EMMANUEL, THE UNWANTED SIGN
SAT-7 Arabic channels Director George Makeen shares a blog post on the hope that the Advent season brings, despite the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa, and his personal hopes for the future of SAT-7.
As I write this blog, the Egyptian government is launching a series of economic measures linked to a USD 12 billion loan it will receive from the International Monetary Fund. The latest actions include floating the country’s currency, which caused it to lose 50 percent of its value overnight, and raising energy prices by nearly 50 percent. These decisions will increase poverty levels in an already poor and burdened Egyptian society, and they raise fears of a coming wave of anger and violence, as we saw when the cost of essential commodities was raised dramatically in the 1970s.
The war in Syria continues, and the small signs of hope we saw of an agreement between Russia and America have faded since the two superpowers announced the end of diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis. The future for Syrians is even more uncertain as the result of the divisive presidential election in America.
The war against ISIS in Iraq should be good news. However, fear is rising of violence by Shia militias (PMUs) and of tensions between Kurds, Turks, and Arabs, who are disputing how to divide land and authority even before the war has ended. As ISIS fighters flee from Iraq to Syria, where they can continue to threaten Iraq from the west, as we witness massive displacement of Iraqis from Mosul, and Syrians from Eastern Aleppo, all these factors spoil the hope we ought to have, following the news of Mosul’s hoped-for liberation.
In Lebanon, a new President has finally been elected after two-and-a-half years of political vacuum. We can only hope that the outcome will work for Lebanon and the Lebanese. We hope that the different players will learn how to navigate the political divisions caused by the war in Syria and the Sunni-Shia conflict linked to the sponsors of Lebanese politics: Iran and Saudi Arabia.
More than 2000 years have passed since God chose to break into our history through an innocent child born into a poor family in the little town of Bethlehem. The beautiful silent night of His birth was followed by another night, one filled with the cries of mothers who lost their children in the violence ordered by the mad, corrupt king Herod. When we look at the world from Jesus’ birth until today, some may argue about the value of that intervention into history and whether it truly changed anything.
However, to see the beginning of the actual impact of Jesus’ coming, we must look back even further. The testimony of Isaiah, as recorded in Isaiah chapters 6–12 (known by Biblical scholars as the Book of Emmanuel), was the reference point for New Testament writers when they wrote about the birth of Jesus Christ. Centuries before Jesus’ birth, the prophet carried a message of hope amid another social and political crisis, which hit Israel in seventh-century BC.
In 735 BC, the powerful Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser started a war against Syria and Palestine. Northern Israel formed a coalition with Syria against the Assyrians, and when Judah refused to join, the kings of Syria and Israel launched a war against Jerusalem. The war inspired Judah to form an alliance with Assyria that led to the defeat of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel, which was exiled by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Over a century later, Judah faced a similar exile under the Babylonians.
In the midst of this chaos, Isaiah describes his encounter with God Almighty. He witnessed God’s greatness, and he was purified to carry God’s message to his people.
The message God gave the prophet was harsh. It condemned the hard minds and hearts of those who refused to listen to God’s word. As an intercessor for His chosen people, Isaiah pleaded with God, asking, “Lord, how long?” (Isaiah 6:11). The answer was horrifying, but the final lines of Chapter 6 offer hope in the image of a holy seed that will survive in the stump of a tree that has been cut down and burned.
In Chapter 7, Isaiah meets King Ahaz with his son Shear-Jashub (which means “a remnant shall return”), but the prophet’s message to the king and the leaders of the people, whom he told to trust God and not seek an alliance with Assyria, fell on deaf ears.
When Isaiah tried to comfort the people and told Ahaz to ask God for a sign, the king refused, giving the false justification of not testing God. Yet, God still gave the sign – the unwanted sign – of a newborn boy, Emmanuel (meaning God with us), providing hope of justice and for the redemption of the remnant who trust in God.
In Chapter 8, the message that went to the king and the leaders – that they should fear God, not the nations – goes public. The sign of Emmanuel reappears in verses 9 and 10, and with it the assurance that God is with us, regardless of the nations’ wars and plans:
“Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.”
(Isaiah 8:9–10, NIV)
This message has remained the same from the time of Isaiah to the birth of Jesus, God’s Word incarnate, until today. Injustice and corruption may crush people, but will not go unpunished, and there is hope for those who trust in God.
My prayer this Christmas is that SAT-7’s plans, programs, and work will all be an illustration of this message. That in times of turmoil and uncertainty, when we do not know whom to trust or where to find refuge, we will witness God’s full glory and be reminded that He is in control. I pray that we will rush to share His message, as Isaiah did, when we hear the call: “Whom shall I send?”, even when we know that the message may be unpopular and difficult to hear.