First Thursday of Advent: Worn Praise

By Amy Stearns

Advent Devotional | December 6, 2018

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,[a]
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.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

—Isaiah 61:1-3 (Read Isaiah 61)

I was at work when I glanced at my phone and saw a rare occurrence. My stepson was calling.

“Can you help me figure out how to pump up my bike tire?”

I provided him some direction, clumsily stumbling through how to attach a bike pump to a valve without being there in person. (“You see that lever-thingy, it should be horizontal at first.”) My instructions for him were successful.

“Okay, thanks. See you later!” he said.

This was one of the best moments of my year so far. And I’m writing this in October.

Connecting with my teenage stepson is not easy. I came into his life during a lot of upheaval, and adding a new baby sister into the mix raised new challenges. Sometimes I feel a bit lost about how to be a good stepmom to him. I believe that we both try. But sometimes it is hard. And sometimes I am tempted to despair.

In Isaiah 61, the prophet proclaims that in the “year of the Lord’s favor,” those who grieve can wear a “garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” I am not always sure how this works, but when I meet this passage again in the Gospels, I stop and pay attention.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus publicly kicks off his ministry by reading from Isaiah 61, essentially saying, “That stuff about the year of the LORD’s has matured into full bloom in me.” So this makes the Isaiah passage unique. This makes the Isaiah passage really important.

In these passages I see that, because of Jesus, those who grieve can wear a “garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Yes, the Kingdom is “not yet.” But if we are shaped by the person and work of Jesus, the Kingdom is also “now.”

Perhaps it is in seeing the “now-ness” of the Kingdom that our spirit of despair can be transformed into a garment of praise.

I do not think seeing the “now-ness” of the Kingdom means just approaching the glass as half full rather than half empty. It is not a shallow optimism. I think it is a confidence that, even in the darkest places of sin and brokenness, God is present.

God is with us, perhaps especially when we are tempted toward despair.

These passages call me to trust in a God who is with me—a God who asks me to adorn myself with a garment of praise. And so I will remember this phone call from my stepson. I will allow it to prompt me to see the “now-ness” of God’s Kingdom. It is here. It is among us. And my relationship with my stepson is not outside its reach.

Amy (Serridge) Stearns works as an academic advisor at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. She was involved in CCO ministry during her undergraduate years at Ohio Wesleyan University, and she served on CCO staff in downtown Pittsburgh from 1997-2006.