At first glance, the title of this carol may bring to mind a table full of men, all enjoying merriment of one kind or another—a glass of ale, a burger and fries, or a song with a good beat playing on the jukebox. We can all picture a time of feeling “merry.” I’m sure we have greeted others plenty of times over the last couple weeks saying, “Merry Christmas!”
So what is it to be merry? Certainly, being cheerful and lively is part of it. Yet I think the refrain of this Christmas song gets it right. It talks of tidings, that is, the Good News of Jesus’ birth. “O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.” When we are joyful, we are certainly merry.
Probably the most well-known of all Bible stories we learned as children was the story of David and Goliath. All sorts of images pop up for me, from the felt board stories of my wee years to play acting the story with children with costumes and sound effects when I was Children’s Ministry Director.
We are going to take our time as we walk through this story. Maybe new messages will pop out for us. Sometimes we tend to rush through things, especially when they are familiar. I guess we want to conserve our “energy” for handling the more complex or new things we encounter each day.
For those who have never felt persecution for their faith, the first part of today’s reading must seem a little foreign. Certainly, if we have encountered such it’s still hard to imagine what it was like for those early Christians. Most of Paul’s audience here would be non-Jews who hadn’t known God for long at all. It must feel like they had just jumped into a burning fire.
So many early Christians lost their lives for their faith. Around the world today, we see those same things happening at an alarming rate. While many years have passed, the truth still remains. “God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven.” We are included in this promise of rest even if we haven’t ever been persecuted personally.
We are going to learn a lot as we journey through Isaiah together. These short verses today are sandwiched between the words of judgment proclaimed by the Lord. This image of being white as snow or wool has always been powerful for me. As I sit here, now living in Mexico, it strikes me it has been a long time since I have seen snow. Most of my Mexican friends have never even seen snow in person, so the power of this verse may not be fully grasped.
I can still vividly remember white knuckle driving on country roads in Iowa during my commute in the winter. This Iowa girl does not miss snow one little bit! But when it comes to this verse, I am taken back to a time when I could be nestled safely inside a warm house, looking out at the vast fields of white, glistening in the sun. That snow was so white it almost hurt your eyes to look at its gleaming. That is the image I think of when I imagine my sins being cleansed by a loving God.
Grace is that undeserved favor we receive from God. It’s all sufficient, and it’s all a gift. Moses wanted the people to understand that God wasn’t doing all of this for them because they were righteous. We read over and over again the Bible accounts that show the stubbornness and disobedience of God’s chosen people. He didn’t choose them because they were the best students in the class.
It would be easy to become over-confident and think we are better than we are, too. When we have success in our life, it would be all too easy to take the credit. We do need to realize who is in charge, who has made a way for us, who has gifted us with the skills and abilities we use to reach our level of success.