* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here.
Tuesday 16 December
Read: Isaiah 43:1-7
(light three candles)
The passage opens with a call not to fear. This call makes sense in those situations when we are afraid. Arguably, when we are afraid, joy becomes impossible. This repeated refrain of “be not afraid” gains extra importance during the Advent season. Think for a moment about how many times it comes up in scripture. Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua all heard these words from God’s own voice. “Do not be afraid” echoes as a constant refrain in Isaiah and Jeremiah, and returns in Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, and Zechariah. Angels tell Zechariah, Joseph, and Mary not to be afraid. And Jesus repeatedly reassures his disciples that they do not need to afraid.
However, as we know all to well – it’s one thing to say “Do not be afraid,” but it’s a completely different thing to live it. How do we not fear when war is consistently in the news and acts of terror draws closer and closer to home? How do we not fear when diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS, ebola, and malaria persist? How do we live without fear when people are burned alive because of their faith? Should we not fear when people are beaten, shot, and killed because of the color of their skin or the ethnic accents in their voice? What other option do we have but fear when people are subjected to the living hells of sexual-slavery and other forms of human trafficking? God knows we need more than words if we are going to give up fear.
Yes; God knows. Isaiah follows up his call to not be afraid with three profound statements about God’s actions. It’s as if he is saying repeatedly “Do not fear because God…” Each statement serves both to release us from fear and usher us into joy here an now. Isaiah declares, we need not fear and we can entertain joy because God has redeemed us. Redemption involved being set free from a debt that could not be paid and being restored in relationship within family and the broader community. In the case of great tragedy, redemption ensured that widows and orphans would be well cared for. (Think of Boaz and his redemptive care for Ruth and Naomi.) God has paid our debts, restored our relationships, and ensured that we would be taken care of. Moreover, Isaiah adds that joy can replace our fears because God has summoned us by name. Though God’s love is more cosmic than we imagined, God still knows us personally. God knows our names and calls us each of us by name. We’re not a number or simply part of the masses; we’re personal known and desired by God. Finally, joy casts out fear because God promises to be with us no matter what. Isaiah lingers on this point, emphasizing how through water and fire and even in the presence of our enemies – no matter the fearful circumstances that threaten us, God himself will be with us. He will not leave us or forsake us.
How fitting then that shortly after the first angel appears in Matthew, declaring to Joseph “do not be afraid,” we are reminded that Jesus has a second name: Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Therefore, as we remember Jesus’ birth and as we anticipate his second coming, let us not be afraid, but rejoice. For in Jesus Christ, the Lord has redeemed us, the Creator of the whole universe has summoned each of us by name, and we receive the great assurance that God is with us. no matter what fears our circumstances threaten us with, God will not leave us. God will not let us go.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus, that the light of your life may fill us with everlasting joy as we anticipate your coming kingdom! Amen.