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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, January 16, 2021  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Isaiah 60:1–6

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. (NRSV)

For months and even years on end the first people to hear the prophet Isaiah’s words had been living far from the shining sun. They were in exile, far from home, trying to make the best of their circumstance. Knowing the dark night of fear and the darker night of uncertainty, would they ever get out of exile and see the glory of the city on a hill—that is, Jerusalem? So when the prophet utters the words, “Arise, shine; for your light has come,” they rub the sleep from their eyes and tell their families to pack up. The night is over; day is breaking in your soul.

There are so many times—both in the Bible and in our lives—when the dark night is more familiar than the rising glory. I think of the worry lines on the father’s face when the son decides to sew his wild oats, take his inheritance, and head for the hills. How many nights did that man pace, looking down the road on which his son had walked away, holding at bay all of the thoughts that crowd in when the flurry and frenzy of the day abates? I think of another day, when the man named Saul is on a rampage, killing those in the strange Jesus-sect called Christians, making his way down a road to Damascus. The darkness clung to his soul. Was it fear? We don’t know. But what we do know is that it was a dark impulse, making those in his way the enemy because maybe he could not face the enemy within.

In my own life, there was a night when one of our children did not turn up at a train station where she was to meet her brother after an international flight. When I received the word from my spouse that she was missing I was far from home, preparing to lead a student retreat. It was night, and I was alone. There were no cellphones at that time, and the fear grabbed every pore of my being as I sat in a phone booth waiting.

In so many times in our lives night grips us. But the beaconing word from Isaiah holds our hearts in thrall: “Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.” Indeed, the father spots the prodigal making his way slowly down the road, kicking a stone, holes in his shoes. Saul becomes Paul by the flash of a light on that road; the glory of the Lord is a blinding light, and at times it is so direct that it blinds us. And on my very long night in that phone booth, gripped by fear , I dozed for a moment and was startled awake by a ringing phone. “She’s been found . . . and she’s fine.” I glanced out the window and the first glimmers of dawn were coming over the face of the deep.

Thine is the glory, O God, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Give us eyes to see it and hearts to behold it, even when the night is long—yes, very long; through Christ. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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