Advent 2011: 3.1 — Dancing in the Ashes

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 3: A reading from the Prophet Isaiah

The Spirit of the Lord and King is on me. The Lord has anointed me to tell the good news to poor people. He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts have been broken. He has sent me to announce freedom for those who have been captured. He wants me to set prisoners free from their dark prisons. He has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free. He wants me to announce the day when he will pay his enemies back. Our God has sent me to comfort all those who are sad.

He wants me to help those in Zion who are filled with sorrow. I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes. I will anoint them with oil to give them gladness instead of sorrow. I will give them a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness. They will be like the oak trees that are strong and straight. The Lord himself will plant them in the land. That will show how glorious he is. They will rebuild the places that were destroyed long ago. They will repair the buildings that have been broken down for many years. They will make the destroyed cities like new again. They have been broken down for a very long time.

The Lord says, “I love those who do what is right. I hate it when people steal and do other sinful things. So I will be faithful to those who do what is right. And I will bless them. I will make a covenant with them that will last forever.

Their children after them will be famous among the nations. Their families will be praised by people everywhere. All those who see them will agree that I have blessed them.” The people of Jerusalem will say, “We take great delight in the Lord. We are joyful because we belong to our God. He has dressed us with salvation as if it were our clothes. He has put robes of godliness on us. We are like a groom who is dressed up for his wedding. We are like a bride who decorates herself with her jewels. The soil makes the young plant come up. A garden causes seeds to grow. In the same way, the Lord and King will make godliness grow. And all of the nations will praise him.”

— Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (NIRV)

We’ve made it to week three of Advent. The week of Gaudete. The “pink” week. The week of rejoicing.

We’ve established hope. We’ve experienced peace. And, now, we rejoice.

Joy while living between the yesterday and the tomorrow. Joy in the midst of sorrow. Joy that brings healing.

Joy.

As has been the case each week throughout Advent, we begin the week with the Prophet Isaiah. I’ve often imagined Isaiah as this cantankerous old fella who had a long grey beard and said things in a really gruff sounding pirate voice. Now, I have no idea if my imagination is close to reality or not, but, I urge you, re-read the passage with that in mind.

Now, that you’re back.

In this passage, Isaiah (as he does in many other passages) brings hope to a group of downcast people. He reminds the people of God about who their God is.

He draws a beautiful picture. He turns ashes into crowns. Ashes of mourning turned into crowns of rejoicing. Ashes of death turned into crowns of life.

Life.

I think about Job. As he sits and hears servant after servant telling him the tragedy that is unfolding in his life, he responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and reflecting upon who God is.

I think of Mordecai. As he learns that Haman has suckered King Xerxes into what will amount to genocide, Mordecai responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and praying for deliverance.

I think of Jacob. As he hears the lie that Joseph is dead, he puts on sackcloth, covers his head in ashes, and cries.

Ashes.

Dad's Coffee Mug -- Used 35 years and washed only a handful of times.

I think of the day we held my Dad’s memorial. An urn filled with ashes and surrounded by flowers and flanked by a coffee mug and a plaque commemorating the Marine Corps naming him an Honorary Gunnery Sergeant. A crowd of people–all of them, in their own way, family.

Some reflecting upon who in that moment and that context is God.

Some praying for deliverance from the emptiness they felt.

All in deep sadness.

Yet, Isaiah offers hope. Isaiah offers peace. Isaiah offers joy.

Joy in that which is not yet, but is soon to be.

Messiah is coming.

He’s quite nearly here.

And when He comes, He will bring a spirit of praise that will replace the spirit of sadness.

When He comes, He will set His people free from their darkness and downcast spirit, and set them about rebuilding the City of Peace.

He will set them about dancing in the ashes.

He will set them about joy.

As we light the Gaudete candle, let us remember that His Light breaks into our darkness. It breaks into our sadness. It breaks into our sorrow.

And, like the mythical Phoenix, we are risen up out of the ashes to dance again.

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  1. […] began our week with a prophecy given to Isaiah about God’s chosen people. A people that appeared to have chosen sadness as their destiny. […]

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