Beauty for Ashes

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.”
Isaiah 61:1-3a NIV

Would you read slowly through those words again, as we see the exchanges God offers us in the gift of His Son:
The oil of joy, instead of mourning -
A garment of praise, instead of a spirit of despair -
A crown of beauty, instead of ashes.

What a beautiful thing to reflect on this Advent season, as we think on what the first coming of Christ has wrought in our lives, and look forward to His return again. Perhaps you can’t remember a time in your life where you didn’t know the love of our Lord - what a gift! For some, you can clearly remember your personal “BC/AD;” what life was before knowing Christ, and what life is now, as you are known by Him. Whether we have always walked with Him, or whether we can say with Augustine, “late have I loved You,” none of us fully escapes the scars of sin in this world, and all of us end up accumulating our piles of ashes - all of us.

Look with me in Isaiah at who the Good News of the coming of Christ is for - the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners; those who mourn, those who grieve, those in the pit of despair.

Are you poor in spirit or in means? Have you a broken heart? Are you bound with snares you cannot get rid of, no matter how much strength you expend? Are you imprisoned, literally, or by the bondage of your past or shame or regrets or the consequences of sin? Do you sit in darkness, with only grief to keep you company?

Take heart, there is good news for you - our Messiah, Jesus Christ, has come and will come again.

And while we wait, we keep company with our Emmanuel, and we go boldly to His throne in our need, and we cling to His promised exchange;
Our broken hearts bound up with the balm of Gilead.
Our freedom from captivity and our release from darkness.
Our rejoicing in His favor, and our hope of His coming justice - His righting of all wrongs, His coming vengeance on evil itself.

We cling to His comfort in our mourning - the very consolation of the Spirit of God Himself.
We keep our hands open for His provision in our grief, embracing the good He has given instead of resenting the good He has not.

And we lift our eyes to see the Beauty only He could give in exchange for our ashes. His joy, where there once was mourning; overflowing praise where there was only despair. Look, indeed, at what God has done.

What ashes will we bring Him this advent, as we wait for His second coming? What beauty can we ask Him to show us? May we see the very beauty of His kindness, of His tender and merciful countenance toward us, here in advent, as we wait for His return.

by Chelsea Bucci
Chelsea and her husband Dj have enjoyed attending Kingsway since 2011. Chelsea is currently pursuing an education in Biblical Studies and Counseling. She is often heard before she’s seen, and her laugh may or may not have broken the sound barrier once. She finds great joy spending time with her husband and children, enjoying a good meal with friends, animatedly discussing theology, reading C.S Lewis, and watching Doctor Who. You can read more of her writing on her blog, Doctor Pew.

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