope.

Leigh C. Bishop, a psychiatrist and military reservist, was stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 2008. In the dim light of dusk, he watched as a procession of military vehicles approached the airfield, came to a stop, and carefully unloaded a flag-draped steel casket. He knew that somewhere in the U.S., a family was going to suffer a Christmas homecoming that no one wanted. It was a heartbreaking scene for Bishop to take in—and one all-too-familiar in war.

But then, another scene from that Christmas Eve. In an article for Christianity Today magazine entitled “Christmas in Afghanistan,” Bishop writes: [After watching the casket be unloaded from the military vehicle], I find myself walking along … the main avenue of Bagram Airfield. All is different …. Soldiers holding candles are belting out Christmas carols with gusto. Down the street, luminaries brighten the walkway into the clamshell-shaped auditorium, where cheerful groups of uniformed men and women enter for a Christmas concert. Two blocks away, the chapel is filling for the six o’clock Christmas Eve service.

War, writes C.S. Lewis in the essay “Learning in War-Time,” reveals a hunger in human beings for joy and meaning that will not be set aside for even the most difficult of circumstances ….Jesus did not come just to provide an occasion to sing carols, drink toasts, feast, and exchange gifts. But we are right to do these things, even as soldiers die and families grieve, because he came. And in his coming, he brought joy and peace—the joy that overcomes our sorrows, and the only kind of peace that ultimately matters. It’s the peace of which the end of all wars, terrible as they are, is merely one token. It’s the peace that means the long war between the heart and its Maker is over. It’s a peace treaty offered in Bethlehem and signed, in blood, on Calvary.

Bishop concludes: “So joy to the world, and to every celebrating or grieving or hurting soul in it. The Lord has come. Let heaven and nature—and even those who stand watch with lighted candles in the land of the shadow of death—sing.”[1]

Isaiah 52:7-10 addresses joy and grief; most importantly, light and hope. God’s deliverance beckons the world to burst into song. When the sun rises, the birds sing. Isaiah asks Jerusalem to wake up from its sleep. The new day has begun. The exiles are returning. The Holy God of Israel is faithful. The ruined Jerusalem will be restored. And the promise of the Messiah becomes more immanent with each passing day.

The promise of the Messiah is fulfilled. Hope is real as light permeates the darkness at Jesus’s birth. The birth of Jesus continues the deliverance of humanity occurring in Isaiah’s day. But now, God’s acting in Jesus makes the hope of salvation real in that all people now have access. Don E. Saliers, Professor Emeritus of Theology and Worship at Candler School of Theology, writes, “The humanity of God is found at Bethlehem. God became one of us that we (all, not just some) may become restored in God’s likeness.”[2]

Living in hope is the light of your way. Light and Hope converge on Christmas Day. Christmas Day calls you to walk in the interval between birth and death with the future and present hope that God will provide light for the path you are walking…the journey you are taking. As Martin Thielen writes, “Contented people focus on living in the present moment. They know that life’s circumstances are never going to be perfect.”[3] Jesus has embraced the whole of the human drama.[4] Jesus has embraced you. Merry Christmas!

[1]Leigh C. Bishop, “Christmas in Afghanistan,” Christianity Today (December 2009), 36-37.

[2]Don E. Saliers in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 126.

[3]Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 55.

[4]Idea gleaned from Don E. Saliers in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, 124.

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