Rejoice in the Lord

Monday, 28 December 2020

Rejoice in the Lord

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3

Scripture: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God…” (Isaiah 61: 10a)

Reflection: This passage from Isaiah, written at the end of the Babylonian Exile,  is a reminder of the love that the God of Israel retained for His chosen people and of His power and ability to sustain them in difficult times. We can only imagine the fear, the anxiety, the stress, the oppression, the despair and the sickness which they experienced during their years in exile and Isaiah’s words offered some measure of comfort and reassurance to a despondent people – those who were still living in and those who had finally returned from exile – that the One true God created the world; He was in charge and He alone had the power to  transform their relationship with Him and bring about their redemption.

Yesterday was Christmas Sunday and,  in more ‘normal’ times, we would have filled our churches to celebrate with our families and friends, the coming of Christ Incarnate and to thank God for His great love for us and for sending His Son to live among us to save us and the world. This year, our normal routines were disrupted by the ongoing pandemic. But, whether we attended in person or watched the live stream on our computers, we saw our worship spaces decorated with flowers and lights, heard Isaiah’s message in the first reading from the Old Testament,  and  looked at the display depicting the Nativity. What did we see? Poor shepherds who tend their sheep on cold, dark nights, invited by angels to meet the new-born Messiah, basking in the warmth of the candle-lit stable, the first to discover the birth of the Child of great promise and hope; wise men who, led by a star, find the King they seek and kneel in awe before Him, though He is but a baby. We see Joseph, a carpenter, a strong and silent man who cares for and protects the woman he loves; Mary, radiant in her motherhood, who stores in her heart all the things said to her about “her first-born son” and, the Baby, sent by God to redeem us from sin, lying In a manger.

But, did we spare a thought for the harsh reality of the world into which Jesus was born and the actual place where He was born? The poverty, the fear and hopelessness of oppression brought on by the posturing of corrupt leaders intent on holding on to earthly power; the stress and anxiety of travel; the worry of a man unable to find suitable accommodation for his family and his shame when he had to tell his pregnant wife that instead of a comfortable bed, all he could offer her, was some straw on the floor in a stable. The noise of the animals combined with the stench of manure and feed must have increased his despair and we can imagine the terror and pain of a frightened young woman as she gave birth to her first child.

Today, as we draw closer to the end of a particularly difficult year, we would perhaps prefer to think about trees adorned with lights, cheerful and familiar music and carols, and gifts lovingly exchanged during the Christmas season, rather than the harsh reality of the world into which Jesus was born. But, in our quieter moments, when we reflect on our own anxiety, sickness, terror, fear, oppression, grief, sorrow, despair and hopelessness, we ask ourselves; “When will all this end? Is it possible to think about hope and unconditional love, restoration and redemption in times like these? Can we really “rejoice in the Lord?”

Some of us feel like we too have been in exile this year, as the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives. We have been isolated in our homes as sickness and death swirl around us; we are anxious as our savings dwindle and we see a bleak future mired in poverty and we are despondent at the violence, crime, hatred, corruption, injustice and oppression that seem to dominate our world. We, like the Israelites, need to be reminded of God’s power; that God created the world; He is with us in it ; He loves us and He alone can bring redemption.

And, if it is that we relate more to the twinkling lights, the stars, choirs of angels, gifts and an adorable baby or to the ‘messy’ parts of the Christmas story – the stress, anxiety, stench and oppression – what we must never forget is that Christ is with us in all of it. Nothing can separate us from God; not the dark world in which we live, the mistakes we make or the rules we break. From exile to restoration, God is with us, has been with us and will always be with us. He has not abandoned us throughout history and He will not abandon us now.  Through the Incarnation, God made fully divine and fully human, says to us, “I am with you”.  He is here with us today, and so we can declare, as Isaiah did, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God”.

Meditation: What are the opportunities in this time of physical distancing and commercial lockdown for us to rise above all that is negative and see God’s hand in all around us? How can we deliberately and intentionally use this time to look deep within and around for the positive?

Prayer:  God of hope and love, we rejoice as we consider Your unconditional love for us and all that You have done to save us. May we ever be mindful of that love as we continue to praise You, in our good times and in our bad times. Amen.