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There’s the Signal

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples. Isaiah 11:10

Signals, signs play an important role in history. We remember story of Paul Revere and the light in the church steeple. Our own National Anthem was inspired by a flag (a sign) still flying after a night of battle. In the Christmas story, the star of Bethlehem guided the wise men.

We live in a world that by its very nature has always needed some sign, some signal, something to show us that we are not alone, abandoned or forsaken by God. Despite the momentary glimpses which we might see in nature, despite occasional deeds of love and kindness, the overwhelming conclusion drawn from the world itself is not hopeful.

This is a world of brokenness, heartache, pain, hatred. This brokenness is not confined to starving millions in India or Africa or other remote places. Neither is it just to those war-torn areas of our world like Iraq or Afghanistan or to lands wrecked by earthquakes, typhoons or other kinds of natural disasters. It is not only those who are poor and outcast of the earth. It very well may include the person that sat next to you in the pew on Sunday; surely some in that room. These people too, know brokenness, heartache, pain. There are those next door or just down the street. Often they cover up and few know. Maybe it’s you. For sooner or later almost all of us join these ranks. Even in the best of lives there are times when life is very difficult. The world’s signal or sign is a world out of control, headed for its own destruction.

Bob Dylan in his Song to Woody (1962) described our world this way: “Sick…hungry…tired…torn/It looks like it’s a-dyin ‘an’ it’s hardly been born.”

It was one of the darkest days in the history of Israel that the prophet Isaiah brings this little used Old Testament word (8 times, 6 in Isaiah) as a message from God. This is a banner, signal, sign that can bring a thrill of joy and hope to all.  “I will send you a signal so that you will know I am still at work.” The signal is a person, the Messiah, Jesus.

We cannot over estimate the importance of such a sign, signal. To believe that God does not really care is to be overwhelmed by the “bad news.”

December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York was destroyed by a bomb. Two hundred, seventy people, including 11 on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, were killed. I remember watching the news reports from that village. A woman in the midst of the wreckage looked up into the sky and said, “I won’t believe in God anymore.”

I would like to have said to her, “you’re looking at the wrong thing, the wrong signal, sign. God has given us a sign, raised his signal, flag, banner—Jesus Christ. His name is Emmanuel, God with us. There is hope. The world is not forsaken, God has not withdrawn, abandoned it, forgotten his promises. He does care.

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