Hope

First in the series “Down to Earth”

Isaiah 64:1-9closeIsaiah 64:1-9 64:1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people. (ESV)
closeIsaiah 64:1-9closeIsaiah 64:1-9 64:1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people. (ESV)
64:1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people. (ESV)

Every ten seconds a child somewhere in the world dies of hunger and related issues.[1]

The opioid epidemic, which last year claimed almost 64,000 lives, has recently been recognized as a public health emergency.  There are 30,000 more children in foster care, direct casualties of the opioid crisis.[2]

Saber-rattling rhetoric exchanged on the international stage raises concerns about spreading nuclear weapons and regional conflicts becoming full-blown wars.

Leaders and even neighbors divide along political or social issue lines, arguing or separating themselves from those who disagree.

Violence has almost become an accepted means of resolving differences.

Deaths due to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia multiply.

Powerful people take advantage of the vulnerable and weak and rig the system for their own advantage.

All of it together causes distrust between people and of institutions.  We are fearful, feel powerless, find ourselves hopeless.

Even among Christians, as we note declining participation in churches and less interest in matters of faith, we struggle with frustration and despair.

With all that and more going on in our world and our society today, we are motivated to cry out with Isaiah and his people in prayer, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” (64:1)

The Jewish nation had been conquered.  Their capital city of Jerusalem was devastated; their Temple, leveled; their leaders, exiled.  While in Exile, they had heard God’s message about returning to their homeland and rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple.  It would be glorious, as God led them on a new exodus back home.

After their conquerors had been defeated by another, an edict allowed exiles to return home.  However, their return found the situation less than glorious.  There were land disputes between the returnees, those who had remained and those who had been resettled after the fall of Jerusalem.  Power struggles between and among the returnees placed the whole vision in jeopardy.  Many returnees simply wanted to focus on resuming their lives, rather than getting involved in the larger project. The envisioned restoration of Jerusalem to its past glory was clearly not going to happen, at least not in the near term or not in the expected way.

Faced with frustration, fear and hopelessness, Isaiah and his community raised up their prayer of lament.  “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down … to make your name known to your enemies” (64:1a, 2b).  Then the opposition would know God’s presence in fire and earthquake and change their behavior.

Their request for the mountain-shaking power of God to be shown reminds the people of how God had intervened for them in their history.

They remembered the Exodus, how a series of plagues, the parting of the sea, and endless food and water in the wilderness brought them to the Promised Land.  They recalled how, each time they lifted up prayers in trouble, God raised up leaders known as judges, such as Gideon, Deborah and Samuel, to free them from oppression.   They reflected on how trust in God empowered a young boy named David to defeat a giant and win the day.  These memories turned them toward praise:

“Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” (64:4).

The God they worship and to whom they pray is one turned toward humanity, in relationship with them and working on behalf of those who wait.  When has God been our help? Can we remember what God has done?

But this leads to another turn:  they recognize their own sinfulness.  They acknowledge their situation and confess their sin.

But this leads to another turn:  they recognize their own sinfulness.  They acknowledge their situation and confess their sin.  They had continued to rebel against God’s ways.  They had all become “unclean,” and their attempts to prove their worth to God through good deeds were nothing more than “filthy rags.”  No one seeks to know or be in relationship with God.

Sometimes we hurt because we expect that God should reward our good deeds; but are our hearts right with God?

Next they do what they say no one has been doing – they cry out to God.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.  (64:8)

Isaiah and his community acknowledge who God is and who they are.  They call God “Father,” indicating a relationship of trust and love, a reliance on God as Parent to protect and nurture them.  They name God as “the potter” and identify themselves with the “clay.”  God is the One who graciously and faithfully shapes their lives to produce an artistic creation; they don’t do this on their own, but by allowing God to work with and in them.  How well do we trust God?

Finally, they cry out, “O look on us, we pray, for we are all your people” (64:9).

Often when we look at our circumstances or the situation of our world, we can get discouraged and impatient.  We’re tired of waiting for healing to come, for wrongs to be set right, for evil to be stopped, for righteousness to flourish.

Waiting is hard.  We don’t like to wait.  Yet the season of Advent is a season of waiting.  It’s not about waiting and counting down the days toward Christmas.  It’s waiting and hoping for what God is going to do.  It’s longing for God to come down to earth and establish the kingdom.

Like Isaiah, we can wait in prayer, remembrance, praise and confession.

The prayer of Isaiah’s people was answered in a surprising and miraculous way when God came down to earth and lived among us in the person of Jesus.   He came, not to restore Jerusalem or rebuild the Temple, but so we could understand who God is.  He came to reveal the depth of God’s love for us, so that we might respond by believing and living for God.  He offers us hope for the future that empowers us to wait faithfully on the Lord.

Faithful waiting is not a passive pause. It is fruitful waiting in which we pray, reflect on what God has done, repent and turn to God. Individually and as the church, we demonstrate God’s love and work for God’s justice here on earth, so that others know the God who came down to earth. We put our trust in God, and while we faithfully wait for Christ to come down again, we embody hope in our families, our community, our nation and our world.

Endnotes:

[1] https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-global-hunger

[2] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/07/children-ohio-opioid-epidemic/

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