Isaiah Lit a Candle (sermon 11/30/14, Advent 1B)

holding candle - vigil

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.  – Isaiah 64:1-9

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Isaiah was a prophet; he understood and spoke deep truths about God and us.

And as he stood in the streets, seeing the terrible injustice being suffered by his people at the hands of others, the pain in his heart bubbled up and spilled out in his prayer to God that we heard this morning. Tear open the heavens, O God; come down here. Make your presence known and set things right. Bring your justice, real justice, to your people, and deal with those who treat us so harshly.

In the depth of his pain and sorrow, Isaiah, like so many others, felt that God was angry at them; that God had abandoned them and left them to their own devices; that even God had turned away from them. Most of Isaiah’s people found peaceful, constructive ways to put voice to their suffering and to express their hopes for a time when they would be treated with justice. But a handful of them, in their pain, in their suffering, in their anger, felt that if God wasn’t going to come down and set things right, they were going to take things into their own hands, and fight back against the power of the empire that was oppressing them. Someone once called violence the language of last resort for those who were unheard. Isaiah knew that was true. But he also knew that the same person had denounced violence as counterproductive, that it never brought peace or justice; it only created even more problems. Isaiah knew that was true, too. With pain in his heart, Isaiah, the prophet, proclaimed that those people who had taken things into their own hands because they couldn’t see God anywhere in their situation, only grieved God all the more. Isaiah recognized that even in their suffering, even in the midst of the injustices they were enduring, that they had only made matters worse.

And as he continued to pour his heart out to God, he realized it wasn’t just those other people; the ones oppressing his own people, and it wasn’t just that handful of his own people, who had displeased God. Isaiah realized that, in different ways, undoubtedly, and certainly in different measure, everyone had lost sight of God. Everyone had lost hope in God; everyone had displeased God by going off in their own different directions.

So as Isaiah spoke from the heart, asking God to come down from the heavens and restore justice, he also asked for God’s mercy. He asked God to remember that we’re all clay in God’s hands, and that God is the potter, and he asked God to shape us and mold us all into creatures that are pleasing. In his wisdom, Isaiah, the prophet, asked God not to be angry, and to forget all the divisions and failures – those of his own oppressed people, and those of their oppressors as well. All of them.

Isaiah was a prophet; he understood and spoke deep truths about God and us.

And as he stood in the street, in the middle of all the shards of broken glass and debris on Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, seeing the injustice, and the frustration and anger boiling over and into the streets, Isaiah, the prophet, began to cry – not from the clouds of tear gas wafting through the air, but from the heart. His heart ached, longed, for justice and mercy. So as he stood there in the street, Isaiah lit a candle, a single, solitary candle, and he held it out in front of him, a symbol of calm in the midst of chaos. And somehow its single, small flame cut through the darkness more brightly than all the fires burning around him. It was a candle of hope. Hope that someday soon, God would return and restore all of creation. Hope that soon, God would finally bring goodness, and justice, and mercy to a world and to people who so desperately needed them. Hope for him. Hope for them. Hope for us. Hope for oppressed and oppressor alike. Hope for everyone, because, as Isaiah pointed out as he continued to pour out his heart to God, and as he held his candle high in the darkness of the night, “Remember, God, we are all your people.”

Isaiah was a prophet.

Thanks be to God.

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