Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up. Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.
The story goes that missionary Elizabeth Elliott was approached by adventurers who had traveled to Ecuador to experience the beauty and wildness of the area. Surrounded by native tribes who didn’t take well to outsiders—they actually had killed Elizabeth’s husband early in their ministry—the adventurers came to Elizabeth first. All they asked for were some common phrases spoken in the native language, though what they would really need was a guide—someone to walk with them and teach them what to do and not do along the way.
How often do we think we have things all figured out? We only need a few phrases—something about grace and love, perhaps—to get by. A handy prayer if life gets rough. But what we really need is a guide—one who knows the way through the challenging times, one who can point out for us the celebrations we would otherwise miss. We tend to realize that need when it feels too late—when we find ourselves completely stuck.
This past year, a soccer team in Thailand went exploring in a cave and found themselves stuck when the cave flooded. There was no way out. Rescue efforts began, determining that the only way to get them out was to go under the water. But the boys were tired and weak and had never had any scuba training—most didn’t even know how to swim. The first priority for the boys was to get them electrolytes, food, and antibiotics so that they would be strong enough to exit with trained scuba divers. The boys had to stay in the cave a while longer. But now, they had hope.
The rescue operation depended on the weather. It was monsoon season, and it was raining more and more. The efforts to suck out the water from the cave couldn’t keep up. The rescuers either had to go in soon, or wait for four months for the raining to stop. When the weather broke, they acted quickly. They had to train the boys within hours how to breathe in the diving mask and encourage them to stay calm. One by one, a diver guided each boy through the dangerous waters of the cave and out the opening. All twelve boys and their soccer coach made it to safety, thanks to the divers who showed them the way.
Every Christmas, we read the passage from Isaiah: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Whether it’s the light from a lighthouse, identifying treacherous rocks and warning ships to keep their distance; or a glimmer of light in a cave, affirming that you’ve been found and rescue is on its way; or a candle lit in memory of a loved one on a special day—the light brings hope, and comfort, and guides the way to life.
This is who Christ is for us. He is the light shining in the darkness, and the darkness cannot drown it out. There is no place in the world or in our hearts dark enough to to keep out the light of God’s love. Perhaps the light shows the way out. But it also shows the way in…it brings God’s heart into our darkness before it presumes to lead us out of it. Like a diver coming to our rescue—we are first strengthened and taught to breathe, so that we can be guided out of our darkness and into the full light.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church