Wed Dec 16-Ash & Oil

Graphic Design by Laura Wright Pittman / A Sanctified Art LLC /

Isaiah 61:1-4 (CEB)

The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
    to bring good news to the poor,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim release for captives,
        and liberation for prisoners,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
        and a day of vindication for our God,
    to comfort all who mourn,
    to provide for Zion’s mourners,
    to give them a crown in place of ashes,
    oil of joy in place of mourning,
    a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.
They will be called Oaks of Righteousness,
    planted by the Lord to glorify himself.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins;
    they will restore formerly deserted places;
    they will renew ruined cities,
    places deserted in generations past.


“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t ring true for everyone. In fact, the end of the year holiday’s are notoriously difficult for many. There are lots of reasons for this: extra responsibilities and stressors, concerns over added expenses, fuller schedule, not achieving certain goals for the year, less sunlight (this deeply affects some people’s mood and health), and most notably, grief. Some people have either lost someone that made the holiday’s special for them or don’t have the family or connections that bring holiday cheer.

In today’s text from Isaiah, a text called “Joyful Proclamations”, there’s an interesting juxtaposition between grief and joy. Isaiah is speaking about being anointed to the task of going to the lowly and the struggling. He is called to replace discouragement with praise. I love in particular this imagery of an urn of ashes with a jar of oil: loss and healing together. We use ashes and oil on Ash Wednesday when we remember that we were dust and will be dust again.

When I read this text, I don’t feel like I’m being told to “get over it”. I feel as though I’m being told that amidst the pain and chaos, there can still be joy, praise, and the anointing of healing oil. We are being called to rebuild, restore and renew.

By Rachel Callender

For Pondering & Prayer

This Christmas season, what is one thing in particular that brings you joy? What is one thing that brings you grief? How do the two intersect?

Prayer: Gracious God, you have anointed our foreheads with your healing oil. May we turn to our neighbor and offer the same. Amen. 

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