And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isa. 35:10)
Christmas isn’t always a festive season. Whether it’s the absence of loved ones, the heartache of broken relationships, the toll of chronic suffering, or the unending battle against sin, it’s not uncommon to end the year on a weary and joyless note. What word does the Lord offer those of us who barely make it to the finish line? He promises everlasting joy.
It’s not uncommon to end the year on a weary and joyless note.
Nestled between two chapters of judgment and invasion, Isaiah 35 is a chapter suffused with joy for God’s weary people. Even as they’re about to experience the pain and consequences of their disobedience and rebellion, God extends a promise: it will not always be this way.
God’s people would “return to Zion,” meaning, Israel would leave their exile in Babylon and come back to Jerusalem. Why? Because they had been “ransomed.” In the days of Moses, God had redeemed them by the blood of the lamb, and by his mighty hand he secured their exodus from Egypt. In this passage, he promises to redeem them in a second exodus. Despite their sin, God hadn’t given up on them. They were still his redeemed people (Isa. 35:9). Sighing would soon give way to singing, and sorrow give way to joy.
Something even greater than the return from exile is coming for each of us. Isaiah’s joyous language can’t be contained by the events of 538 BC (2 Chron. 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–4). There’s a deeper promise in these verses—a better hope and a glorious day that’s still to come.
As Christians, we still endure “sorrow and sighing” (cf. Rom. 8; 2 Cor. 4–5). We dwell in earthly tents as we sojourn to our heavenly home. Because we know something better is coming, we endure our various trials with hope (Rom. 5:3). Yes, this life is a difficult journey, but a glorious eternity awaits. We’re promised that a heavenly Zion will one day descend on us (Heb. 12:22) and “gladness and joy will overtake [us]” (Isa. 35:10, NIV).
Yes, this life is a difficult journey, but a glorious eternity awaits.
Why is this better day coming? Because we’ve been ransomed with greater blood than the Passover lamb. The babe in the manger was the second Adam, born to take away the sins of the world. How often are we robbed of joy when we believe that God sent his Son to the cross to purchase our pardon, but foolishly fear he won’t carry us home (cf. Rom. 8:32)?
Not only will we have everlasting joy, but sadness and sighing will depart forever. In The Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee awakens with delight: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
Yes. In Christ, everything sad will indeed come untrue (Rev. 21:4–5). One day, we will awaken with eternal delight—this is the hope of Christmas.
What earthly sorrows make you long for heaven even more? How can our future hope make a difference in your life today?
O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!
– Michael Praetorius (Tr. by Theodore Baker), “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”
This meditation appears in The Weary World Rejoices: Daily Devotions for Advent edited by Melissa Kruger (TGC, Nov. 2021). Purchase through the TGC Bookstore or Amazon.