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, 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 (NIV)
I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” Hosea 2:23 (NIV)
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, (Jesus) and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20 (NIV)
Beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, and praise for despair- this is the exchange that God promises His people. He comes to us, people who have separated ourselves from Him, and still claims us as His own.
The Book of Hosea tells us of Hosea’s unfaithful wife- and how her behavior paralleled that of Israel toward God. In spite of the unfaithful wife’s (Israel’s) behavior and fallen ways, God says: “You are my people.” “You are my loved one.” “I have named you and claimed you as my own.”
Natural law – the way the world works, states that actions have consequences- and they do. All of us have made mistakes and fallen short of God’s good plans for us (it’s called sin.) All of us have paid heavy prices in this life for our own mistakes and for the mistakes of others. We are all “walking wounded,” partially from our own mistakes and sin, and partially just from the human condition and living in this fallen world. All of us carry the ashes of mourning and despair over dreams that have died.
Yet this is where God steps in with grace and mercy (unmerited favor) and says to us: Give me your ashes. I will exchange them for beauty. Give me your mourning. I will trade it for joy. Give me your despair. I will give you songs of praise. I will heal your broken heart.
God tenderly reaches out to us with His outstretched arms: Give me your weakness and your vulnerability, and I will wrap you in My strength.
As we wait and watch and long for fulfillment of God’s promises in this world of not-yet, we look to Jesus, Who came to earth as one of us. He was subject to all of the hurt and wounding and suffering of this world, yet He lived as one of us. He sacrificed Himself so that God could truly be with us- He exchanged Himself, perfect in every way, to cover our imperfections, and to exchange our sin and death for His beauty, joy, praise, strength and life.
Are we willing to give Him our ashes, our mourning, our despair? Jesus gave Himself so that we could have life in Him.