2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
3 You have made the nation great;
you have increased its joy.
They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest,
as those who divide plunder rejoice.
4 As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them,
the staff on their shoulders,
and the rod of their oppressor.
5 Because every boot of the thundering warriors,
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned, fuel for the fire.
6 A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
and authority will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be vast authority and endless peace
for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
establishing and sustaining it
with justice and righteousness
now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this.
The month leading up to Christmas day usually creates all sorts of big feelings within us: Excitement. Grief. Longing. Anxiety. Joy.
And so do the days immediately after.
If you have teens in your life, they’d probably say that once all the presents have been unwrapped, Christmas cheer takes a steep decline. Those grieving losses, or who find themselves wrecked by exhaustion might think: “Thank God we don’t have to do that again for another 364 days!” And still, some will prolong this season for as long as the cookies and pine needles on the Christmas tree hold out.
Christmas encounters each of us very differently. And for a lot of us, the days just beyond the 25th can feel like a bit of a drag. Even though we know we are supposed to be celebrating the good news that God is now with us, it can often feel like nothing has changed or even worse – that the best of the season has already passed us by.
The tone of Isaiah’s celebratory poem proclaiming this good news stands in stark contrast to what so many people must have been feeling at the time it was written. Just as Isaiah was rejoicing in “a great light in the darkness” and “increasing joy” and the shattering of our burdens, it was one of the worst moments in Israel’s history. Threats of war from the Assyrian Empire were inching closer and closer to home – and in just a short time, violence and chaos would consume neighborhoods and lives. In some places, it already had. If we aren’t careful, Isaiah’s hopefulness can sometimes sound like the false positivity we try to use at this time of year to push ourselves and others beyond the pain and struggle of this moment.
But Isaiah’s words weren’t written to help people avoid the hurt. He wrote to pierce through their very real, very human, and very understandable struggle and to offer them this encouragement: Do not give up. God will make a way, just as God always has.
Isaiah’s words have been a staple text in the Advent season for so long because there are few texts that so clearly capture the good news that must be proclaimed at Christmas time: In our saddest, hardest, and most hopeless moments, the goodness of God abides. It is springing forth in a new way and promises to give us what we need for today.
by the Rev. Kate Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
We invite you to spend some time with these questions:
- In these days after Christmas, how is it with your soul?
- Are there any places in your life where you see God’s promise of something new beginning to take shape?
- Where do you find hope this season? Where is hope a hard thing to feel?
Prayer: Emmanuel, be with me in my joy – and especially in the places of great sadness and grave disappointments, that I might experience the light and hope of your presence today. Amen.
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