“See you on Sunday, Lord willing!” When I first heard this expression, “Lord willing,” I just thought it was such an interesting expression. Then, I became wondering about its origin. So I did some research online. As you can imagine, it actually came from the Bible, in particular, from the Epistle of James chapter 4 verse 15 as in the King James Version, “For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (KJV). Lord willing… Indeed, this phrase shows a certain degree of faith in God who has power to make things happen in our lives. And whether that faith is seriously Christian or merely a popular superstition, by saying it, I think people express a certain kind of hope… a hope that something will happen if it is in God’s plan, even though we are not quite sure about what the will of the Lord is.
Lord’s willing… we probably don’t know exactly the will of God for every single event happening around us. But as Christians, we can surely say that we do know the ultimate will of God for the world and for humanity. How do we know it? We know it through Jesus Christ and through the testimonies in the Bible. And this will of God is clear: God wants us to be saved… be free from all human bondage to sin and death, be in a restored relationship with God, and be joyful in the new life. (2) Let us hear the word of Jesus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). Isn’t it clear? Yes, God wants us to be saved. So by sending Jesus Christ to us, through this gracious act of will, God gives us the light of salvation as John the Baptist testifies in today’s Gospel reading. Thanks be to God!
And we are also grateful that because of this will of God for us, we can abide in the joy of salvation. Surely, if our good Lord’s will is to save us, if our Good Shepherd’s will is to lead us to green pasture, we have no better reason for joy than this. So we trust in the Lord’s will always, rejoice always, and give thanks in all circumstances. Yes, we know we are called to do so… but do we? In our daily lives, how often do we forget the enduring will of God for us? How often do we forget our utmost reason for joy? Whenever hardships overwhelm us, whenever some problems irritate us, don’t we just lose our hearts and ask, “What is the will of God in all of my troubles? True, it is very hard for us to always hold onto the Lord’s good will and always keep the joy of salvation.
The people of Israel in the days of the Prophet Isaiah were just the same. They went through a horrible tragedy of losing their homeland. And they were taken to the land of the Babylonians. So they questioned and doubted God’s plan and asked again and again about the Lord’s will in all the miseries. Last summer Jee Hei and I travelled Berlin, Germany and visited Pergamon Museum. The most splendid ancient remains they exhibit is The Ishtar Gate, which is a part of the Walls of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
It’s just magnificent. The gate was constructed in the city of Babylon by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II around the time when he conquered Jerusalem and captured the people of Israel. As I looked at the gate that still vividly shows the power and glory of the Babylonian Empire, I imagined how the people of Israel in their exile would have looked at this gate. This could be how they saw this gate at that time. To the eyes of the ancient people of Israel, the gate was even more astonishing. I imagined… for them, this gate of the dominant power, the blue gate, was the gate of despair and the gate of humiliation. Looking at the gate and its overwhelming presence, I believe they asked, “What is the Lord’s will for us? Can we be saved?”
At that moment, they never knew that the Babylonian Empire would be destroyed about 50 years later and they could return to their homeland. In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, we see Isaiah proclaiming to the people of Israel who are now released from the Babylonian exile. They are saved from the hands of Babylonians, finally returning to home, and about to build their new temple from the ruins. How joyful they are! This exhilarating joy is expressed in the Psalm we read today, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy…. The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced” (Psalm 126:1-3). From this experience, the people of Israel were convinced again with the Lord’s will to save them.
However, their trust in the will of God and their joy of salvation didn’t last for good. As they went through other hardships, their trust and joy faded away. God then revealed the permanent will of God again through Jesus Christ. And interestingly, as he begins his public ministry, Jesus echoes the same message that Isaiah proclaimed. That is, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2). From Isaiah and from Jesus, we can see that the Lord’s will never changes. The enduring will of our God is to bring the good news to the people of God, to save them from all their troubles, and to lead them to a joyous life in God. And this will is just the same for us today. Thanks be to God!
Sisters and brothers in Christ, things don’t always go as we want. The blue gate of despair, the gate of hopelessness, may stand overwhelmingly before us and block us from seeing and holding onto the Lord’s will for us. However, as we are waiting for Jesus Christ in this season of Advent, let us once again trust in the everlasting will of God, the Lord who always wills to save us. As Isaiah beautifully says, God wants “to give [us] a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:3). Let us trust in this gracious God’s will for us. Then, we shall surely have the joy of salvation in our hearts always, Lord willing! Amen.