HOPE IN DISTRESS
The NCCI Christmas Card has a picture of a mother with a child seated in a relief boat during the August 2018 floods in Kerala. With her house being submerged, there was no room for immediate help, but the boat which would take her to the safety of one of the relief camps. Hope in distress!
A pregnant woman who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy was stranded on the roof top of her house in Aluva. – a submerged region of Kerala’s Ernakulam District. Her house got isolated in the relentless rain. Her life and that of her child in the womb were in danger till help came out of the blue – almost literally. It was an Indian Navy Chopper that had been sent especially to rescue her and to end her nightmare. Hope in distress!
When lives of their fellow human beings were under threat, the fishermen of Kerala travelled hundreds of kilometres with their fishing boats on the back of trucks to flood ridden areas and rescued people. They waded through unknown waters looking for people and rescued them. Those boats are their livelihood. They literally risked everything they had and their lives to save fellow human beings, without expecting anything in return. Selfless agents of hope in distress!
In all the above mentioned three stories, hope came in the form of persons who were committed to save people in distress.
Hope in distress! That’s what even the Christmas message is all about this year.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa.9:2-3,6)
The background to our text above is found in Isaiah 7:1-9:7. In 734-732 BCE, facing attack from Israel and Syria, Ahaz, the king of Judah, considered enlisting the aid of Assyria. While this would neutralize the threats of his northern neighbours, it would also require entering into alliance with the “Evil Empire” of the day. What should Ahaz do? Isaiah urged Ahaz to stand firm in faith, trust in God, and refuse coalitions with other countries whether it be Syria, Israel or Assyria (Isaiah 7:3-9), thus reassuring the king that God would provide all the protection required and that the birth of a child would serve as a sign of this (Isaiah 7:10-17). Our text announces that significant birth.
However Ahaz put his trust in Tiglath-pilesar III (745-727 B.C.) under whom the Assyrian Empire reached the pinnacle of its power. He developed a new type of imperialistic foreign policy and strengthened royal authority and administration by changing the great Assyrian provinces to small administration districts owing direct allegiance to the king himself. Also, instead of forming a loose vassal relationship with surrounding states, he destroyed, step by step, the political independence of those petty states and incorporated them into the provincial structure of the empire.
Ahaz sent a delegation of noblemen to Tiglath-Pileser, with presents of gold and silver taken from the treasures of the Temple and his own palace. Ahaz instructed his envoys to hand over these presents to the king of Assyria with the following words: “I am your servant and son. Save me from the hands of the kings of Syria and Israel who have gone to war against me.” Tiglath-Pileser was only too glad to take this opportunity to subdue these two states and gain an outlet to the sea.
Delivered from his enemies, Ahaz travelled to Damascus to thank his liberator and patron, the victorious Tiglath-Pileser. In Damascus Ahaz saw a famous heathen altar which he admired so much that he had it copied and sent to Jerusalem to the High Priest Uriah, with the command to put it up in the Holy Temple. After his return from Damascus, he himself sacrificed on this altar, and forced the priests to offer the daily sacrifices on it. In order to satisfy the greed of Tiglath-Pileser, Ahaz continually despoiled of its treasures the Temple, which had been enriched during Uzziah’s and Jotham’s successful reigns. Ahaz died in the sixteenth year of his most unfortunate rule. Both politically and spiritually he had been instrumental in undermining the foundations of the kingdom of Judea.
Ahaz missed the sign given by Isaiah: the birth of a child. Isaiah was trying to make Ahaz realize that true security lay in the generation of God-revering and God-trusting Israelites, who would pursue the vision of the reign of God on earth. These God-focussed Israelites may not be politically powerful, they may not be economic lords, nor are they possessors of technological supremacy (cf. Isaiah 7:14-15). Yet it is such persons who will be agents of liberation in times of distress.
We in India are faced with severe challenges. Our rulers are envisioning development through a strategy that is shrouded in a neoliberal, anti-poor and essentially fascist religio-political framework of the right-wing ideology. Such a strategy is fraught with problems of socio-economic political and scientific-technological injustice. A privileged few will enjoy economic development, political power, and scientific-technological comforts by manipulating and controlling the lives of the masses.
Like Ahaz we are also tempted to follow the development ideology of today’s leaders. We are seeking prosperity in their scientific-technological systems and gadgets. We are seeking security in their political and hi-tech powers. However we fail to realize the dangers behind their ways: breaking down of just wholesome relationships, oppression of the poor, the weak and marginalized, and ecological destruction.
Within such a context is there any hope in distress?
Yes, the hope is in “shepherds, ordinary people who will be touched by God and become bearers of good news. Yes, the hope is in “wise men” who are genuine seekers of God’s reign on earth, with no desire for being power possessors. Yes, the hope is in the Marys and Josephs who through their God-centred lives become mediums of bearing the goodness of God to people and all creation. Indeed the hope is in God who identifies with the weak and the poor, by being incarnated in their midst.
That’s what the message of Christmas is all about: Hope in distress!
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad,