* 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.
Saturday 20 December
Read: Isaiah 54:1-10
(light three candles)
“Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” How harsh and out of place these words must have sounded at first! Think of Sarai, Abram’s wife, when the Lord visited them and promised a child. She responded with laughter – not from joy, but to protect herself from opening a dream deferred and destroyed. What else could she do after decades of her yearning, only to have her prayers for a child seemingly fall on God’s deaf ears. The promised joy of children and the fullness of life they bring seemed too cruel to dare imagine again. For that matter, think of Rebekah and Rachel and Hannah who also pleaded to God in the midst of their barrenness. In their own stories, each of these women depict the story of God’s people as a whole: so full of hope, yet seemingly so barren. When would they taste and see and hold the abundant and overflowing life God had promised them.
And we too know the sorrow and grief of dreams deferred and shattered, of hopelessness that binds our hearts and shackles our joy. A longed-for child never born. A relationship unraveled by deception and betrayal. A promised promotion stolen. A housing collapse that created a sinkhole under our retirement plans. A sin committed in secret, the weight of which our souls were never intended to bear. An addiction that has separated friends and family, while blurring night and day, right and wrong. If the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ is true, it needs to be true here, in the ashes of our sorrows, our brokenness, and our laments.
And so it is that God speaks the bold and potent words of new life of this passage while we wander in the wilderness of our exiled dreams. We hear Isaiah’s words echoing through our dark valleys, where death’s cold shadow lingers and joy, peace, and hope had long ago been forgotten. These words…God’s words of promised life – of expanding tents, of shame removed, of love and intimacy with God regained – sound incredibly cruel at first, but their repeated refrain of God’s faithfulness and God’s compassion rekindle within us a curiosity, followed by laughter and tears from the relief at hearing God’s voice, of being reassured that God is still with us, of discovering that we are not alone even among the darkest fears of our hearts and our histories.
Advent beckons us to recall Elizabeth whose once-barren womb fills with joy as the child within her jumps in delight at the coming of the Messiah. Think of the socially disreputable shepherds who in delight run to see with their own eyes the good news the singing angels declared to them in the darkness. Think of the magi who are delightfully compelled to travel from the east to see this king whose birth the stars proclaimed. Jesus’ birth evokes joy precisely because God has poured new life into the most unexpected places.
God has heard our cries and remembered us. “My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace by removed” says the Lord, who has compassion on us. God is with us. O Come, O Come, Immanuel.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus, that the light of your life may fill us with everlasting joy as we anticipate your coming kingdom! Amen.