Growing up in Appalachian Ohio, I was always amazed at how either people wrote off our entire region as “hillbillies” or they thought that they could fix us. For example, people in our region often felt neglected by our elected representatives until it was election time. Then they became our champions. Or, outside groups, with good intentions, thought they could fix the problems of Appalachia with more money, new roads, and new assistance programs. Don’t get me wrong, those things helped in some respects, but many of the challenges of Appalachia (addiction, unemployment, poverty, lack of educational attainment) remain.
I think that’s because what Appalachia has really needed, for generations, is not found in funding, programs, or political power. It’s simple, really. We’ve been starved of hope. Take away a person’s hope and then they have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. No reason to get a job when they are convinced, they either will fail or that it means nothing. There’s no reason to educate the mind when the soul is parched. Addiction? Well, that is easily explained by a lack of purpose and a lack of hope. Life is miserable for someone just drifting. “Ok, Adam, nice bleak picture. What on earth does this have to do with Advent and Christmas?” Thanks for asking.
In Isaiah 9:2, the prophet foretells of a time when “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Specifically, Isaiah is referring to gentiles, people who until Christ, had been explicitly separated from God’s promises unless they went through a cultural and personal conversion to become a Jewish proselyte. Even then, they would be viewed almost as second-class. Combine that with idol worship and ignorance, and you end up with the gentiles being in spiritual darkness.
Darkness isn’t fun whether you’re talking spiritual darkness or the physical kind that causes you to stub your pinky toe on the couch in the middle of the night. While we have flashlights and candles for the physical kind, spiritual darkness requires something much more illuminating. Spiritual darkness leads to darker places. A lack of hope. A lack of purpose. A lack of truth. A lack of meaning for everything. And when I think of a people in darkness, I think of folks who have no hope. Like the gentiles of old or the despondent person of today, they sit in darkness. Waiting. Not even knowing there is light.
But when Jesus came, he shined the light of God’s love and offer of forgiveness to people who didn’t look, act, or even believe, like He did. He brought meaning and purpose to His followers, something He still does today. Each of us has people in our circle who need hope today. Maybe it’s a grieving family. Perhaps it’s a person who seems completely unmotivated in life. It could even be you—just going through the motions of life and of the season… It’s our job to share the news of hope, of Jesus.
And in case you are the person who needs a hope boost today: Remember that Jesus defines you. Not your past, not your mistakes or your failures. He has a purpose for you, a divine assignment. A reason for being. And I’m praying today that you would walk in the light of Jesus, not stumbling around in the darkness anymore. Jesus is our hope!