The reading for the final Sunday in Advent is Isaiah 7:10-16, foreseeing a time when there will be no more abandonment.
Ask any counselor or health-care provider, and they will confirm the “hole in the soul” which forms in individuals or groups who experience abandonment. Exile was the experience of it in Isaiah’s day. The refugee crisis is a sign of it in our day. But beneath the macro manifestations, there are innumerable people walking around feeling left alone, left behind, and left to fend for themselves. This kind of abject loneliness (“aloneness”) drains our souls of strength and hope, creating the “desert” which Isaiah mentions periodically in his book–a “wilderness state” to use John Wesley’s phrase.
Into this sense of abandonment, God speaks one word: “Immanuel”–the word of assurance that we are never alone. God is with us! Isaiah saw a day darker than had been since the day Ephraim departed from Judah (7:17), but (to borrow the words of St. John) the darkness could not defeat the light.
This is the pinnacle of our faith, and the central message of Advent. You are never alone! But before people can hear that message and allow it to fill their emptiness, they must be shown it through acts of kindness offered by others.
That is one reason why I have chosen to spend 2016 on my Oboedire blog writing about “Mercy” and “Nonviolence.” These are the means of grace that bring relief from the ravages of war, injustice, fear, and abandonment which Isaiah has described in our Advent readings.
Immanuel!! Love with skin on–love incarnate in Jesus and manifested by those of us who follow him. Advent–“something coming”–“something here.” Do we see it? Will we live it?
[I am not writing Christmastide meditations, but the readings continue in Isaiah–in the second section of the book, where the themes of promise and hope are intensified: December 25–Isaiah 52:7-10, and January 1–Isaiah 60:1-6]