In his younger days, my father could look out the window and see a deer that was well blended into the woods, or an owl perched on a branch. He never had to squint. And he would say, “Mandy, look over there. Do you see the deer?” My normal answer was no and I would lean over with my squinted eyes plastered to the window trying to see what he saw and I very rarely ever did even when he would direct my head in the appropriate direction. Eventually, I would just claim to have seen it even when I didn’t. I used to believe my father had hawk eyes.
In reality, he just knew what to look for and had patience. I had no idea what I was looking for half the time, where to look, and nor did I have the patience to sit there scanning the woods. When it comes to experiencing God, to experiencing or seeing the hope of the Christ child many people struggle to see the Promise alive in our world. It can be hard when we don’t really truly know what to look for. It can be hard, when we really don’t know where to look in the overwhelming chaos of a world full of news, struggles, battles, and at times, yes, death. How did Isaiah and John the Baptist know so easily what to expect? How did they know where to look to see the potential of the promise of hope, joy, love and peace? I’ve often these questions myself.
What we know was that Isaiah was a prophet, meaning that he had the word of God spoken to him. John the Baptist, too, spoke the word of God to a people in need. The people believed in the message they preached. They believed in the promise of a Messiah and what that would mean for their world and they shared that hope where ever they went. They shared a hope that would inspire hearts to seek a right relationship with God. They inspired hope in the hearts of people who had experienced so much pain and hardship.
Isaiah preached to a people who had been taken over by either the Assyrian or Babylonian Empire. He talked to a people who thought that God had abandoned them. Life was challenging for them. They lost all their wealth, their temple had been plundered, their people killed, stolen, and enslaved. Yet, Isaiah looked around and preached a word of hope. He spoke of peace in the midst of war. He spoke of a better time when God would be the champion of their people. He promised a time when there would be no more suffering, a time when enemies would become neighbors and friends.
Spreading the promise of peace and hope for a better tomorrow does more to change the world and to affect the lives of our neighbors than fear does. After the election, one of my cousins sat down and cried, truly believing that this was the beginning of the end. And it’s not. Just like the destruction experienced by the Israelites at the hands of their larger, stronger neighbor was not going to be the end for them, this election or whatever happens in life is not an ending for us just the beginning of something new. There is a promise of something that transcends this life, something that transcends government and nation; there is a promise of a life lead by the love of Christ. In Isaiah, he promised the coming of a Savior to release them from the bondage of this world. There was hope to be lived into. Life had not ended.
In our Gospels, we see this message again with John the Baptist when he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. He too preached hope to a people living under abusive powers in a world where more people were relegated to the shadows of society than what lived a normal life. He preached the coming of someone who could truly offer them new life. He preached the coming of Jesus even as Jesus would be baptized by him.
In our world today, we need to be reminded of the hope and love of the promised new life through Christ. We too need to be reminded that in this season we wait expectantly for the salvation of our Savior. We wait expectantly as the generations before us, and that hope can permeate this world, that hope can birth new life in the hearts of those who despair, that hope is shared neighbor to neighbor, person to person through the works of our hands. So let us remember the words of C.S. Lewis and how he said, “Once in our world a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world”. The hope, love and peace being offered to us is so much bigger than anything this world has to throw at us. We only need to work to see it. We only need to work to share the vision.
Edward Hays refers to advent as the “winter camp for those who desire peace”. And I find those words striking and touching, because each advent I look forward to the decorations and the music, the baking and the family and it makes me take note and reassess my priorities. Advent is a reminder to us that we need to focus on Jesus, that we need to work to not only see his message of hope, love, joy and peace but we need to work to live into it. We need to work to bring the peace that was promised to life by sharing the hope, by sharing the vision with those who may not see it right away. This is our advent challenge this year. Do you feel the hope, do you see Christ at work, and do you share that hope and the promise of peace with your neighbors?
 Matthew 3: 11, RSV.
 C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle. 1956.
 Edward Hays, 20th century.
(Based on Isaiah 11: 1-10 and Matthew 3: 1-12)