Now this is what the Lord says:
“Sing with joy for Israel.
Shout for the greatest of nations!
Shout out with praise and joy:
‘Save your people, O Lord,
the remnant of Israel!’
For I will bring them from the north
and from the distant corners of the earth.
I will not forget the blind and lame,
the expectant mothers and women in labor.
A great company will return!
Tears of joy will stream down their faces,
and I will lead them home with great care.
They will walk beside quiet streams
and on smooth paths where they will not stumble.
For I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my oldest child.
“Listen to this message from the Lord,
you nations of the world;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
The Lord, who scattered his people,
will gather them and watch over them
as a shepherd does his flock.
For the Lord has redeemed Israel
from those too strong for them.
They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem.
They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts—
the abundant crops of grain, new wine, and olive oil,
and the healthy flocks and herds.
Their life will be like a watered garden,
and all their sorrows will be gone.
The young women will dance for joy,
and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration.
I will turn their mourning into joy.
I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.
The priests will enjoy abundance,
and my people will feast on my good gifts.
I, the Lord, have spoken!” (New Living Translation)
Experiencing restoration is a beautiful thing. Sick and suffering bodies restored to health brings rejoicing. Estranged relationships brought together again elicits singing. Spirits broken by sin made whole again through restoring grace causes shouts of joy.
God is an expert in restoration. Dilapidated communities, broken individuals, and peoples in diaspora can find fresh hope amid challenging circumstances.
Take a look at the actions of God through the verbs in today’s Old Testament lesson:
- “I will bring.” The Lord gathers scattered people together, as well as making the disparate parts of people into a unified whole again.
- “I will not forget.” In the gathering action of God, no one is left behind. Attention is given to the stragglers, to those unable on their own strength or ability to journey on the road back to the Lord.
- “I will turn.” The unfortunate are turned into the fortunate. The underprivileged become privileged. Grief, lament, and mourning give way to joy and a new lease on life.
- “I will comfort.” A great reversal occurs with God’s intervention. Sorrow is transformed into praise. Goodness is found in abundance because the Lord is a good God.
God calls the people to action, to a response of experiencing the restorative powers of grace. The Lord encourages such behavior because it helps us never forget that no one and no circumstance is ever beyond the renewing grace of God. Notice the verbs which characterize that response:
- “Sing.” No mumbling here, my friends. No timidity about being off tune. A lonely person, fragmented group, depressed community, polarized neighborhood, or scattered nation restored by God’s merciful grace becomes an exuberant people. Singing organically arises from them.
- “Shout.” Even the rocks will cry out if the people don’t. A last second win in the sports stadium amongst thousands of fans doesn’t even hold a candle to celebrative shouts of believers gathered and restored.
- “Listen.” Whenever hearing God’s voice results in restoration, then the desire and motivation to listen increases exponentially.
- “Proclaim.” Proclaiming good news is a joy and privilege. And in anticipation of Epiphany, the gospel declared to Gentiles is a gracious message of inclusion and hope.
We are helped to picture the incredible restoration of people coming together and gathered by God with two metaphors:
- The Good Shepherd. Like a faithful shepherd over the flock of sheep, the Lord actively seeks the lost, brings them home, and continues to stand watch over them as a compassionate guardian.
- The Exodus. Just as God redeemed the people out of Egyptian slavery and took them to a good land of abundance, so the Lord shall return those persons exiled from that abundant place and restore them to the peace of settled rest.
The restoring action of God gathers the scattered. The lost are found. That which is fragmented is made whole. Those previously disabled become able. The weak become strong, the sick healed, the hungry fed, and the prisoner freed.
In times of famine, pandemic, poverty, hardship, and scant resources, there is hope. The Lord knows how to restore fortunes and bring untold abundance amid the most difficult of situations.
True joy comes through hard suffering. The pains of childbirth give way to unspeakable joy.
Today is the final day in the twelve days of the Christmas season. God, entering humanity through a woman, in the flesh, began the gracious work of ransoming, redeeming, and restoring a sinful world that had exiled itself from peace and abundance. In Christ, our lives are full of blessing.
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the spiritual blessings that Christ has brought us from heaven! (Ephesians 1:3, CEV)
“I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness. I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep.” (John 10:9-11, GNT)
May you know and experience the restorative grace of God in Christ today and every day. Amen.