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)
The essence of hope is not the downplaying, justifying, or avoidance of present pain and sorrow. Rather, hope is the expectation that as real as the pain is now, it will one day feel as foreign as our faintest memories.
In our day, we can relate to the experience of “ransom captive Israel,” who mourned “in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” As Israel waited—in bondage to suffering, sin, pain, and injustice—so we wait now. Sorrow is everywhere: in the bleak headlines that cross our feeds, in the sickness and death that plague our own friends and family, and in the temptation and sin that leave us feeling frustrated, defeated, even hopeless.
Sighing is everywhere too. We sigh at the exhausting pace of life and the busy schedules we can never seem to simplify. We sigh at the foolishness we see all around us (perhaps particularly on social media). We sigh at the sin that creeps in and wreaks havoc everywhere: in our relationships, in our churches, in the divisions between Christians that grow uglier every day.
But one day our sighing will turn to singing. Our sorrow will turn to gladness and joy—everlasting joy. The words of Isaiah 35:10 are words of healing and hope: “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” I can’t wait for that day. It can’t come soon enough. But as we live in the “now” before that “not yet” day, we hope. We long. We wait. And the tension of waiting can be beautiful.
I love the Mumford and Sons album, Sigh No More (2010). The title is a reference to a line in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, but the whole album—which is littered with biblical and theological references—captures the beautiful longing that the title suggests. Perhaps you can look the album up on your favorite streaming music service during Advent and give it a listen. It’s not Christmas music, but to the extent that it expresses the human hope for a world where “sighing shall flee away,” it captures some of Advent’s themes.
One day, indeed, we will sigh no more. Will we forget what sorrow was like? I’m not sure. Perhaps in eternity, in that “everlasting joy” presence of God, we’ll actually laugh and reminisce and tell tales of old—remembering those days on Earth when things like sorrow and sighing were things. Maybe it’ll be similar to those holiday family gatherings where we nostalgically look through scrapbooks or pull out dusty mementos from long forgotten times. Why? Not because we want to return to or relive that past. But because it was real. The ups and downs. The struggles and sorrows. The fits and starts of joy.
Maybe one day—when “Emmanuel” is our everyday experience (hallelujah!)—we’ll look back on this life of lonely exile and feel gratitude for how the sighs and sorrows made us hungrier for the everlasting feast, and the fullness of joy, that will be ours forever.
What “sighs” are you experiencing now in your life? Take these honestly to the Lord in prayer. Physically sigh as you think about them. Then spend time reflecting on the future described in Isaiah 35:10, when “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Dream about that day.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
— Author unknown (Tr. by John Mason Neale), “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”