Rev. Tom Ballard
The prophet Isaiah, writing in a time of Judah being displaced from its homeland, delivers a message of hope using metaphors like light, the breaking of a yoke of oppression, and a child being born. In a word, Isaiah is giving encouragement to a long-discouraged people.
While 2020 has brought much discouragement, because of our faith in the same God in whom Isaiah believed, encouragement prevails! God is so zealous, God withheld nothing when Jesus, the one whose very name means salvation, was born. We might even say that in Jesus, God became the embodiment of encouragement.
Last Fall, I learned the etymology or origin of the word encouragement. The French word for heart is coeur, so to encourage literally means “to put the heart (back) in.” Conversely, to discourage is “to tear the heart out.” How would our lives be different if we understood that in Christ, God was putting God’s heart into us? Yes, admittedly, our lives of brokenness, even having our hearts torn out, is the epitome of discouragement. But for God to encourage us in Christ says volumes about how God is wooing us to acknowledge that we actually have the capacity for our hearts to be enlarged to hold the very heart of God.
For readers of Isaiah and followers of Jesus, we can easily “connect the dots” that the prophet’s preaching was clearing a path for the advent of the messiah. The longing of the heart for a savior is ultimately fulfilled in the Incarnate Son Jesus. Is it any wonder, then, that after Jesus’ birth, after the shepherds returned to their flocks, that his mother Mary treasured their words and pondered them in her heart? Encouragement par excellence!