On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be; all those alert to do evil shall be cut off. —Isaiah 29:18–20
The prophet Isaiah is the voice and spirit of the Advent season. In the eighth century before Christ was born, his words encouraged a people dejected and torn from their homes by soldiers of a foreign power. The people of Israel were carried off to Assyria, exiled from their homeland, driven out of the Promised Land. While God’s prophets, including Isaiah, had warned them time and time again that this would happen, until they were living the reality of the exile, they didn’t see the need to change their ways. But once the worst had happened, he changed his tone and his words brought comfort and hope to an afflicted people. He continued to call them to change their lives and turn again to their God, but he did it with gentleness and encouragement, with reminders of how very much God loved them, even in the midst of their suffering.
At different times in our lives, we find ourselves beaten down by circumstances—some beyond our control and some the consequence of bad choices on our part. We’re embarrassed by the number of times people have warned us that we were going the wrong way. We feel consumed by regret and remorse. At times such as these, we need to hear the word of God through the prophet Isaiah, reminding us that God is merciful, that God loves us just as we are, that in spite of our weakness and sin, God is always ready to welcome us home, to bring us back to level ground. If you’ve reached one of these valleys during this holiday season, don’t beat yourself up for the way you’re feeling.
Remember that our resolutions to do better, our commitment to repentance and turning our lives around, all happen with God’s help.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH
There’s a saying that prophets afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. For today’s prayer, let yourself hear deeply these familiar words from the prophet Isaiah: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1) As the word of God becomes part of our breathing, we are more likely to recall these words when we need them.
A SIMPLE GIFT
Do we let ourselves be tyrannized by unreasonable expectations? What’s truly essential for your celebration of this season? What are you doing because you’ve always done it or because you think someone else expects it? If you enjoy something, by all means keep doing it. If it’s a burden, consider letting go of it.