category: Advent

Advent Devotion: Day 15

Sunday,  December 11

Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

One of my favorite hymns to sing during Advent has always been “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Its solemn, almost mournful—yet joyful—tune seems to me to capture the spirit of the season perfectly. The first stanza acknowledges that things are not going so well right now:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

The people of God are captive, having been taken in exile from their homeland, in a mournful state. Yet immediately comes the refrain:

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The joy that is enjoined on us is because of a certainty of what God will do in the future. It’s based on what we look forward to, not on what has already happened. For Israel, as described in Isaiah 35, this meant the certainty of God’s literal redemption, of being brought from exile and captivity back to the promised land, back to the peace and certainty of God’s rule rather than suffering under a foreign oppressor.

Our Advent joy should be similar. During Advent we rejoice not because things are going well for us right now, not because all our ducks are in a row, and not because we’ve got all of our bills and debts paid off and we have nothing to do but eat, drink, and be merry. No, most of us are all too aware of our own shortcomings and the shortcomings of those around us. We may be experiencing the pressure of our jobs, the economy, family needs, illnesses and deaths of loved ones, and maybe other things we can’t even name. Yet we are called to rejoice! The joy we experience during Advent is not based on the here-and-now, but on the certainty that whatever our circumstances, whatever our sins and burdens, God is going to visit us and redeem us. There will be “streams in the desert” and “sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” as Isaiah puts it (35:6, 10).

It’s probably easier for us than it was for the people of Israel, because we know in fact that Christ has already come. The Advent season requires us to use our imagination a bit in this regard. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, we’re supposed to think as if Christ’s coming is something to look forward to rather than a past event to celebrate. That’s hard. It would be much easier to skip to the baby in the manger. But in another sense, we do still look forward to Christ’s coming—to his future coming in power, when not only we ourselves but when also “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21), or as Psalm 146:10 says, when “the Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations”! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Scott Shauf
Professor of Religious Studies, Department Chair

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Advent Devotion: Day 14

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Advent Devotion: Day 16

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