The first week of Advent and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a wonderful week to reflect on the hope of Christ, our saviour who was here, is here with us now through his Holy Spirit, and who will someday, hopefully soon, be with us in the flesh again. It is also a great week to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and our hope of full and equal participation of people with and without disabilities the world over.

One of my favourite ways to get in the Christmas spirit is to attend or view a performance of Handel’s Messiah.

Handel’s Messiah is a musical production that tells the story of Jesus. Many of the lyrics are drawn from the book of the Bible known as Isaiah. We learn about the hope of Jesus, the Messiah; a baby boy who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and whose government shall be upon his shoulders, based on Isaiah 9.

When they sing Comfort Ye My People – Every Valley Shall Be Exalted, based on Isaiah 40 we learn that the Messiah will bring comfort. This certainly brought hope to people of Israel. It could also be a song of hope in our current contexts, especially as we have weathered various hardships this year on account of the pandemic.

When I hear these lyrics, I am filled with hope because they show that God promotes equal access and full participation in God’s kingdom: It says, “every valley will be lifted up, every mountain will be made low, the rough places smooth and the crooked straight.” To travel on such smooth paths in my wheelchair honestly sounds exhilarating to me. In the meantime, we are to prepare the way for the Lord and all his people because he has prepared a way for us to be in relationship with him, and to be forgiven by him as many times as we need it.

This music and the scripture within it suggests that God’s people and their saviour will not only be able to meet, but we will also be able to move about freely with one another. Regardless of a virus, a disability, or any other obstacles that we currently experience. The imagery of Isaiah 40:1 – 5, mention of valleys lifted, and mountains made low, offers me tremendous hope, especially since the winter season can represent a valley for me and I am aware that I may soon face mountains of snow which may inhibit my movement.

Isaiah 57:14 gives me further hope: it says “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” These words sound to me like a biblical precedent for barrier free design principles. In some ways God’s design for my life is evident in the use of my wheelchair, in other ways it is evident in accessible vehicles. Innovations such as these mean that neither physical challenges nor the limits of accessible transit pose barriers to the road that God calls me, and many people with disabilities, to travel.

Chantal sits in her orange wheelchair inside a grey van. A ramp sits attached to the van that Chantal has just used.

Christian Horizons is committed to participating in initiatives that advance accessibility and full participation in society with people who experience disabilities. We work toward a barrier free society in part to foster belonging and promote full citizenship in communities around the world, and in part because we seek to build God’s kingdom here and we know from Isaiah and many other scriptures that God’s kingdom is meant to be barrier free.

While the holidays are a special time of joy and celebration for many, it is important for us to consider that they are not happy times for everyone. To those for whom the season of Advent or the Christmas holidays are not joyful, Isaiah chapter 57 also offers hope; in verse 15 God says, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

If you are feeling low for any reason this season, may you be filled with hope that God has been, is, and will continue to be, with you in the darkness: May the light of Christ soon breakthrough to you!

I discovered Isaiah’s endorsement of accessibility because at the beginning of 2021 a trusted friend encouraged me to search the Bible for scriptures that relate to disability. There were some I knew and many I had not considered before. If you have not yet found your place in God’s story, I pray that throughout 2022 and beyond you will carefully seek out and find scriptures which relate to what you are going through. May these scriptures be a source of everlasting hope.

God bless you this Christmas and throughout 2022!