Hope and Joy at Advent

Living Hope and the working of God’s Spirit of Joy
Reflection by Pastor Scott Arnold,
First Baptist Church of Los Angeles.  12-2-2020
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.  3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.  (Isaiah 9:1-4 NIV)
     I have heard many people struggle with the COVID pandemic on many levels. There are those who contend with feelings of shock and distrust, who would wish or deny this virus out of their consciences or lives. After over 250,000 people have died from COVID in America, and with levels rising again after the Thanksgiving holiday, we cannot let our guard down. There are those who have become paranoid and paralyzed to the point of non-functioning, this has led to feelings of frustration, helplessness, anger, and states of depression. Even for those who have a balance that is filled with respect and restraint, while operating with careful steps, there is a general distress that we have all been affected by in same way or another. People look for blame to displace their frustrations or perhaps become distressed as they lose sight of the hope that we have before us. In fact, as an answer to prayer, the signs of hope include several vaccines and new means of helping people in treatment through anti-bodies and anti-viral medications.  What God has given us are tools for understanding genetics, with this knowledge we can now create “messenger RNA” that will train our bodies to create a targeted immune response.  This response will not affect our essential genetic structure, but will be a temporary “coach” to point the way for our bodies to respond.  The “gloom and distress” that we have gone through with COVID 19 will someday be in the past, but the greater issue of sin is still the source of gloom. 
       God’s message to Israel and to the nations of the world was that their gloom and distress would some day be addressed by the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God. The prophecy from Isaiah 9:1-4 teaches us that God “humbles” the land and its peoples through the trials of this life.  Humility is the prelude to honor, the honor that would come to the shores of the Sea of Galilee by the feet of One who came to bring Good News. The light of Jesus brought joy to the world. God’s harvest was ripe as Jesus walked the earth, and God’s Kingdom harvest has been ongoing since. Peace and joy have been proclaimed in the Gospel of God’s Kingdom in Jesus, and we are called to REJOICE as we wage peace and shatter the yoke, and carry the burdens and break the rod of the oppressor, as we trust in Jesus and serve in His name and trust His Sovereign authority.
     Just last week I had an experience in which I was called upon to call out and say “STOP” to a security officer in our neighborhood who had tackled a black man who was assumed to have stolen something from a store.  This black man had been profiled as a thief by a passing by driver, who assumed he had walked out without paying. He honked at the man, then chased him by car to this covered parking lot. My dog and I had just walked out of our apartment building and I heard a faint cry “stop, I can’t breathe”.  I went directly across the quiet Saturday morning street and saw a man with his knee upon this black man’s chest (later I found out about the assumption of stealing from the store, which turned out not to be the truth at all). At the time I didn’t know why this man was being detained and held, but what mattered was that his life was in jeopardy. When I walked in to the carport and up the struggle I saw the security officer of the garage put his hands to the throat of this 30 some year old black man and at this I yelled all the more and insisted he stop. “STOP, STOP, You’re killing him. It’s not worth it. STOP.” At this the guard released his grip and the man began to talk and soon he was up and standing and took his bag. I continued to watch and the driver who chased and the security guard of the parking lot decided to let him go as the police would soon come. I spoke to the young black man saying “God have mercy on you”.  He replied “God have mercy on them”.  I stopped to consider the fact that while I did not at the time know what had precipitated this, I did need to step up and intervene. I was not nervous or rattled, but instead was grateful to God and filled with clarity of being in the right place and time to help. Sometimes when you don't know the whole story, one can still step in and prevent a greater evil and injustice from occurring.
My friends, life matters, “Black Lives Matter”, that is why God sent His Son Jesus. Our Savior gives us hope and joy, for all these trials and troubles are preparing us for something far greater than what we see and experience now.  Blessings here at Christmas.  
    Pastor Scott Arnold

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