14 Dec An Advent Promise: He Will Swallow Up Death Forever
“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:6-8).
Merry Christmas! I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Friday after Thanksgiving, so I could exuberantly begin greeting people with a hearty, “Merry Christmas!” If it were up to me, I’d say Merry Christmas for the entire fourth quarter of the year, a prospect which horrifies my husband, who is constantly offended on behalf of Thanksgiving, which he says get the short end of the holiday celebration stick.
A few weeks ago, I came across this passage in Isaiah 25 and thought, “Now that is an Advent passage if I’ve ever seen one.” We’re probably all familiar with the traditional Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, but I posit that Isaiah 25:6-8 should be equally esteemed alongside our trusty Advent favorites.
A feast of rich food for all peoples…
When God gave his only son for us, sending him to be born as a baby from Mary’s womb, he provided “a feast of rich food for all peoples.” He sent the final answer to sin’s reign in our world. He sent victory over death. Through Jesus, God “will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations.” Christ is our clarity. His death and resurrection utterly obliterate the shroud of sin and confusion that characterizes Satan’s dominion over earth.
He will wipe away the tears … and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.
All loss will be restored. All pain will be healed. All sorrow will be comforted. He will wipe away our tears, forever. All the shame, disgrace, and separation we experience because of our sin and brokenness will be removed. The permanence of this truth is astounding, the finality worthy of a joyful chorus.
He will swallow up death forever.
Read that phrase. Read it again. Read it again. HE. WILL. SWALLOW. UP. DEATH. FOREVER. Death, Satan’s most powerful weapon, the dread of our souls, is swallowed up by Christ’s sacrifice. Christ absorbed our sin, offering himself up as a holy redeemer, reconciling us to himself forever.
I want to leave you with my favorite Advent meditation, a Christmas greeting written by Italian friar and painter Giovanni da Fiesole (Fra Angelico) 1387-1455. Though penned hundreds of years ago, its truth and beauty resonate, elaborating on the redemptive promises of Isaiah 25.
I salute you. I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not already, but there is much, very much, which though I cannot give, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this precious little instant. Take peace. The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and courage in the darkness could we but see; and to see, we have only to look.
Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their coverings, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love and wisdom and power. Welcome it, greet it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence.
Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts. Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.
Courage, then, to claim it, that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims winding through an unknown country on our way home.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greeting, but with profound esteem now and forever.
The day breaks and the shadows flee away.