The God Who Gives Joy
On the 3rd Sunday of Advent this year we will be reading Isaiah 61, a passage that describes God’s desire to fill his people’s lives with joy.
Isaiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah who ministered from approximately 745-695 B.C. In Isaiah 61 the prophet is predicting the way that God would restore his people from their future exile in Babylon. The way this restoration is described indicates that God has much more in mind for his people than merely the re-establishment of a political state. His plan is for a complete restoration of their dignity, wholeness, purpose, and joy.
In Luke 4:18-21, Jesus declares that only through his ministry as Messiah will such amazing promises reach their fulfillment. He is the One who truly brings good news to the poor, the One who frees people from darkness, and the One who heals our broken hearts.
Isaiah 61:3 promises that, through the Messiah, God will “bestow on [his people] a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” I have heard it explained that the phrase translated “instead of” means “in exchange for” or “as a trade for.” In other words, Jesus trades us his beauty for our ashes, his joy for our sorrow, his garment of praise for our spirit of despair. This great exchange happened on the cross, where Jesus took are sin upon himself and gave us his inheritance of glory.
Having seen that God has already kept the promises of Isaiah 61 for us through his Son should fill us with joy. It should also animate us to work in our world for the causes and concerns that fill God’s heart. The Messiah comes “to proclaim good news to the poor, … to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” He comes to bring justice and relief for the poor and hurting in this world.
This Advent season, look to Christ in faith to give his joy and beauty to you, and then look to the world with compassion to see those people and places where the Lord is at work.