These are no ordinary times. In Jamaica, people are going through unprecedented financial stress. Weekly events like going to the supermarket has become a nightmare and prices continue to rise and incomes remain static or shrink. Health cost continue to soar, whilst caring for aging relatives and sending children to school are major challenges. At the same time the national debt, consuming upwards of 130% of GDP, almost as much as Greece, as we are reminded by one newspaper - The daily Gleaner - almost daily, has become a burden, limiting government spending and retarding economic growth. There is an outlet, of sorts, as people continue to migrate to the USA, the UK and other countries. But the financial strain is worldwide, as country after country are experiencing difficulties. Most famous was the recent downgrade of the US by rating agencies, then the meltdown in Greece, followed quickly by Italy and other EU counties are wobbling. But it is not only a matter of financial stress, earthquakes in various parts of the world, wars and rumours of wars in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, mass killings in Mexico, protests all over the USA, all contribute to a world living on the edge. When you combine this with deep personal tragedies, sudden death of young and even old ones in the family, fractured relationships, wayward children abusing even their grandmothers, it almost becomes too much for one to handle.
So we thank God that Christmas is coming, as this morning my church marked the first of four Advent Sundays, which will then climax its celebrations on Christmas day - the glorious event of our Lord " coming to help His people". And my God do we need help. Just this evening, in the midst of great personal angst, the Lord led me through His Word to read the comforting words from Isaiah.
" 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...........
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.
he will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accompany this.
Isaiah 9:1-7 NIV
And as I pondered how " the zeal of the Lord will accomplish this", the Spirit led my mind to the Luke passage:
" How will this be," Mary asked the angel, " since I am a virgin"?
The angel answered, " the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you".
Luke 1: 35. NIV
Wow! Alleluia! Amen! And so we lift up our voices with the words of the late great singer Sam Cooke: " Ain't that good news, man ain't that good news".
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light indeed. In my country the buzz is " call it Andrew, call it", as the new Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who under our Westminster type Parliamentary Democracy, has the sole right, within the constraints of the law - unlike the USA which has a fixed date every four years - to decide on what day national elections are to be held. And rumour has it that he will do so on Wednesday of this week, thus sending our nation into a virtual orgy of electioneering, climaxing some time after Christmas Day. So, it is not only Christmas which is coming in my country, but elections too. But according to Isaiah, "For to us a child is born, and to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders....and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end".
What a day then, in my country, and even in Obama-land, or in the UK or Canada, when people would turn to the Son of God, and seek His peace. He, who places Princes and Prime Ministers and government on thrones and in power, and when He chooses, removes them in a day! What a day when our people would accept this Christ child into their hearts and discover the peace that " has no end". This is what Jesus promised on the night before He died when at the end of a long session with them before His "High Priestly", he promised: " I have told you these things, so that in me you will may have peace. in this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world". John 16:38 NIV
So though we walk through valley of the shadow of death, sadly for some literally, as well as for others very frighteningly metaphorically; and though we are held in the grip of high prices at the supermarket; and though we walk through the darkness of failed relationships and of wayward children; and though we are burdened by the onerous debt owed to the IMF, local banks and other agencies; though we are frustrated and disappointed, at times, with our political representatives; though we are blown away by hurricanes and have our infrastructure destroyed by earthquakes, and horrified by wars and rumours of wars and mass killings; the good news is that in Christ, despite all those things going on around and within us, God offers us Light in the Darkness and Eternal Peace in our souls. Now ain't that good news, or ain't that good news.
No doubt this what inspired the late Martin Luther King Jnr to write the following meditation which struck me forcibly this week and provided much inspiration at just the right time in my own struggles.
THE DAWN WILL COME
Verse Psalm 30:5 NIV
At the beginning of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, we set up a voluntary car pool to get the people to and from their jobs. For eleven long months our car pool functioned extraordinarily well. The Mayor Gayle introduced a resolution instructing the city's legal department to file such proceedings as might deem proper to stop the operation of the car pool or any other transportation system growing out of the bus boycott. A hearing was set for Tuesday, November 13, 1956.
At our regular weekly mass meeting, scheduled for the night before the hearing.... I ( said) " We have moved all of these months... in the daring faith that God is with us in our struggles. The many experiences of the days gone by have vindicated that faith in a marvelous way. Tonight we must believe that a way will be made out of no way. " Yet I could feel the cold breeze of pessimism pass over the audience. The night was darker than a thousand midnights. The light of hope was about to fade and the lamp of faith to flicker......
At noon, during a brief recess, I noticed an unusual commotion in the courtroom. Mayor Gayle was called to the backroom. Several reporters moved excitedly in and out of the room. Momentarily a reporter came to the table where, as he chief defendant, I sat with the lawyers. "Here is the decision that you have been waiting for", he said. Read this release."
In anxiety and hope, I read these words: " The United States Supreme court today unanimously ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery Alabama," My heart throbbed with an inexpressible joy. The darkest hour of our struggle had become the first hour of victory. Someone shouted from the back of the courtroom, " God Almighty has spoken from Washington!"
The dawn will come. Disappointment, sorrow and despair are born at midnight, but the morning follows. " Weeping may remain for a night," says the psalmist, " but rejoicing comes in the morning.
As I read this, again, I almost felt like crying for joy too. Amen
No wonder the prophet Isaiah in the OT reading appointed today cries out to the Lord on behalf of a people walking in darkness,: " O that you would rend the heavens and come down". Isaiah 64:1 NIV
And indeed God Almighty not only came down and spoke to people from " Washington", to those walking in darkness and to and from work, many years ago in Alabama, but two thousand years ago He did rent the heavens and came down. And by the power of the Most High entered into the womb and heart of a believing virgin. So too, right now, at this moment, we too can experience the indwelling of the crucified and risen Lord in our hearts, if we only believe that He came at Christmas, but more importantly, died and was raised to new life at the first Easter. This is the good news of Christmas. Better than any promise that Obama, or our politicians can offer for as the psalmist advises;
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
the maker of heaven and earth
the sea, and everything in them-
the Lord who remains faithful forever.
Psalm 146:3-6 NIV
This morning at church we lit the candle of hope. The first of four. I pray God that this meditation will draw you closer to the Hope that is in Christ the King, whose coming at Christmas fulfilled the promise of a Mighty God, A prince of Peace, A Wonderful Counselor and an everlasting Father, and who alone can provide the kind of lasting peace that we so badly need in a troubled world. Amen