Ezekiel 34.17-31, Isaiah 9.1-7; Philippians 4.4-9*
By Rev. Michaele LaVigne
Some of the best words in all Christmas music are ones we rarely get to sing. Most hymns have four verses, and Joy to the World is no exception. Usually we sing the first and fourth verses, and if we’re feeling generous enough to sing three verses we’ll throw in the second one. But not very often do we get to the third verse, the gem in the middle.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
I love these words. They remind me to hope, and give voice to my longing. Because I find the curse everywhere. Sin, sorrow and thorns seem to be flourishing right within my own heart, and everywhere I look. My longing for God to make things right is so great that it wells up in my throat and eyes and I can hardly keep from weeping:
I long for people whom I love to be free, secure, full of hope and at peace. I long for my son to be spared the darkness, doubt, and hurt I know all humans must face.
I long for children who are hungry, cold and alone to be safe, warm, full, and really loved. I long for women and men who are pinned down by shame, fear and self-loathing to find freedom, joy, and true friendship. I long for my neighbor who is bound in that love-hate relationship with alcohol to find what truly, fully satisfies and heals.
I long for injustice – even the kind that is so dark and so scary that I can’t bear to look at it – to be brought to light and stopped. I see so much that just shouldn’t be. and I long for it to be made right!
I long for the old, worn out, tired, beaten up stuff in me and all around me to be made NEW – beautiful, useful, bright and breathtaking, pointing to what is Good.
And even then, when the lump in my throat feels the heaviest and my tears spill over, I know I’m only scratching the surface of the longing God feels.
He has been in a state of longing for a very, very long time. He has been at work to bring wholeness and blessing and peace ever since the curse of sin and sorrow began. He promises safety, peace, rescue and blessing for those who been enslaved and devoured by enemies (Ezekiel 34.25-28). Into the darkness and despair he shouts, “No! More! Gloom!” like Gandalf commanding the fire demon not to pass (Isaiah 9.1).
I do find some solace when I think that the often-painful longing I feel is in conjunction with God’s. But I have to admit, a lot of the times it feels pointless. I am thrust into an ocean of emotion and heart-wrenching desire with very little I can do to make it better. What I can do is pray, but to be honest, in the face of this far-reaching curse of sin and sorrow, it feels much too feeble.
But last week I read this quote tucked into the daily readings in The Guide to Prayer by some wise saint named John E. Biersdorf:
“Intercession [prayer for the needs of others] is God’s desiring through our desiring the specific healing and redemptive work to which we are called. . . . Often there is no visible effect to our prayer; sometimes there is a dramatic one. It makes no difference – intercession is the way we live our vocation to manifest God’s love, living our faith.”
So may I, and may we, courageously live into our vocation of desiring God’s desires and praying that they come to pass. May we, as Paul taught us, simply tell God what we need, thank him for what he has done, and then sit back and experience the peace of Christ guarding our hearts and minds (Philippians 4.6,7).
Let us pray as people whose longing is not greater than our hope and confidence in the one to whom we pray:
Put a stop to sin and sorrow grow!
Don’t let thorns infest the ground!
Jesus, come and make your blessings flow
As far as the curse is found – which is absolutely everywhere.
Push back the darkness and uproot injustice.
Lord, please pour out your blessings on this broken world as far as the curse is found!
*Scripture readings for the first week of Advent from A Guide to Prayer. Copies of this devotional guide are available for $15 on Sunday evenings, or are available online.