December 11, 2022
Beyond Our Dreams
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mr. Jeff and I are teaching Confirmation again this year and the focus of this year is on the Old Testament--the Hebrew Bible. As a part of our teaching, we are trying to teach them how to read the Bible and to help with that, we give them a chart every time we look at a particular passage. Each block has a question: What characters are involved? What's going on in the story? What actions do the people take? What actions does God take? What happens at the end of the story? I started teaching this method in large part because that is how I always approach a text. There are other techniques like this out there. In Anna Carter Florence's book, Rehearsing Scripture, she has a similar activity for reading scripture using a technique she has coin, “Finding The Verbs” which is a really good way to identify the chief actors and actions in the text. Verbs tell us what actions are taking place and I think that is important to understand: What are the people doing? Is it the opposite of what God is doing? What has God commanded? What has God promised. Is God making good on that promise? The verbs answer these questions. So, in looking at all the verbs in the Isaiah, we first notice that God is very verby God. There is a lot going on this text. God is not a lazy god. And notice the tense and what the tense of the verbs is teaching us: God is active in the present reality in order to bring us into this new reality God is promising that awaits us. Humanity does have a few verbs, but they are the confusing verbs. And that is the second thing I notice is that humanity does not have much say in this. Nowhere in this text does God say to Isaiah, "give the people a choice." God doesn't say, “Isaiah, I want you to create a survey and see what the people are thinking because I want to do what they want.” This is not burger king. In God new reality, you cannot have it your way which is good because if we had it our way, we would receive justice, not mercy. And justice for a bunch of sinners means punishment. You can either have God's way, or no way.
Notice what God instructs Isaiah to say to all who are a fearful heart.
Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
I think we need to explain to God that this probably not the wisest thing to say to while in exile and captivity under a stronger force. "He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense." Imagine you are apart of that stronger force and you hear this guy proclaiming these words. Them Fight’ng words. Isaiah is told to proclaim these words in the midst of the Babylonian exile which is a bit strange and weird. Let me paint you a picture of what has happened. The Babylonians have killed King Zedekiah's sons right in front of him and then plucked out his eye balls so that the last thing the king would see is his offspring, the great line of David, killed and with his death would also come the end of the Davidic era. The Babylonians have removed the Israelites from their land, destroyed their temple, and murdered a number of their citizens. These words from Isaiah would have been seen as a way of rousing the troops which in turn, might upset their captors making the difficult the lives of those already living in exile—condemned to die away from their home and kin. These words bring hope to a people living in a hopeless situation—that God will make things right once again. But as history tells us, none of those hearing these word from Isaiah first hand will ever see the prophecy fulfilled. Salvation, while a promise from God that one day will be fulfilled, will not be known by those who hear these words first hand. In theological circles, we call this delayed eschatology.
But delays eventually come to and so, how will we know that the delay has ended? Notice what God speaks to Isaiah in verse 5 and 6:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
I notice it because Jesus says the exact same thing in in our gospel lesson. John the baptist is wondering if Jesus is the real thing and sends his disciples to question Jesus. And Jesus says, "Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." John, the prophet who heralded the way and prepared the people for our Lord, seems to have some doubts about who Jesus is. He wonders if Jesus is the one or there is someone who will come after Jesus. I think John had a different idea as to what the messiah, the savior of the people, would look and act. John expected a different Messiah but Jesus is the Messiah. He is the real deal and he reminds his cousin what prophet Isaiah promised about him. Jesus reminds us that the messiah would not come to overthrow a government, but would come and bring sight to the blind, make the lame walk, make the deaf hear, and would bring dead back to life.
But I think we need to explore this part of the text a little bit. This part of the text is often used to look down on the lame, blind, deaf, poor and that is not what this promise from God is speaking too. Often people view being blind, lame, and or deaf as something that is seen as less whole which just is not true. Being blind, lame or deaf does not mean that life has ended. It certainly doesn't mean it is a punishment from God. Rather, in this new reality God is ushering in, all that we will be able to see, hear, and feel is the glory of God. All that our tongues will be able to confess is the majestic glory of our God.
Isaiah is absolutely confident in that message. Notice how many times “Shall” is used in this passage. 24 times. The only word used more in the text is the word "the" used a total of 27 times. What do you hear when the word shall be used? You shall not pass. Seriously though, the word "Shall” affirms that what ever is going to happen, is going to happen. It is one of the strongest imperatives in the english language. It all goes back to what I said in my second point, this is going to happen. God is going to act and we are going to be pulled into this new reality. A reality designed for God's people. There will be no ravenous beasts who can destroy this new reality. Only the redeemed will be allowed to walk there. The ransomed ones will be returned. The people will return singing of Zion. Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads, joy and gladness will be easily obtained and sorrow will flee.
But last verse though...that is hard for some of us to hear. It was definitely not something that was easy to imagine for those in exile while their captors devour their land. I think t remains hard for us to hear in times when our faith is stressed. In times of grief and hardship. It’s hard to hear especially for those who are spending Christmas alone for the first time after a death of love one. It is in moments like these that it is not pastor’s job is not to explain why these things happened, but to preach the gospel message. And the gospel, the message from our God is that the ransomed people will return home. That God has paid your ransom and you were set free. You will return home. You will return home singing joy in your heart. Everlasting joy shall be upon our heads. We will obtain joy and gladness. Our sorrow and sighing shall flee away. And we will be in the glory of the Lord. We will not be able to see anything else. That is the hope that we cling to day.
This is the hope we cling to this season in Advent when as we fervently pray for our God to come. In the midst of our pain and grief, in our joys and happiness this Advent and Christmas season--We pray fervently, without ceasing, our God to be with with us. For our God to be present. And present more than just in the form of baby. Present in the way that Isaiah is describing in this vision from God. Present in more than just splendor and glory high above the people living in destitution and despair, but actively with us—bring life back to a hopeless world.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.