By Melanie Myatt
Lectionary reading for 12/5/2022: Psalm 21; Isaiah 24:1-16a; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Selected passage for reflection: Isaiah 24.4-6; 14-16
Isaiah 24.4-6; 14-16 NIV
The earth suffers for the sins of its people,
for they have twisted God’s instructions,
violated his laws,
and broken his everlasting covenant.
Therefore, a curse consumes the earth.
Its people must pay the price for their sin.
They are destroyed by fire,
and only a few are left alive.
Throughout the earth the story is the same—
only a remnant is left,
like the stray olives left on the tree
or the few grapes left on the vine after harvest.
But all who are left shout and sing for joy.
Those in the west praise the Lord’s majesty.
In eastern lands, give glory to the Lord.
In the lands beyond the sea, praise the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.
We hear songs of praise from the ends of the earth,
songs that give glory to the Righteous One!
But my heart is heavy with grief.
Weep for me, for I wither away.
Deceit still prevails,
and treachery is everywhere.
I recently started a new job in a retirement village. In many ways, going to work is like entering another world. People are cheerful, friendly, and welcoming. They happily partake of various planned activities and visit over meals. My job feels like a dream.
The more I hear their stories, however, the more I learn more about the incredible hardships, difficulties, and losses that they have endured. While they make the best of things, many of them are more than looking forward to the time they can “shuffle off this mortal coil.”
In some ways, this is similar to the “now” and “not yet” aspect of the kingdom of God. We know that Jesus has conquered death. Jesus is the victorious king. And we cheerfully work to bring the kingdom of God here on earth, knowing that God empowers us as Jesus has enabled us to do so.
Even so, this passage reminds us (and not all of us need reminding), that the earth is still consumed by the curse of sin. We still all suffer the consequences of sin that cause heartbreak, turmoil, and devastation. Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can celebrate God’s glory. When we sing the joyful Christmas carols, we celebrate all that Jesus did when he came to earth on our behalf.
For some of us, we feel more like Isaiah. Our hearts are loaded down with grief. We don’t just wait for Christmas, we wait for freedom from the heavy burden of sorrow we carry. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other - things that are really of no consequence - the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside” (Letters and Papers from a Prison Cell).
While we can take comfort from the fact that the door will in fact, for certain, in reality, be opened, we still live with the knowledge that we are indeed waiting for our true freedom. The question is: how will we wait well?
Take some time to listen to a version of the hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. (I like this version.) First, listen to it as an expression of any sorrow, loss, or grief you are experiencing during this season. Then, listen to it again. In what way does this song express the hope, joy, and promise of this season?
God, we know that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. Even so, that rest can feel elusive. Sometimes we see the curse more than the blessings. You are the God of Comfort. Let us watch and discover glimpses of your joy and comfort throughout this season as we wait and wait, with longing and hope, for you. Amen.
About the Author
Melanie is a Spiritual Director and, now, a chaplain. She is learning each day how to hold both grief and joy, curses and blessings for herself and for those with whom she works. If you would like to explore the Bible with her in daily Bible Study, you can sign up here. When she isn’t working, she loves her life in Chicago with her four kids.