Sometimes we need a promise to hold on to, an assurance that the season we are in at the moment is not the season we will stay in permanently. Advent is a reminder that we live between two great events. It is a reminder that our circumstances may refine us but that they do not have to define us.
Isaiah 35, one of the lectionary readings for today, was a lifeline to Israel amidst the uncertainty of their circumstances. It was a promise to them that God had not finished with them. God’s assurance was that they would be led through their current situation into a new, better, more hopeful day. The words also look ahead, I think, beyond the exile and restoration of Israel, to the restoration of all things. They are a reminder that better days lies ahead for those who trust in Christ.
‘And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’Isaiah 35:10
We do often fall into the trap of believing that our lives are cyclical rather than linear. Our heartbreak, our failures, our recurring mistakes, our ‘sticking points’ all somehow make us feel that our lives are a continual round of the ‘same old same old’. It’s easy to u derstand why we believe this lie – life is just hard sometimes, isn’t it? It is a lie, though. Our stories have a beginning… and they have an end.
God will put things right, eventually. We may struggle with timing, and have questions about how to trust, but those struggles and questions can strengthen us or exhaust us, depending on what we do with them. And what we do with them is determined by how we view them. Seeing life as cyclical leads to exhaustion, cynicism and resentment. Seeing it as linear can lead to despair, or to hope, depending upon what we think the last line of the story is.
What if God offers all of us a better ending? What if His promises bring the possibility of a better tomorrow and a more beautiful end? And what if that promise if evidenced in the midst of a story that seems so messy- Mary and Joseph’s story. This couple are not trapped by their old story, they are liberated by their new one. The One who nestled in Mary’s womb redefines her story, and Joseph’s, and Israel’s – and ours. His first coming begins a new story, and His second coming will end it. This new definition, this breaking of the cycle, is not automatic though.
How are we set free from the cyclical stories that trap us? We are liberated by accepting the invitation to let Christ become the centre of our lives. We accept that our story is transformed by being humble enough to become part of His story.
When we do that we are ransomed. When we do that we are liberated. When we do that we are able to sing again. When we do that we exchange our sadness and despair for joy and for gladness. When we do that our sorrow and sighing flee away.
What will your response be? Will you live in the same old same old story, going round and round the same issues; or will you step into a story with a better ending?
Advent only leads to true Christmas celebration when we break the cycle…
(C) Malcolm J. Duncan (Advent 2019)