The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames. – Isaiah 9: 1-5
Last night, as I sat at the midnight-now-10-pm mass, my second mass of four over this feast, surrounded by poinsettia and wearing jewelry that makes me think of my family, Isaiah 9: 5 jolted me out of my tired, carol-soaked mindlessness just before I headed up to the ambo to sing a peppy psalm.
Every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood... I wouldn’t be the first person to comment on the domestication of the Scripture. I’m not an expert on the prophetic books, and like too many people who have studied Scripture I feel like that precludes me from being moved by passages I don’t know inside and out. That verse was so rich that I couldn’t help but be shocked – cloaks rolled in blood, boots stomping through warfare: where can the promised one meet us if we don’t know such experiences?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” – Luke 4: 18-19
If what we celebrate today – the coming of God into the world as a human like us – is tied up with this message of liberation, what does it have to offer us who have not been oppressed. It’s trendy to say that we need to be spiritually liberated, or that we are oppressed by our own bad attitudes, but that reads a lot into the message that Isaiah is drenched in: that God is on the side of those who suffer and has come to suffer with them.
In a realistic assessment, my life has seen a share of suffering, but nothing like the suffering of those in Isaiah or Jesus’ historical contexts. I wore pearls to mass last night and was well compensated for singing in a warm, neat church and being highly praised afterward. How can I hear the message of deliverance when I’m not quite convinced there is anything from which I need to be delivered? And if I don’t practice the art of being reliant on God for salvation, how will I know to whom to turn when I know need?
Christ came in an unexpected form to raise up those who are lowly, to cast the mighty from their thrones, to set captives free. How do we welcome the unexpected when we live expected lives? I am blessed that the times I have known brokenness my heart has turned to faith and hope in my need. That inclination did not come through my own virtue but through grace. That I have never had a boot that tramped in battle or a cloak rolled in blood is also a sign of my blessedness, but it leaves me at times unable to hear the message – or perhaps just unable to hold it in my heart.