The Way of Beauty Beauty Rising from the Ashes

'Holiday' cheer is in the air. For weeks, the Hallmark channels have delivered it non-stop. Ubiquitous Santas make their annual promises to unsuspecting hopeful children. In shopping malls and other public places, the tone is guarded, uneasy, and apprehensive. 'Holiday' cheer-and fear-are in the air.

The Advent readings, mostly from Isaiah, anticipate the Lord's Nativity as the Prince of Peace. But a closer reading of Isaiah paints a different picture for the Jews who were living in a long struggle with darkness and constant fear. Given the Homeland's current collective mindset, their situation may be able to shed light on our own.

Isaiah Book One (ca 700-580 BCE; Is 1-39)

Book One closes with the Jews experiencing great affliction under foreign domination. Gone were the glory days of nationalism under Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon (1000 BCE). Yet, Isaiah predicts that with the coming of the savior Emmanuel, their darkness will be turned to light. God will save them in a wondrous way as he did in Egypt.

Sadly political in-fighting and worse, immorality sapped their spiritual strength paving the way for terrorizing invasions which came one after the other. First it was the Assyrians, then the Babylonians who exiled many Jews, followed by the Persians. Systematic deportation was a full-proof way of subduing conquered people. The Jews were divided; some lived abroad while other huddled near Jerusalem.

Book Two: the Book of Consolation (ca. 580 BCE; Ch 40-55)

The Book of Consolation is addressed to the Jews in exile, and the anonymous writer Isaiah speaks to them. Scholars call him Deutero-Isaiah or Second Isaiah. Despite the ominous threat of the Persians, he wants them to return home. Only a small remnant of Israelites have been left behind under the heavy foot of dominating powers, and they must unite as one nation.

When the exiled Jews (Diaspora) eventually return, sharp clashes arise between them and those who have stayed behind. Living in foreign nations, the Diaspora Jews have become more broadminded. Together with the small and fragile nation that have remained in Jerusalem, the primary focus of both groups of Jews is to restore and refine their national identity and restore their glory as one nation. Jew must reunite with fellow Jew.

The Book of Consolation opens with the words: "'Comfort my people, console them,'' says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her." Year after year, we have heard the verses:

"Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Arise, shine, your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you" (Is: 40:1f).

"Go up on a high mountain, joyful messenger to Zion. Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem. Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, 'Here is your God.'" (Is 40:9).

"Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. Should you pass through the sea, I will be with you. Should you walk through fire, you will not be scorched, and the flames will not burn you. For I am Yahweh, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior" (Is 43:1-2).

These sentiments prompted Winston Churchill to speak to his fellow countrymen in 1941:

"This is a strange Christmas Eve. Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other. Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field. Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart. Therefore we may cast aside, for this night at least, the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm. Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace. Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world."

Britain's Resolve in Its Darkest Hours

The acclaimed 1942 movie, "Mrs. Miniver" comes to an end while England is still being bombed by the Nazis in World War II. Villagers, seated for Sunday worship in their burned-out, ash-ridden church, listen to the clergyman affirm with determination in a powerful sermon:

"We in this quiet corner of England have suffered the loss of friends very dear to us, some close to this church. George West, choirboy. James Ballard, stationmaster and bellringer, and the proud winner only an hour before his death of the Beldon Cup for his beautiful Miniver Rose. And our hearts go out in sympathy to the two families who share the cruel loss of a young girl who was married at this altar only two weeks ago. The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There's scarcely a household that hasn't been struck to the heart. And why? Surely you must have asked yourselves this question? Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness? Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed? I shall tell you why.

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Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, of all the people. And it must be fought not only on the battlefield but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman and child who loves freedom. Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves, and those who come after us, from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the People's War. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it then. Fight it with all that is in us. And may God defend the right."

Nothing was to shake British resolve in the face of evil. As the service came to a close, the congregation sang, "Onward Christian Soldiers" with courage, determination, and unwavering pride in their Homeland. Nothing could or would undo the English resolve to withstand the enemy even when the days grew more ominous and hope was dimmed to a flicker.

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