Whether it is unrest in Ferguson or the terror brought on by ISIS, the world is not what we would want it to be. Love, justice and peace are hard to find. There is uncertainty about our economy, growing tensions in the Middle East and Ebola continues to bring devastation and death to our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone. There seems to be less desire for God but a never ending appetite for entertainment and media and while we have more ways to be connected, we are making less real connections with the people who matter to us the most. The end result of all this is anxiety, fear, disappointment and discouragement. The end result is frozen hearts that struggle to give and receive love and find hope. While things might look dark around us and in us, the world today isn’t that different from the world Jesus entered 2000 years ago.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire which didn’t give God’s people a lot of freedom or stability. The Roman government taxed the people of Israel heavily and so between their taxes and their offerings to God, the rich seemed to get richer but most people struggled to survive from day to day. Sound familiar? Life was hard and people had a hard time seeing God working around them which meant they struggled to understand and accept God’s love and find hope. Like many people today, their hearts were frozen.
The world of Jesus, however, wasn’t that different from the world 700 years before Jesus because at that point in time God’s people also faced huge challenges and deep darkness. As a nation, Israel faced such deep internal struggles that they had split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel. A series of good and then bad kings weakened the faith and stability of each kingdom which meant that they faced growing threats from the nations around them: Assyria to the north and Egypt to the south. There was ongoing anxiety, discouragement, fear and disappointment and the people wondered where God was in the midst of it all. Their hearts were frozen but God didn’t abandon them to the cold.
Around 745 BC, when Israel was divided and facing almost certain destruction from the Assyrians, God called a prophet named Isaiah to go and speak to his people and for close to 50 years God spoke through Isaiah. Some of God’s messages were pretty harsh and honest about what was going on and how people had failed and needed to open their eyes to what they were doing and how they needed to change their attitudes and actions toward God and others, but other messages were filled with love and hope. God reached out to the frozen hearts of his people and through Isaiah God assured them that He had not forgotten them and that no matter what, God still loved them. God had not forsaken his people but promised to send them someone to help. God promised them a savior. Look at Isaiah 9:2-7.
God knew his people were walking in darkness. He knew they were struggling to find their way, wrestling with doubt and fear and that on their own they weren’t going to make it. God knew that their darkness wasn’t going to be overcome unless he sent them light or help so God promised to send them a savior who would be a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Each of these titles would have given hope to God’s people and been an encouragement to them to keep going.
The people knew they needed a counselor who could help them make sense out of all the confusion and chaos they were living in daily. They needed guidance and direction from a divinely appointed leader who could help them in this world and not the kings who would come and go and rule in their own strength and wisdom. They needed a Mighty God who could lead them against the strong armies of their enemies. They needed an Everlasting Father who would nurture them and care for them and they longed for a Prince of Peace who would establish a reign and rule of peace and prosperity that would allow them to experience all in life that God said he had for them. This message of a Savior encouraged God’s people; it brought light into their darkness and it started to thaw hearts that had been frozen by fear and discouragement.
So it was God’s word through Isaiah and the promise of a savior that brought hope to God’s people but that hope didn’t last. When the promised Savior didn’t come quickly, the people once again got discouraged. When God’s promise wasn’t fulfilled fast enough, the people grew impatient and their impatience led to hearts once again growing cold. Does that sound familiar?
While the promise of God here to help us brings encouragement, when the help doesn’t come when we want it and how we want it, we get impatient. Doubt creeps in. Discouragement enters and begins to freeze our hearts and that is what happened to God’s people in the days of Isaiah. Their hearts grew cold and so God’s response was to keep sending them His word to remind the people of his promise. Throughout his life, Isaiah told the people that God would send a Savior. He told them repeatedly that God’s hand would help them and then when Isaiah died God sent other prophets who stepped in and continued to share this message of hope. From generation to generation God kept speaking to His people telling them that a Savior would come. God kept sending hope because the people continued to need it. For 700 years God reminded his people about the promise of savior and that promise kept their hearts and faith from freezing solid.
