We are well into the season of Advent. It is a season of hope. It is a hope that we remember as we prepare to celebrate both Christ’s birth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago and His eventual return. This hope included bringing good news to the oppressed. This hope was expressed in the passage we heard from Isaiah. It is the same passage that Jesus based His message in the temple on in Luke 4:16-21.
Isaiah’s message refers to things that have been torn down or destroyed. Things that were depressing will be better. Things that were ugly will be beautiful. Things in general will be better. The passage offers encouragement and hope. It is a model for vision, mission and tone of leadership for all generations.
This is the fifth of Isaiah’s Servant Songs. The Servant would be anointed by God’s Spirit to proclaim a message of deliverance to the people. Jesus fulfilled the task of the Servant when He quoted these words at the beginning of His ministry. Jesus’ redemptive work as a servant begins with inner transformation. Jesus frees us from the bondage of sin. He frees us to live. When we are free to live, we are free to serve. It gives us self-esteem.
People who lack the self-esteem that results from a right relationship with God tend to be self-centered in their motivation and interest. When we are freed because of God’s grace, we become servants ourselves and a channel of grace for others. We are not freely served by God until we serve others, including those who are classified as rejects by society. These people represent the ruins caused by sin. For those who claim to follow Christ, they simply can’t refuse to help the poor, oppressed and needy in their midst. When we refocus our attention on the needs of others when we are in turmoil, it allows the burden of our circumstances to be removed from us.
For example, listen to this story about a little boy named William. “Dad, can I use your oil can to get rid of the squeak in the cupboard doors?” William asked. “Mom says the hinges need a little oil and that I can be the oil man. If they don’t get oiled soon, the squeaking is going to drive her crazy.”
Dad laughed as he took the oil can from the workbench and handed it to William. “Then by all means, take it away!” said Dad.
When William returned the oil can some time later, Dad was still at his workbench. “I oiled the hinges all over the house,” William reported. “I told Mom that if she hears any squeaks now, she’ll know we have mice. She says that would really drive her crazy.” They both laughed, and then William went out to play soccer with his friends.
At dinner that evening, William shared the neighborhood news. “Troy and Jim are mad at each other again,” he said. “And did you know that Mrs. Gentry broke her arm? She fell down her basement stairs.” William helped himself to a piece of ham. “And Mr. Snell stood at his window for half an hour and watched us guys play soccer,” added William.
“I guess he doesn’t have anything better to do.” William nibbled his salad.
“It sounds like the people in our neighborhood could use some oil,” observed Dad.
“Oil?” asked William. “What do you mean?”
“The Bible speaks of the ‘oil of gladness,’ and it sounds like some of our neighbors could use a little gladness in their lives,” Dad replied. “Since you’re the oil man today, I think it would be nice if you would spread some oil of gladness around the neighborhood.”
“Yeah?” William looked thoughtful. “I know one thing I can do. I can offer to run errands for Mrs. Gentry,” he decided. “I don’t know what I can do about Troy and Jim, though–but I’ll think of something!”
William eyed the dessert on the counter. “Can I take a piece of pie to Mr. Snell?” he asked. Then he grinned. “And I better take an extra piece so I can sit down and eat with him!” Dad laughed. “Good thinking,” he said.
Life is hard. No one gets through life without being hurt. No matter how good our lives are, suffering is always a few blocks away. Perhaps your childhood was less than ideal. Perhaps you had an alcoholic father, an absent father, an abusive mother, or an aloof mother. Perhaps you lived in poverty, grew up in an orphanage, a foster home, or with parents who felt you were a bother instead of a blessing. No matter what your childhood memories hold, God can and will use every bit of it for His purposes and for His glory…if we let Him. It doesn’t matter how you started; what matters is how you finish.
There is a time to grieve. It’s important to go through that process and release the hurt to God. But God wants to exchange our hurt for His healing. He wants to fill us with His peace and joy. When we put our painful pasts behind us and obey what God is calling us to do in the present, we will experience a fruitful, fulfilling, fascinating adulthood. He can take the miseries of the past and turn them into ministries in the present.
God will give us peace in His presence and security in the fact that He has overcome the world-and that includes suffering. When we face life’s problems, it’s hard for us to think, let alone pray. When evil seems to gain a victory over good, we wonder and question and ask ourselves if we really can trust God. We ask where He is in those times.
God can create beauty out of the ashes of our lives. He gives us praise to defeat the spirit of despair. It transforms us from weak people into mighty oaks of righteousness. A hope that has been set free from sin is beautiful. When we are freed from our sin, we can live a life more in tune with God. We can testify to the glory of God and give others hope that He can change our lives. If we share our feelings with God, He is willing to listen. He is willing to give us hope.
Hope can ease the pain each of us has within us. Whether it is a shameful past, a breakup, losing a loved one or bad decisions, we all have hidden pain. We try to cover over loss with a beautiful exterior, attempting to make the pain less painful than it really is. The only way to experience healing is for us to let that hidden pain go. God sees what is in our hearts. He wants to turn that pain to praise and give us hope, but we can prevent that healing process from taking place if we hold too tightly to that pain. Jesus will walk us through that pain if we let Him.
Let Jesus’ purpose be the reason for our hope. Let these words-which we dare to hope for-fan the flame of our freedom. Then watch as that freedom burns away despair and gives rise to joy:
- As death is defeated and life is reborn
- As obstacles crumble and opportunities rise.
- As fears are loosened and dreams revive.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1628)
- “The Oil Man.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Gathering, Advent/Christmas/Epiphany 2017-2018 (Toronto, ON: Worship, Music and Spirituality Office, Church in Mission Unit, United Church of Canada, p. 10)
- McKenna, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 18: Isaiah 40-66 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1994; pp. 231-242)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Kelly McFadden, “Beauty for Ashes.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
- Os Hillman, “Listening to the Father’s Heart-July 23, 2017.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Os Hillman, “Listening to the Father’s Heart-May 11, 2017.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Steve Arterburn, “Fulfilling Your Mission.” Retrieved from www.newlife.org
- Os Hillman, “Oaks of Righteousness.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Isaiah 64:1-4,8-62:3.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- “Do You Know This Jesus?” Retrieved from www.dailydisciples.org
- Joel Osteen, “Double is Due to You!” Retrieved from www.joelosteen.com
- Joel Osteen, “Garment of Praise.” Retrieved from www.joelosteen.com
- Sharon Jaynes, “Transforming a Painful Childhood into a Purposeful Adulthood.” Retrieved from www.girlfriendsingod.com