So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes.
At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;
among the strong, we are like the dead.
We all growl like bears;
we moan mournfully like doves.
We look for justice, but find none;
for deliverance, but it is far away. Isaiah 59:9-11
One of my favorite Advent hymns is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It captures so much of the darkness and despair of a people living in exile. But it also captures the hope-the faith-of a people who refuse to let go of their belief. In spite of everything–the loss of their homeland, the destruction of the Temple, the enslavement of their children, the total loss of a generation–the people of Israel set their hope for a future on their Deliverer. Isaiah spoke words of comfort to his people, words which came directly from the mouth of God:
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
Your children hasten back,
and those who laid you waste depart from you.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
all your children gather and come to you.
As surely as I live,” declares the Lord,
“you will wear them all as ornaments;
you will put them on, like a bride.” Isaiah 49:15-18
At this time of year, when the focus is on joy and hope, on being merry and bright, it is easy to forget the many among us whose hearts are in exile–for whom Christmas is a time of pain and loss and anguish. Perhaps God does not give us more than we can bear, but life sure can.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the families in Newtown, CT who lost so much almost one year ago. I can’t imagine their days will be merry or bright. I think of my friends who have lost children and know that, despite the festivities of the season, there is an aching within their souls to spend this season with their precious babes. I think of the families around the country, some within our very own congregations, who are praying for a way to keep the heat on and a little food in the pantry; those families for whom the joy of Christmas morning is the joy of waking up under a warm blanket.
You see, there are many living with hearts in exile this holiday season. There is a deep longing for and need of rescue; rescue from despair, from pain, from poverty, from addiction, from abuse and from neglect. And it is directly to these exiled souls that God speaks, as he spoke to His people in exile so long ago.
And we are His voice. It is us, His people, who are called to offer those words of comfort, of hope, of rescue. It is up to us to keep the light of God’s love burning for those who live surrounded by darkness. We are called to go forth into a cynical, selfish and complacent society and to “arise, shine” and to proclaim once more that the Light has come.
What does that look like? It depends on where God calls you. It could be holding a friend while she grieves, or providing a listening ear for one whose life is falling apart. It could be making/delivering/serving a meal to those in need of food this season. It could be adopting a family for Christmas, sponsoring a child overseas, volunteering at a local charity. The possibilities are endless. But as you prepare to meet the Savior once again, do so with the knowledge that He came to give Hope. He came to give Life. He came to give Love. He came to bring Peace. And God created us to be His vessels of all of it.
If your heart is in exile this holiday season. If the trappings of Christmas are a burden to your soul–a constant and painful reminder of all you have lost or all you long for–remember Isaiah’s words of comfort and hope. Remember that you are not alone–you are not abandoned. God is here. Lift up your eyes. The Lord is on His way.
Blessings and Peace,