Saturday of the first week of Advent/St John Damascene

Isaiah 30. 19-21, 23-26; Psalm 146.1-6 (LXX); Matthew 9.35-10.1, 5a, 6-8

Yea, O people in Zion who dwell at Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. And though the Lord will give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher, and your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’, when you turn to the right or turn to the left…
Moreover, the light of the moon will be as bright as the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, when the Lord binds up the hurt of his people and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow. (Is. 30.19-21, 26)
He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds. (Ps. 146.3)
And Jesus…had compassion… (Mt. 9.35-36)
. . .
The temptation for me is to read these texts as the consolation for having eaten the bread of adversity and drunk from the well of affliction, and to look for the compassion of the Lord, the healing of my wounds.
But it isn’t an either/or, is it? It is a both/and. Adversity and affliction do not simply precede the appearance of the Teacher, but go with us on the way. The healing comes in the movement forward, both in Isaiah and in Matthew’s gospel. The way to see the Teacher, and to hear his voice, it seems, is to be on the way, walking. Not only that, but Jesus’ compassion to the crowds in Matthew’s gospel results not only in his teaching and healing, but also in sending: ‘You received without pay, give without pay’.
I don’t trust God. Not if trusting God implies a belief that I will be spared grief, or protected from either the annoying or the tragic. I don’t trust God to make me a better person. I do believe, on my better days, that I will be saved, ultimately, and that I will experience joy along the way. But I have no illusions about the country through which that way lies: sometimes it is difficult, steep terrain, hedged with thorns and lying in shadows.
I know, though, that I am not the first to walk this road, nor am I walking it alone. The saints have gone before, following in the footsteps of Jesus. And if I am to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living–where they dwell in everlasting light–this is the only way forward, and that by grace alone.

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