“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” Isaiah 60:1.
At the dawn of a New Year, my mind often turns to this verse. It’s a verse of hope, a verse of promise, a stirring declaration to inspire and motivate. But, it can also feel a bit overly triumphant in the moment. I don’t often feel like I’m bathing in the light or am reflecting the glory of the Lord. More often, I feel as though I’m just about managing to see in the dingy shadows of challenges I wish would go away.
God spoke these words to His people through His prophet Isaiah at a very particular time. At this point in the story of God’s people, they had just returned home to Israel having lived in oppression and exile in Babylon for decades. You can imagine the anticipation of what freedom was going to feel like after so many years of living in fear and under control. The excitement of returning home to safety and independence.
Yet, the reality is, when they got home, freedom didn’t look so great. Everything had changed, everything was ransacked, the temple was gone, they didn’t know how to live, worship or go about their everyday lives.
For those of us who have left abusers - we might understand how they felt. Freedom isn’t straightforward. Our new situation isn’t all sunshine and roses, it might not even feel safe. It can be hard, the legacy of the past hangs over us. We’re not sure how to live, worship or go about our everyday lives in this strange new world. Our oppressor is often still lurking in the shadows and there is fear that we could yet be taken back to our Babylon.
So these verses in Isaiah are speaking into THAT context. This passage actually starts a little earlier at the end of the chapter before:
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.
— Isaiah 59: 21 —
This is a promise to hold on to. No matter where you are, no matter how alien everything might seem, the Spirit of the Lord IS on you and will never leave.
Seasons might come and go, the world around us might shift, our lives might feel ransacked, but God’s Spirit will never leave us. And it’s with that promise that we can face the call of the next verse - to arise and shine the light of God into the darkness of the world around us.
The promise of God in this New Year IS one of hope. There will be more to life than this, His plans for you are bigger than you might be able to imagine right now. A new day has come, the sun is rising and casting out the darkness. Hold on to the promise and wait for the sun to start warming the coldness from your bones and bring you back to life.