Every year on the Sunday of joy, we offer an alternate service at 6pm in the Calvary Chapel. I first experienced a service like this at my church in Waco called “Service of Consolation.” The hour we spend in worship is a time of acknowledging that not all feel joy-full during this holiday season. For those who grieve friends, jobs, relationships or dreams, the holidays can be especially difficult. Below is my homily from the service last night.
December 12, 2010
Service of Light in the Darkness
The eyes of the blind shall be opened/
and the ears of the deaf unstopped/
This is another example of how music helps to tell the story of our faith. We hear these words because we feel them somewhere deeper. Not only are they part of our musical stories, they are such an important part of our redemption story.
Isaiah penned these words-this poem, really, during a time when Israel was in supreme distress. The Babylonians were sweeping through the city of Jerusalem. People were being carried away, ripped from family members and the city was being destroyed. Everything that the people knew, everything that was once familiar was no longer familiar. Grief, sadness and pain ran through the streets just like water in the River Jordan. In the midst of all of this, Isaiah wanted to people to remember that God was with them. “Here is your God, he will come and save you,” Isaiah said.
The people of Israel had been separated from ones they loved, they had watched some of them die and their grief was so great. It was at the forefront of their minds and quite often paralyzed them. So, why these words from Isaiah? Why words of joy and gladness? Isaiah was not being trite. He was not encouraging the people to get over their pain or to pray harder. Isaiah was reminding them of the promise of their God. This was the story of redemption. God’s story is that God is always present. God was there with them. Listen again, to Isaiah’s words. Close your eyes if you can and visualize Isaiah’s poem:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.
10And 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.
And we still tell the same story, don’t we? God is coming. God will make all things new. This is our hope and our promise.
But…we find ourselves in moments of deep pain and grief. We find ourselves, like the people of Israel in those dark days, having said goodbye to ones we love, places we love, jobs we love and relationships we love. We have lost. We are a grieving people. And yet we always have this story of God being here, God saving us in the back of our minds.
We are in the midst of the story of Advent–we are watching and waiting for Jesus. Jesus is coming, Emmanuel- God with us is here among us, drying tears, scooping up grief and whispering, peace be with you. We tell this story of Jesus, and this story of Isaiah’s great words. This is our redemption story.
But I think we have more stories to tell. We each have a story of pain. We have our own stories of loss and grief and sadness. These are stories, just like the people of Israel that belong in our canon of hope and promise. Right now, we sit in the deep sadness. We reside in the grief and the loss. And we will. And we also believe that God is with us. And I think that is enough.
Sorrow and sighing shall flee and joy and gladness will be known, but we will still tell our stories of sorrow and sighing in those days because without them we cannot know the stories of joy and gladness.
Meister Eckhart says that we like Mary, are all mothers of God. He says that God is always needing to be born, and we are the ones bearing this story of the good news of Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Perhaps our story to bear this day is not the story of hope or the story of joy. Perhaps we are the ones to do the important work of bearing the good news that in the dark days of grief and sadness, God is with us.
That might even be the best news of all.
Let God hold your story until you are able to tell it. And know this: Here, our God is with us and here, our God will come and save us. May it be so.