Is this as good as it gets?

MCDASGO EC005I don’t remember lines from movies all that well, but I do remember a line from the movie As Good As It Gets.  It’s a movie from the 90s starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt as they become unlikely friends.  Nicholson plays Melvin, a cranky, bigoted, obsessive-compulsive writer.  Carol is played by Hunt and is the only waitress who will tolerate him and take his order.  Through a series of events that cause them to become friends, Melvin asks Carol this plaintive, desperate question: Is this as good as it gets?

Have you ever looked around and thought, “is this it?”  Have you been deterred or discouraged in a relationship or with where you thought your life might be?  Melvin’s question is both poignant and disheartening.  His emotional growth in the film is evident in fits and starts, so his question acknowledges that he is loving in a way he’s never loved before.  But it also points toward a bleak future – like if this is as good as it gets, what’s next?  Is it all down hill from here?

The landscape of today’s reading is bleak. The prophet Isaiah is speaking to a community ravaged by war.  They’ve been beat by the Assyrians and are seeking alliances with other sworn enemies.  Isaiah reminds them who God is and what God can do.  Do you remember what God is credited with in this reading?

It is God who has multiplied the nation.

It is God who has increased their joy.

It is God who causes you to rejoice.

It is God who has taken away their great burden.

God is not tweaking their existing present.  God isn’t shifting some things around to make things bearable. Rearranging the furniture. God is taking their existing situation, their current reality, and tipping it upside down. Transforming their lives, the bleakness of the landscape. God is not limited by the misery of their present situation but is working out what will come.  It’s an overhaul.  God raises them up out of their devastation to bring hope.

Isaiah is trying to get them to not define their reality by what it is they are experiencing right then and there. He’s speaking hope for the future. He’s giving them vision for life beyond what they know now.  He’s begging them to not form alliances with other nations to keep the wars raging.

It’s tricky sometimes to look beyond your current situation. How your life looks and is.

I wonder what the future looks like to the people recovering from the typhoon.  It is total devastation.  Utter destruction. Life-ending stuff.  I wonder if it’s what Isaiah was speaking into.  A people utterly undone with loss.

I wonder what future looks like to the people of Syria as they continue to flee their own home country.  Strangers and refugees now, displaced from their homes.

I wonder what future looks like when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office, hearing words of diagnosis that take the floor out from under you.

I wonder what future looks like for the Suko family as they grieve Becky’s dad’s death this past week.

I wonder what future looks like for those caught in addiction: to booze or meth or sex.

I wonder what future looks like to someone who has lost their job.

I wonder what future looks like to someone in the darkness of depression.

There are times we all have walked or will walk in darkness.

Isaiah promises light in the darkness.  A future.

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.

The light may start out as just a glow.

A little bit of light.  A crack of light.

And sometimes that little glow is just enough to shatter the darkness.

Isaiah promises that God works and that God brings about a son.

Someone we call Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Now, back when Isaiah was alive, they didn’t know about Jesus.  While these are words we use to describe Jesus, it’s because they were words first used to describe kings.  A new king was being born around that time (probably Hezekiah). Don’t let this take the wind out of your sails.  Don’t let this take the meaning out of this scripture for you. When Jesus was born, the people were promised a new king, a new savior.  And that’s what they got – only, as we know, he didn’t act like earthly kings.

This is the light that shatters the darkness of thinking we are stuck where we are.

Jesus shatters the illusion that nothing matters.

That our job defines and limits who we are.

That our addiction is stronger than we are.

That brokenness is the constant state of our lives.

We know who the wonderful counselor is. The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the prince of peace.  Jesus is our light. Jesus is what our hope looks like. It is our past, our present, our future. It breaks in and transforms our lives. Forever changing us right now, transforming our future. Amen.

SO WHAT? Where will the light break in this week?