Fear. Sadness. Longing. Disappointment. Loneliness.
Are you feeling any of these emotions lately?
It seems like the world can be a dark place. Even at this most joyous time of the year, we can feel low. As we look around our lives, our culture, and our planet, we can have a distinct impression that things are not as they should be.
We see the Christmas lights, watch the many commercials advertising Christmas sales, and perhaps even feel the anticipation seeping through the lives of our children. Only a couple more weeks to go until the big day! But maybe you’re not as excited as those kids.
Maybe the cost of life has you stressed. Bills don’t let up. Stuff keeps breaking. Relationships too.
Maybe you’ve lost a loved one, and Christmas is a reminder that you won’t see them at a family gathering like you normally do.
Maybe you are watching the traumatic news stories of the day and you feel an uneasiness inside you. Think about what has happened in our world in just the last few weeks. A bitter presidential election between candidates that many people were disappointed with from day one of their nomination. The candidate who won the election lost the popular vote, a situation demonstrating the polarization in our nation. A severe wildfire devastated Tennessee, a fire we are now learning was arson. The tragedy of a church shooting months ago is back in the news, ripping open the wounds of racial tension in our land.
Around the world the Syrian city of Aleppo is decimated by a senseless war, with thousands of innocent non-combatants brutalized and dead. Many other thousand have fled the disaster zone, homeless, starving, seeking a new country. There seems to be no end in sight to the bombing.
On another front, armies continue fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, as the months tick by, one after the other, in what is now a 15-year-long battle.
That is just to name a few of the hot-spots flaming our embroiled human race.
Talking about heat, our global temperature is rising is so many ways. It is a very unsettling time, outside and deep within us.
This coming weekend is the Third Sunday of Advent, and the next prophecy of Isaiah that the Lectionary guides us to is Isaiah 35. We learn as we peek ahead into Isaiah chapters 36-39 that the world into which Isaiah speaks was just as topsy-turvy as our own. The powerful nation of Assyria was blitzkrieging the surrounding nations, continuing unimpeded through the fortified cities of Judea, and now they’d arrived at the Judean capital, Jerusalem. It was painfully obvious to the people inside the city, and to their king Hezekiah, that they were out-manned and outgunned. The Assyrian army numbered in excess of 180,000.
Jerusalem at the time is well-fortified and stocked, and could hold out for many weeks. The Assyrians would rather not, however, play a game of attrition in a siege. They would win, but they would lose men and time in the process. It would be costly. So they would much rather force a treaty. The Assyrian King, Sennacherib, sends out his field commander with a proposal. Envoys from Jerusalem go to meet him. The field commander speaks:
“Go tell Hezekiah…” (doesn’t call him king) “…that the great king, the king of Assyria…” (notice which person the field commander thinks is real deal) “…says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours?”
Then the field commander continues relaying the message from Sennacherib, a message meant to tear down any confidence that Hezekiah might still have:
- Military strength? Nope, Hezekiah has no chance.
- Help from Egypt? Nope, they are as dependable as a splintered reed which a man might attempt to use as a staff, only to find it piercing his hands and wounding him.
- The LORD? Nope, Hezekiah already removed a bunch of high places and altars saying that the people should only worship in Jerusalem. (Clearly, Sennacherib wasn’t well-acquainted with the LORD!)
So Sennacherib concludes that Hezekiah has no other option than to make a bargain with Assyria.
The envoy from Jerusalem asks the field commander to speak only in Aramaic so those guarding the wall of Jerusalem, soldiers who only understand Hebrew, won’t be able to know how dire the situation is and defect. The field commander ignores the request and calls out in Hebrew to the men on the wall, “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you when he says the LORD will deliver you. Instead, make peace with Assyria and you’ll have a wonderful life in Assyria, filled with good food. The LORD hasn’t protected anyone else. You really think he will deliver you, Jerusalem?”
Whew. It reminds me of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when Arthur approaches a walled town asking to speak with it’s king. The men on the wall just mock him, ruthlessly. This situation in Isaiah is reversed. Here the big bad country with it’s locked-and-loaded army is mocking the helpless Judeans inside the walls of Jerusalem.
Talk about dark days. It seemed like this was the end. What should Hezekiah do when the envoy returns to him to tell him the story of this conversation with the field commander and the men on the wall? It’s not looking good at all.
The choices are tenuous. Stay and fight and almost surely lose, except for a miracle from God. Or surrender to Sennacherib and lose the city, and be taken in exile.
Are you feeling like there aren’t any good options in your life right now? Are you feeling afraid, upset, confused, low, at Christmas this year? Know that you are not alone. But also know that Isaiah 35 has a vision that you might want to hear! Join us Sunday at Faith Church as we talk about this further.