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November 25, 2015

Advent 2015-1: Hope

Have you ever been lost in the dark? I mean really lost and really dark. Can’t tell up from down kind of lost. Can’t see your hand in front of your face kind of dark. It can be terrifying. I have been lost and I have been in the dark, but never at the same time, as far as I can recall.

When I was a five years old I got lost in the grocery store. As I recall it, I slipped away from my mother in an attempt to go back and check out something incredibly cool in the previous isle. The only problem was, once I had satisfied my curiosity, I forgot how to get back. Panic set in and I did the only reasonable thing I could think of – I freaked out. I collapsed to the floor and began sobbing vigorously. A compassionate grocery clerk took pity on me and led me to customer service so an A.P.B. could be put out over the loud speaker. Moments later my mom showed up to claim me, much to my relief and I think her chagrin. It only lasted a couple minutes, but during that brief period of time I felt truly and completely lost. Alone. Confused. Hopeless.

In college one of the fun things to do on a Friday night was to go with a group and wander through the storm drains just off campus. It was more fun than it sounds and likely less cool than we thought. The trek had two major draws. First, exploring these urban tunnels made us feel like Indiana Jones hunting for the lost idol in Raiders. Second, and likely more importantly at the time, we would go in groups – co-ed groups – which meant if you positioned yourself correctly going in to the tunnel, odds were pretty good that you’d be holding hands with a cute girl by the time you came out the other end. The wild thing about the storm drains is that once you got around the first corner it was pitch dark. I mean completely dark. Literally can’t see an inch in front of your face kind of dark (thus the aforementioned hand holding). Typically someone at the front of the line had a flashlight which they used sparingly to navigate the group through the maze of tunnels. However if you were further back in the line you spent the whole journey in utter darkness and if you ever happened to get separated from the rest the group you would be left to feel your way around in the pitch black until you, hopefully, eventually came to an exit. That would not be a happy place to be. I imagine someone in that position would feel rather frightened, stranded and, after not very long at all, without hope.

When you are lost, the first sign of where you actually are and what direction you need to go is celebrated enthusiastically. When you are in utter darkness, the first glimpse of the tiniest light is reason of ecstatic jubilation. You run towards the light. You skip away from the sign. You rejoice knowing you are now headed in the right direction. Knowing your escape is eminent. You’re not there yet but at least now you are on your way.

That’s’ the imagery that comes to my mind when I read the words of the prophet Isaiah as he talks about the coming of the Messiah: “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.” (Isaiah 9:2 NIV) We were completely and utterly lost, but then Jesus came to be a sign and say “Come this way.” We were stuck in the pitch black darkness and Jesus came to be a light that illuminated our path. He came to give hope. He came to show the way. He came to show us how to escape the darkness and loneliness of our sin and step into the light of His love and grace. In His own words, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10 NIV).

No matter what is going on in your life at the moment remember that you can never be so lost that He can’t find you. Your life will never get so dark that His light can’t shine through. There is always hope.

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