Desperation has a way of driving people. Some it drives toward things. Some it drives away from things. But one thing is for certain, a desperate person will react because they have no choice. Push them hard enough and something has to give. There are a lot of desperate people out there, and for that matter maybe some in here, who are looking for answers. Some are looking for answers about how to support and take care of themselves in the midst of this pandemic crisis. Some are looking for answers in the political realm—fighting their good fight to preserve their version of what our way of life should look like. Some are looking for answers in religion—note I didn’t say God there—seeking answers in dogma and statements about who’s in or out, the haves and have nots in the faith world.
One thing is certain though, desperation is nothing new. As long as there have been people trying to survive on this rock floating and spinning through space, we have had or been desperate people. Some people think they thrive on it. I was looking for a quote on desperation this week and found a fair number by artists who said things like, “People need motivation to do anything. I don’t think human beings learn anything without desperation” or “Desperation sometimes drives innovation.” Others ache for release, for peace on the other side of the desperation. One thing is for certain, if we live and breathe at some point we will face and feel desperation for ourselves or for those we care about.
The book of Isaiah gives us a glimpse of desperation on a national scale. Isaiah tells us two stories, or better yet, has two moods. The first is the prophet calling people to repentance, a call of warning and judgement. The people treated each other horribly. They treated God as little more than a trinket to carry around in their pockets or a piece of jewelry to let people know—with a nod and a wink I might add—that they are on God’s side. They ignored those in need in favor of living well and comfortably.
The second story is the desperate story. It is the story of a people who have lost everything. Hungry, homeless, helpless, they sit in a foreign land as refugees without status or rights. But in the midst of this desperation, we find hope. This hope comes from God through the prophet, a message for the people,
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown (a garland) in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.
These words are words of good news for the oppressed, brokenhearted, captives and prisoners, those who mourn. And what is this good news?
Deck the halls.
Wait a minute our world is falling apart, our people are divided, our spiritual lives are a mess and we’re supposed to decorate? For what? Decorations are nice. They look great. But in the middle of the mess were in were supposed to decorate like everything is just fine?
We decorate to declare there is still joy in the world. We decorate to declare there is good news, greater news, than all the noise we hear from the world around us. We decorate to say there is something to celebrate, something we can revel in. We decorate because there is hope.
This hope is mentioned in Luke 4 when Jesus says what Isaiah said,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
We see this hope in words light brought into the world in John 1,
A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
Decorations abound in the verses and hope abounds in the decorations. Garland to crown the victor over despair. Oil to anoint the one who comes in the name of the Lord to bring good news Isaiah and Luke speak of. Water to baptize with the Holy Spirit the one called to lead the people to a new freedom, a new hope. These words describe Jesus, his life and ministry, but they also describe the life and ministry God calls us to as we seek to be disciples of Jesus and live into being imitators of Jesus.
We prepare for the company, Jesus, but we also prepare ourselves for living out the Way of Jesus. We prepare space in our lives, our hearts, and our world for this to take place. But also, we work to help others prepare. We work to show others there is hope and bring that hope to them: help to those struggling to make ends meet; help to those struggling to make it from day to day through a holiday marked with loss; help to a world blind, imprisoned, and oppressed by people and systems that seek to manipulate them as tools for wealth and power at the people’s expense and suffering.
It’s time to break out the garland, to fill the cups with oil, to lead others to the water. It’s time to deck the halls.
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