When Jesus finally arrived in Bethlehem he was that word God promised through Isaiah come in the flesh. Look at John 1:1-5. So the word of God spoken through Isaiah was now flesh and blood and lying in a manger and the light of God began to shine in the world in a new way. Jesus was the light of God and his presence and love thawed the frozen hearts and lives of God’s people. In Jesus, people could now see the power and love of God making a difference. They saw people healed and restored. They saw the power of forgiveness lift people up and reconcile families and change communities. They saw good triumph over evil and even life over death so that the cold hardness of their hearts began to melt away and people began to experience the love of God. The promise of God which had encouraged people for 700 years was now the son of God in the flesh which brought people life. Hearts were unfrozen.
That’s what I love about reading the gospels and hearing the stories of Jesus. There is so much passion in Jesus that it sets people on fire and brings them life. There is such a radical life changing love of God that Jesus brings to people that it changes everything. The fire of God’s love melted hearts and lives and communities and as people came to Jesus they experienced the fullness of life and the fullness of joy and the fullness of God’s kingdom.
But the problem we face today is that the person of Jesus didn’t remain in this world. After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and God sent the Holy Spirit into the world so that the power of God could now dwell with us and as Jesus ascended he promised that he would come again. It has been 2,000 years and Jesus has not yet come back and while the Holy Spirit is here to help us and guide us and care for us, we get impatient and our doubt and fears grow and we get discouraged and the growing darkness causes our hearts to grow cold and just like in the days of Isaiah our hearts freeze over. While the promise of our Savior returning brings hope, our waiting brings doubt and anxiety and so our frozen hearts ask, “Where is God? Where is God’s love and grace? Where is God’s goodness and power?”
Where is God? God is right here. Jesus made a promise that when he left this world that he would still be with us. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So God is right here. The single light of the advent wreath reminds us that in the midst of the darkness of doubt and fear, God is right here. In the midst of the disappointment and despair we so often see around us, God is right here. In the midst of our own frustration that life and family and job and friends aren’t what we want them to be, God is right here.
At times our hearts and lives may feel cold and frozen, but the light of God brings warmth and a fire which can melt our hearts and change our lives but only if we will allow it to. Our hearts can only become unfrozen if we will allow God to love us and forgive us. It is love that casts out fear, it is love that overcomes doubt, it love that lifts despair and it is love that softens and melts hearts and it has always been God’s love that has done this.
It wasn’t just God’s word that brought people hope, it was also God’s love because it was God’s love that brought forth the word of hope. Why do you think God spoke into the darkness of His people 700 years before Jesus? It was because God loved them and God made this clear to his people through Isaiah. God didn’t just send messages about a coming Savior, he sent them messages about his never failing love.
It is God’s love that melts frozen hearts. It was God’s love through the words of Isaiah, God’s love through the word made flesh in Jesus and God’s love with us today that melts our frozen hearts. God’s love is always here, always available and always powerful enough to help us through whatever it is we are going through and in this season of Advent as we think about the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and the coming again of Jesus into our world we are reminded that it is the love of God seen most clearly in the person of Jesus that brings us hope and life. The apostle John said that there is no greater love than this, that we lay down our lives for our friends and that is what God did for us in Jesus and when we believe this and accept God’s love for ourselves – it brings us life. It is this love of God spoken through the prophets and lived through Jesus that can be accepted into our hearts and lives and when it arrives, it melts and thaws and changes forever our frozen hearts.
Sometimes God provides just the right illustration at just the right time to communicate his message and he did that yesterday. What does the love of God thawing frozen hearts in this world look like today? It looks like this:
|Portland OR Police Officer giving hug to African American boy in wake of Ferguson Protests.|
1. What are the fears, doubts and disappointments that keep your heart frozen?
2. God tried to thaw the hearts of his people Israel by giving them a message about a Savior through the Prophet Isaiah. Read and reflect on how these words brought hope to God’s people then and how they continue to bring hope to us today
• Isaiah 7:14
• Isaiah 9:2-7
• Isaiah 11:1-16
• Isaiah 40:1-14, 25-31
• Isaiah 61:1-7.
3. What does it mean to call Jesus a Wonderful Counselor? Mighty God? Everlasting Father? Prince of Peace?
4. What do these names mean for you? How has Jesus been your Counselor and Father? How has He brought you peace?
5. God helped thaw the hearts of His people by giving them a message of hope. Take time during this Advent season to read God’s word of hope (the Bible) every day. Use the family advent devotions (available in the lobby) as a guide for daily Bible reading.
6. Share God’s message of hope with someone this week.
The people walking darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.