The prophet Isaiah envisions a time when sorrow will turn to joy for God's people. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! Isaiah reminds the people that their darkness, their suffering, has come upon them for two reasons-- some suffering has come upon them through no fault of their own-- they are just victims of circumstances. Other trials and difficulties, however, are the result of their own wrong doing, of choosing their own way in life rather than God's way. But God does not intend to leave them in their misery. In the worst areas of darkness for Israel in that day, the land in the north by the Sea of Galilee, God promises that light will indeed shine. God will bring joy out of despair.
But how will God accomplish this great feat? Through the birth of a child! Out of the disaster God will bring forth a victory through this birth. But who is this child? We can almost imagine Isaiah asking God what the things he has been inspired to say mean. We are told that the Messiah will come as a child. He will come as one unexpected and he will crush evil in unexpected ways, ways not used by the world to combat evil. Isaiah and his original hearers may have been confused in trying to understand who the Messiah was to be and how he was to accomplish his work. But Isaiah was attempting to understand God's words seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus. We who stand on the other side of that birth understand these words clearly. In Jesus, Isaiah's prophecy has come into focus.
Jesus is the one of whom Isaiah speaks. He is the one who shines the light of God bringing joy out of despair. The good news is that Jesus is God with us. And the God who is with us is here to turn our darkness into light and our despair into joy. And if the God of the Bible in all of his love and compassion is truly with us, that is good news for all of eternity! The worst that can happen to us cannot compare with the best that God has already accomplished for us in Jesus Christ!
The child born of Mary is the Son of David, but he is also the Son of God. The bulk of Jesus' ministry was in Galilee, but he was "enthroned" on a cross in Jerusalem. By taking upon himself the sin and oppression, the horror and the tragedy of the world, he was able to impart to us joy where there was only despair, laughter where there was only sorrow.
Lois Morgan of Mocksville, North Carolina wrote the following prayer in the midst of extremely difficult and tragic life circumstances:
Jesus, I believe you laughed as Mary bathed you and Joseph tickled your toes. I believe you giggled as you and other children played your childhood games. And when you went to the Temple and astounded the teachers, I believe you chuckled as all children chuckle when they stump adults. And surely there were moments of merriment as you and your disciples deepen you relationship. And as you and Mary and Martha and Lazarus fellowshiped, mirth must have mirrored your faces.
Jesus, I know you wept and anguished. But I believe you laughed too. Create in me the life of laughter.*
Yes, suffering and despair are to be taken seriously; and that is precisely why the Christian life is a life of joy. In the midst of it all, God has made a way out. In the middle of our lost ways, God has found us. Only God can destroy death and defeat darkness. Only God can turn our despair into joy. Only God can turn sorrow into laughter. Only God can turn cross into resurrection.
The worst that can happen to us cannot compare with the best God has already accomplished for us in Jesus Christ!
*Cal & Rose Samra, Holy Humor (New York: Mastermedia Limited, 1996).