Isaiah 11:1-10

The Voice of Hope

Dr. Keith Wagner

The Dayton Daily News has a new column called, “Other Voices”. It can be found in the editorial section. It gives people an opportunity to present alternative views that speak in opposition to the popular views that are given by the media. For example; last week there was an article that actually spoke in favor of managed care, a viewpoint that is seldom heard. It was well written and gave examples of people whose lives have been enhanced by the process. It was submitted by a nurse from the medical community who had first-hand experience of direct patient care.

This was a view I had never heard before. I found it refreshing. It also raised questions for me about the voices people are listening to. Can a dominant voice actually influence us? Do voices that speak louder than others overpower the “small, still voices” of the world? The words of Isaiah the prophet were not popular, thus very few people took him seriously. That’s because Isaiah proclaimed hope in the midst of despair.

Have you ever considered how much BS you listen to in a single day? The coffee shop conversations, the gossip, the rumors, the advertisements, or the small talk in the work place? Most of it is similar to what you might experience in a chat room. Chat rooms are the place on the internet that allow you to communicate with people electronically. There is very little truth and almost nothing you can use that will enhance the quality of your life.

Last weekend we were traveling on Interstate 75 and at one point the traffic was so heavy we came to a complete stop. About a half a mile ahead we noticed a flashing electronic sign. We couldn’t make it out until we got closer. Little by little we inched our way toward the signal until we could finally determine what it said. It read, “warning, traffic may be slow at times due to road construction.” Since we had already come to a complete stop miles earlier it was absolutely useless. How may signals and sounds do we hear that tell us nothing new or give us any glimmer of hope? Most of what we hear is doom and gloom, telling us what to avoid, what not to do, or what to watch out for. Where is there a voice that is reliable or that will give us assurance?

The voice of Isaiah was such a voice. He spoke to a people who had little hope. They were desperate. They had no homeland and few resources. They were not unified. They lacked leadership and they were afraid.

To them he promised that peace and harmony were possible. He proclaimed that God would send them a leader who would guide them through their hard times. But it was difficult for anyone to listen to Isaiah because his message was radically different.

I believe we live in an age of selective listening. Just like we flip through the channels on television we flip through the voices we want to hear. Unfortunately, it is the ones who are the loudest and dominant that get our attention. And they are sound bites that raise our level of fear, focusing on our anxious self-concern.

Some of you remember “The War of The Worlds”, a radio program that almost panicked the nation. A radio jockey played a tape about a fictitious war and thousands took it seriously. They believed it was actually happening.

The voice of God is not a voice of panic. God’s voice is a voice of hope, but also reality. Isaiah gives us a picture of a society that is at peace. “The wolf dwells with the lamb” and “the cow and the bear shall feed together.” My wife and granddaughter were horseback riding in the Smoky Mountains last Thanksgiving. While riding in the mountains they came across a bear. The bear was minding his own business and did not interfere with the horses. They were so used to each other that they had learned to co-exist.

We can still have “wild” animals among us but live in harmony. God does not describe for us a kingdom that is without danger and struggle. Rather, God describes a kingdom where hope (and love) are present. And the voices that express hope are the ones God wants us to hear.

When Isaiah speaks of a voice that is knowledgeable of God he is not talking about an intellectual knowledge but knowledge based on fellowship with God. In other words, one who speaks in “the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” is one who is reverent to God and faithful.

Who then do we listen to? Who in our world today has a message that can be trusted? Who are the other voices? First, there is the voice of Isaiah. Although he spoke thousands of years ago, his message is still one we can turn to. Isaiah had no hidden agenda, no ulterior motive except to give the people of his day, and for all antiquity, a message of hope.

Secondly, there are the voices of the faithful today. Unlike the dominant voices that invoke fear and panic in the hearts of people they are the voices of comfort and assurance, “knowledgeable” and in fellowship with God.

In the past few weeks I have made a personal observation when it comes to listening. As you know my son was injured in an automobile accident recently. Every now and then I have an opportunity to share our family crisis with someone else. When I begin to tell my experience to someone they immediately begin to tell me about a similar experience in their life. That’s all well and good. But, what I need is for someone to listen to my pain. I am more than willing to listen to their story but I first need a little empathy for my own. Almost without exception I have noticed that when a person shares their pain with another they receive the same response.

What this tells me is that people are not listening. They are so self-absorbed that they do not give a badly needed ear to someone who needs it. Perhaps this is what is wrong with our society today. Everyone is so consumed with their own self interests and personal agendas that no one is listening to their neighbor. It wasn’t until yesterday that a close friend not only asked about my son but continued to listen without adding his own story. For me, he is one of those “knowledgeable” faithful folks who is truly in fellowship with God.

When people are sincerely listening to one another there is harmony in society. When everyone is being heard the wolf can dwell with the lamb and the cow and the bear can have eat together. Giving one another hope and assurance is what makes a life of peace.

Finally, there is the coming voice, the voice of the Christ, whose arrival we celebrate this Advent season. He is Emmanuel, God with us. “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” (Mark l:1-2) The voice of Jesus is a wilderness voice. Not a media-powered voice proudly transmitting on major networks, but a alternative voice, the “other” voice.

It is the message of Jesus that gives us hope when all else fails. It is the love of Jesus that keeps the spirit of God alive in our midst. And it is the community of faith who can be the “other” voice in the world. God wants us to “listen” to the voice of the prophets, like Isaiah. God wants us to listen to those around us who are hurting. And God wants to assure us that when nobody is listening, God is there with open ears.

––Copyright, 1998, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.