Advent Week Three: Joy
By Zach Dietrich
“Clothes. What I really want for Christmas is new clothes.” Those are words I never imagined saying as a child. Why waste precious Christmas list real estate on clothes when I’m probably going to get them anyway? Gift-wrapping socks is Mom’s way to stretch the Christmas cheer and fill in sparse areas under the tree. New clothes for school? A necessary evil. But now, as my awareness of my real needs grows, my list often gets smaller. Just some new clothes, please. Perhaps what I used to think of as a boring Christmas list comes near to the heart of Advent. Advent is the time we remember that Christ came and clothed himself in robes of humanity to clothe us with glory. In Advent, we celebrate when the Messiah trades his joy for the ashes of our sorrow.
Isaiah is the prince of prophets, the Shakespeare of the Old Testament, the Bible in one book. He announced the Messiah with some of Scripture’s most poetic, most beautiful, most memorable prophecies of the Bible. Twelve days of Christmas are 12,000 too few to expound upon Advent in Isaiah. So can I, for just one moment, tell you the one verse—the one picture—of Jesus that has captured my imagination this Advent? It’s less memorable but no less beautiful. Will you ponder it with me? Isaiah said that the Messiah comes…
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit
A headdress? Oil? Garment? One way to imagine this verse is a mother dressing her daughter from head to toe in a dazzling Christmas dress for a party! An old Scottish pastor says it better. “We have two contrasted pictures suggested: one of a mourner with gray ashes strewed upon his disheveled locks, and his spirit clothed in gloom like a black robe; and to him there comes One who, with gentle hand, smoothes the ashes out of his hair, trains a garland round his brow, anoints his head with oil, and, stripping off the trappings of woe, casts about him a bright robe fit for a guest at a festival. That is the miracle that Jesus Christ can do for everyone, and is ready to do for us, if we will let Him.”
Read Isaiah 61 again this Advent and wonder at the true nature of Jesus. Are you captive? Jesus sets you free. Are you brokenhearted? Jesus heals. Is the only thing on your Christmas list to be free of tear-stained clothes of mourning and again feel joy? Jesus is not waiting for you to dress yourself to come to him. He finds you in your darkest place, meets you in your ashes, pierces your deepest need, and will one day wrap you head to toe with impenetrable joy.
- Talk together: Do we have Christmas or Advent traditions that relate to clothing?
- Sing together: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
- Read together: Isaiah 61:1-12
- Pray together: Isaiah 61:1-3 can be used as Scripture to pray over those who are suffering and mourning. Take time to pray these verses over those who may be sick and sad.