The most wonderful time of the year?

For several years, my family and I lived in Southall – “little India” as some call it because it is home to thousands from the Indian sub-continent. One of the most enjoyable times each year in Southall is Diwali – the Indian festival of lights. It’s a time of family, food and lights. Southall

Families and friends get together to eat loads of Indian food and then set of fireworks outside. I have never seen so many individual fireworks going off as I’ve seen in Southall on the night of Diwali.

But there’s a difficult dark side of Diwali as well. Because Diwali is a time for family and many in Southall are away from family – it can be the most depressing time of year. One year we as we walked around there was a commotion at the train station and we found that someone had committed suicide by stepping in front of the train.  This is not completely unusual as the Southall train station has more suicides than any other station in the UK.fireworks

But you don’t have to be an recent immigrant to feel the pain during holiday times. The Christmas season brings parties and dinners with co-workers, family and friends. At those gatherings we realize that we don’t really like some of these people.  Or memories flood in of the close relative who is not going to be there this year. Or maybe we’re just not invited to the parties, and this deepens the loneliness we feel.

Christmas IS a joyous time. But this deep joy in your soul does not come from seeing the lights, or getting the present you always wanted or even being together with family. These are good but they are not enough.

Even in the best of times, with the best parties and best presents and best family gatherings, we will be left with an ache. A feeling that something is not right – that it could have been better. There should be more happiness; deeper love within the family; and friendships that are more open and honest.

But there is hope during this season of the year.  And we find it in a place that we least expect it – from a child. baby

We are all faced with problems, but they are not child-like problems. And the solutions are not child-like either.  At Christmas we celebrate that God has broken into our reality to bring us hope – a hope that is rooted in the reality of a child born in a manger 2000 years ago.

Isaiah 9 predicts the birth of a baby who will bring hope.  Joy will come because this child will bring the end of war and oppression.  He will rule “with justice and with righteousness.

Hope comes not just from the baby, but from the fact that this baby grew up.  He grew up to be the king.  The King of Kings who “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev 21:4

That is wonderful.  That does bring hope.  This is a wonderful time of the year.

The man of mystery

I preached yesterday at NLMG from Isaiah – here is a portion of the message:

This passage of scripture describes a mysterious person is both exalted and humbled. Look here at verse 13 of chapter 52:

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.

But then this servant turns really ugly in verse 14:

his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind

Then in verse 2 and 3 of chapter 53:

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

This reminds me of someone whose face is so disfigured that you don’t want to look at them and you definitely don’t want your children staring at.  I have been volunteering with the homeless in Shepherds Bush over the past year and there is one man in particular whose fits this description.  Many of the people who come for a meal and a movie have had difficult lives but this man just looks worse than the rest. He stands out in a negative way – you know this man has seen very hard times.

This is the image Isaiah is giving us. This person is not glorious, he’s not Prince Charming in Shrek whose got the flowing blond hair, huge muscular arms and perfect chin. Those are the kind of guys in Bollywood films and glossy magazines but the picture we have here is the opposite – “no form or majesty that we should look at him.”
But Isaiah does make one other point about this servant – he is innocent. Look in Isaiah 53:7:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

Silent before those who are abusing him.

And then in verse 11 it says “the righteous one, my servant.” So this servant is beaten down, oppressed, ugly, nothing to look at and yet at the same time he is righteous.

Interesting.  Kind of reminds me of someone.

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