Saturday, December 12, 2009
The sky is gray. The days are short. The air is cold. The trees are bare. And reflecting the grayness around, people begin to feel low. I felt it the other day, that creeping depression. And I know that others are beginning to feel it. Life is hard. Sometimes one just feels so lonely - no matter how many people are around or how busy your life may appear. Gray. Depressed. And I can't help thinking that if those of us who have faith, who have come to this poor country to serve, who have a hope and a degree of financial security, who are part of a community of faith... if this creeping grayness affects us, how do they manage who have no hope? What of the elderly in the villages who are all alone with no one to visit them or care for their needs? What of the children whose parent or parents have gone to another country, leaving them with friends or relatives or sometimes an abusive or alcoholic parent? What of them? What of the unemployed whose efforts to find work have led only to discouragement and despair and maybe a couple more drinks each day? Into what inner resources do we reach to be able to offer encouragement to those living in the shadow when we ourselves feel that we too are succumbing?
People are living in the land of the shadow. Living in grayness...and many in darkness. We long for light; even the brightness and whiteness of newfallen snow would be a help to break the grayness. But the reality is that grayness in our souls goes deeper than that. Each of us have places in our soul that are vulnerable to the darkness. Though we may rise and protect those tender vulnerabilities with the light that comes in our relationships and our work and the things we do that feel significant, even still there are times when the creeping grayness enwraps and intensifies those soft spots, leaving us feeling that we ourselves are insignificant and will easily fade into the darkness.
When I begin to succumb I don't always know what to do. Sometimes I withdraw into that inner loneliness, allow the tears to flow and don't tell anyone what I'm going through. Wiser are those, I think, who reach out and ask for help and prayer and someone to help them rise out of the darkness.
When I read the Bible I see that God is very much aware of the darkness we battle, the darkness all people have battled over the course of time. And so He sent prophets. I think the prophets more than any found themselves in that cosmic struggle for light in dark places. In their darkness people were looking in all the wrong places for light - consulting mediums and spiritists and not seeking God. And the prophet Isaiah said of them, "Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness." When we look in the wrong direction and focus on the grayness and darkness it does increase and Isaiah recognized that and so continued on with words of hope.
"Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress...
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."
Centuries later another prophetic word would be spoken by Zechariah as he held his newborn son John in his arms and spoke of his mission in life:
'And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.'
Zechariah, an old man who surely had experienced times of discouragement and despair, spoke of a new dawn with words like forgiveness and mercy and peace. In our times of darkness, we long for such realities.
And Isaiah spoke into his times with words of encouragement and hope:
'You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy...
you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.'
In times when his country and countrymen were facing crisis and disaster greater than they had ever before faced in their history, Isaiah continued to speak words of hope and called them to trust in the God who alone could save them. "His role was ever that of inspiring and challenging the drooping spirits of the men of Judah at times when hope seemed dead." (www.theobamber.co.uk/prophetic/sermons/Isaiah)
Isaiah was a prophet, a seer and maybe that's what we need in the times of creeping grayness. We need to be able to see another reality, to see what God is doing beyond the darkness, or to have someone stand with us and tell us when we can't see it for ourselves. How reassuring is the verse in Psalm 139 when the psalmist too felt himself being enveloped in darkness:
"If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."
In the gray of winter and the days of loneliness and the slide into depression we need prophets - people who will play the role of inspiring and challenging drooping spirits; we need to be prophets for one another; speaking of the Kingdom realities that lie beyond the darkness and greater than the darkness. In the most difficult times of his country's history, Isaiah rose up and brought words of hope that have inspired generations - not for the words themselves but for the truth they pointed to. The truth and hope that there is One who knows our darkness and who has the power to overcome it, to bring peace, and to establish and uphold justice and righteousness.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
It is gray now. But true Light has come. And the more we look to the Light of the world, the more we will be able to reflect His light. We need not fear that the darkness will overcome us because it is when the darkness is most profound that the light shines brightest. Wherever you find yourself, even if in grayness or darkness, may the Light of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ guide your feet into the path of peace. And then may you be a prophet for another, helping them to see the Kingdom reality beyond their darkness.
Have a very blessed Christmas!
** Scripture references: Isaiah 8:22; 9:1,2-4, 6-7; Luke 1:76-79; Psalm 139:11,12