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Isaiah 9:3

You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.

Look familiar? Isn’t this one of those verses that you know really well? Oh, wait, it’s not? Huh, funny how that happens. What if I added verse 2 with it?

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.

Isaiah is one of those books that has really familiar passages for us, because it contains so many prophecies about Christ. By the way, even these two verses together might not seem quite as familiar as later in the chapter, where we find words (v. 6-7) set so beautifully to music by Handel in The Messiah:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

These are verses we hear over and over again, pointing us to the birth of Christ. We get some of the most beautiful names for Jesus here, too. Here is hope for the people of Israel. Here is joy and the promise of a Prince of Peace to come. Over and over those three are tied together: joy, peace, and hope. It’s not unlike in 1 Corinthians 13 where the trio is faith, hope, and love. These aren’t just trivial concepts of a Utopian future. These are the real gifts of God, the measure of His grace that He pours out on each of us daily.

Joy. Hope. Love. Peace. Faith. Grace. Mercy. These are also names for Jesus, for He is not just the bringer of these gifts, He is the gift. The perfect gift of God who became flesh and entered into our suffering, died on the cross, and rose again.

As we enter into this Lenten journey today, going forward to receive the ashes with the words, “remember you are dust, to dust you shall return,” let us also remember that our dust has been blessed beyond what we could ever imagine. That is always cause for joy, even on the most somber of festivals.

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