Freedom from Oppression

A team of horses yoked together in Banff National Park. 


Isaiah 9:4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.


Isaiah was writing to a people who were living under the oppression of life in exile. The yoke of slavery was heavy upon their shoulders as they lived lives of servitude to those who controlled their lives. The bar across the shoulders represents the power to be controlled. Just as oxen are yoked together to keep them plodding in unison in the same direction, so that which oppresses has power to control our lives and keep us moving in the direction of the one who has the power. In this case it was a political power and the people were to be freed. The oppressor used the rod to beat those who refused to submit to the authority of the bar. The promise of God was that this slavery would come to an end, and the tools of the oppressors would be destroyed. 

There was another yoke to be destroyed, and that was the oppressive yoke of the law. The religious leaders had used that yoke to create a strangle-hold on their people by far too many rules. The law had become a yoke across the shoulders of the people, used by the leadership as a way to control the people for their own benefit. This yoke was to be broken by the arrival of the Messiah. In his letter to the Galatians Paul proclaims, “ For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NRSV)


The light was beginning to dawn on the people who found themselves in exile. Today is Christmas Eve and we celebrate the long-anticipated arrival of the Messiah. Far too many of us are living in exile, in a place of oppression. This may be the oppression of the situation or circumstance in which we find ourselves. When we allow the world to become the barometer for our lives, we may find ourselves yoked to something or someone that is leading us astray. Jesus came to break this yoke, including the oppression of habits, lifestyle, and addictions. No longer do we have to be controlled or prodded by these, but we can be absolutely set free! The light is dawning, and the yoke of slavery can be broken. 

Paul knew what it meant to find freedom in Christ. When the law becomes a comparison for our lives, we can only stand condemned. We can never measure up to the laws of God. Jesus didn’t come to condemn or to ask us to measure up to him. Instead, he came to break the oppression of the law and to invite us into a right relationship with him. There, instead of being compared to the law, or even to Christ, we are privileged to reflect Christ. This is completely different and in this we find beautiful freedom. Jesus said to take his yoke upon his for his yoke is easy and the burden of his yoke is light. We are all yoked to something, and only we can determine what it is that we will allow to control our lives. Every other yoke is oppressive in light of the yoke of Jesus. When we are yoked to him, he does all the heavy lifting and simply says to follow him. 

There are other yokes in our lives. The yoke of what others think about us. The yoke of being a people-pleaser. The yoke of success. The yoke of perfectionism. And many others. As we celebrate this Christmas Eve, we focus on the light that is now dawning. Freedom from oppression is at hand. The yoke, any type, is broken by the power of the presence of Jesus. 


Lord, please break any yoke that may keep me from being all you have for me. Amen. 


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