And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken because of the fat.
When it comes to yokes and shoulders, two movie scenes spring to mind. One is from The Mission (1986), the second is in Jet Li’s Twin Warriors (1993). In the first film there is a powerful scene of a man who is part of a Spanish expedition in the New World—as penance for a murder he has committed, he is dragging a net filled with armor, swords, and metal, up a waterlogged. One of the “natives” sees his struggle and climbs down and cuts the cords.
The second film is a fantastic kung fu flick: Jet Li’s character Junbao is wounded by a friend’s betrayal. One day in a field he sees two peasants running back to their village—they have just found out one of their wives is about to be sold into labor camps. However, the husband can’t keep up due to the huge load of wood he’s carrying, and his friend has to convince him to drop the load or he’ll never make it in time. Witnessing this simple event is cathartic for Junbao, who goes on to learn Tai Chi and defeat his enemies. Per usual.
Our passage today is about burdens. Isaiah is foretelling a time when Israel will go into exile for their continued disobedience towards God. This exile is not without hope, and Isaiah sees a time when “his burden will depart from your shoulder.” While most of us have never had our homeland destroyed and been shipped off to a foreign land as slaves (although that sadly still does happen in our world even today), we are no strangers to burdens. Christianity’s understanding of relief is much more in keeping with The Mission than Twin Warriors: our relief is not something we are able to do for ourselves. It must be something done for us, or better yet, to us.
The answer to lugging burdens is not getting to the top of the hill with them, or even dropping them, but being cut free from them. We often try and release them ourselves—a futile task. Someone must come and act for us. That was Isaiah’s message to Israel, that God must come and deliver them from their own disobedience and evil. That is our message for Advent, too: not the newest issue for better tips on burden-lugging, but freedom from it in the presence of a deliverer.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore and do not submit again to the yolk of slavery” (Gal 5:1). This is the good news, that God himself came down and said, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest, for my burden is easy and my yolk is light” (Matt 11:30). God can make such a promise of freedom because he took ours upon himself in Christ.