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Finding Hope in the Book of Isaiah
by Meghan Sullivan

Christmas and New Year’s Day have come and gone, and it is only now, after the chaotic holiday season has passed, that I find myself pausing to reflect on the season of Advent and the true meaning of Christmas. Most adults know that Christmas isn’t really about hanging lights for hours, waiting in lines at department stores, and scouring shops for the perfect gift. Rather, Christmas is about the Incarnation, the great gift of God becoming human. I, and I would guess many others, too often take this gift for granted. The Incarnation is a great gift because God, who is all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowing, became human. He accepted the limitations and challenges we endure as humans, the suffering and struggles we endure in life. And God did this out of love, to save us from our limited, challenged, and sinful state.

The Old Testament Book of Isaiah, which is read often during Advent, represents humanity’s limitations, challenges, and sin through the suffering and struggles of the Israelites. Although we do not know for certain how many writers contributed to the Book of Isaiah, we do know that, during Isaiah’s life, the Israelites were oppressed by foreign enemies and political unrest. The first part of the Book of Isaiah attributes this political unrest to the sins of the Israelites. In Isaiah 24, for example, the author warns the Israelites that God will punish them with drought and death if they do not change their sinful ways. Isaiah describes a vision in which “the wine dries up, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the timbrels is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No longer do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it…. There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished” (Isaiah 24:7-9, 11, NRSV). What a depressing prophecy for people who were already oppressed by violence, political unrest, and sin!

Christians familiar with the Old Testament know that God always remained faithful to His Chosen People, even when they turned their backs on Him. So, we know that the Book of Isaiah cannot end in punishment and sorrow: it ends in hope. The second part of the Book of Isaiah is the part that receives attention during Advent because of its focus on hope and the coming Messiah. Isaiah 40-66 explains that the Messiah will deliver the Chosen People from their suffering and sin. The Messiah is “a light for the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) who will bring peace and justice. Isaiah also portrays God as compassionate and merciful and encourages the Israelites to come to Him. “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price,” Isaiah writes, describing the life of abundance God offers (55:1). “Let [the sinful] return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (55:7). The Israelites, who were once burdened by foreign enemies, political strife, and sin, now have hope of deliverance and forgiveness.

We can find hope in the words of Isaiah and in the experiences of the Israelites when we feel weighed down by our limitations, challenges, and sin. We can also find hope in the knowledge that God loved us so much that He came to earth to live among us, die for us, and forgive us. As we begin the New Year, may we continue to reflect on God’s love, hold fast to hope, and toast life’s blessings with the abundant wine God has offered us.

 


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