From Grief to Gladness
Grief and pain are not unnecessary elements in human life. Expressing pain is necessary. The prophet Joel once cried out, "Thus says the Lord. 'Right now, return to me with your very hearts, fast and weep with sorrow. Do not rend your clothes, but rend your hearts.'," (Joel 2:12-13). Furthermore, James also wrote as follows: "O sinners, purify your hands. Be sorrowful, grieve, weep. Change your laughter to mourning, change your joy to grief," (James 4:8-9). Above all, we need to recall the words spoken by our Lord Jesus. "Those who are in sorrow are blessed, they will be comforted," (Matthew 5:4). Actually, could we really call it blessedness or happiness when we don't mourn or feel the pain even though our sins have wrecked our lives? Is that really happiness when we never mourn or feel pain at all, even though the ruin that comes through our sin is so wide spread in our home life or in our lives in society? Is that really happiness and blessing when we don't grieve or feel sorrow, but wish only to spend our whole life utterly peacefully, even though this world is ruined by sin? Does heavenly joy and true gladness really fill any places like that? I wouldn't expect there to be. The oil of gladness that the Lord gives is given in place of grief and mourning!
The Lord poured out and sent the oil of the Holy Spirit upon the prophet. The Lord had him tell the good news, that he is giving the oil of gladness instead of grief. Those to whom this good news was directed are described with various phrases in verse one. It is "the poor" who are to be told the good news. It is "the broken heart" who will be enwrapped by the healing of the Lord. It is "the captive" and "the bound" who are to be informed of liberty and liberation.
The ones being called "the poor" here are not those who are merely economically down and out. The first definition of this term in the Old Testament is those suffering and oppressed because they are powerless. It means the have nots, those without a place to fall back on in this world. Therefore, these people earnestly put all their hopes on God alone and cry out to him. Because they are weak, because they are poor, all they have is to seek humbly for the mercy of God. So, often times in places like the Psalms, the term "the poor" means the believer in the midst of hardships. The kind of people being described as "the poor" and "the captive" were the "mourners because of Zion." In short, they had no strength in and of themselves to do anything about the desolated Zion. Neither could they do anything by themselves about their debt of sin, which caused the devastation. To begin with, if they could have done something by their own power, they probably wouldn't have been grieving. It's because they couldn't that they grieved.
The prophet says that it is people like them who will hear the good news. The oil of gladness is offered in exchange for grief. But even more, something astonishing beyond that is being said here. The prophet states that "They will be called evergreen oak trees of righteousness planted so that the Lord may reveal his glory," (verse three).
We shouldn't look down on mourning. Grief needs to be given its proper place. We need to mourn as we ponder our poverty and utter powerlessness while we're in this guilty world. We need to grieve as we ponder the sins of this world and our own sins, which have brought these ruins in. That is the right way to spend this Advent.
Jesus has already come. And along with the coming of the Lord, the time has also already come for the poor to hear the good news of the gospel. The definitive will of God has already begun with the arrival of Jesus. We have also been informed of this good news. As a result, our mourning doesn't just end with mourning. God is giving us a crown in place of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and robes of praise in place of dark hearts.