[Jonathan is the husband of Sarah, the son of Ed and Barb, and the brother of Jill and Alicia. He loves winter but also can’t wait till spring to start riding his bike again.]
I’m Still Here.
I have really enjoyed our scripture readings this advent season. Sometimes God whacks me over the head with the significance of his word. When I begin to read the scriptures as one big story – rather than a loose collection of bedtime stories – I find deep meaning that I otherwise might have missed. For one, I realize the significance of advent – this season of conscious, expectant waiting. Secondly, I find echoes of the Christmas story in places that I never would have guessed: in Psalms and Jeremiah and especially Isaiah. I have been delighted to trace, throughout our readings thus far, the story of how God has always been preparing the way for the Saviour.
And then I turn to Isaiah 40…and I hit the floor. Have you read this chapter recently? If not, go, read it, now! Please don’t proceed with my meagre observations of this incredible piece of scripture without first experiencing the real thing.
This chapter, like so much of the book of Isaiah, conjures up powerful images in my mind. I like to imagine that Isaiah was plucked from the ground and sat in the clouds by God, then told “Watch while I blow your mind!” And then, past present and future unfold before his very eyes – great empires arise and armies sweep across the face of the earth, then, just as quickly, return to the dust from which they came. And as Isaiah looks on he can see quite clearly that God is behind it all, his hand set it in motion and sustains it. Given this elevated view, Isaiah is then sent to proclaim the truth of what he has seen to a people who so easily forget. I so easily forget. That is why I best pay attention to his words in chapter 40.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the very beginning?
When I read these words I am faced by the same deep truth as Isaiah: God is in control. He is weaving this fragile, temporary life of mine into a cosmic tapestry of wonderful beauty. When I realize this, when I come face to face with our everlasting father, I am then struck by two separate but related messages.
The first message is this: compared to God’s power and majesty we are, quite literally, dust. All of our most celebrated achievements. All of our desperate attempts at self importance. Dust! I was reminded of this recently, when I heard an interesting observation regarding the terrible oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. As each day passed, and another 53,000 barrels of crude oil were released into the sea, this particular person saw it as a slap in the face for our elevated view of humanity. For all of our complex technology, for all of our vaunted engineering, we could not, for the life of us, figure out how to cap that stupid well. Certainly the human creature is capable of many extraordinary things, but the reminder from that incident, and the reminder of Isaiah 40, is this: you are not as good as you think you are.
But, thankfully, there is a second message in the words of Isaiah 40 that can be found in the very opening phrase of the chapter.
Comfort. Comfort my people.
What depth of peace can be found in these words. We serve a God who, despite his infinite power and wisdom (or maybe because of it), somehow, for some reason, chooses to shine his face upon us. We are his precious children. And no matter how often we forget all about it, and turn away to celebrate, trust in, even worship ourselves and the work of our hands, he desires to have us back. Sometimes that requires a slap in the face, to remind us of our own insignificance and stubborn disobedience. But sometimes, when we find ourselves in darkness and despair he responds with comfort. Comfort. In the words of the prophet:
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
I’m Still Here. To me, Isaiah 40 is a desperate plea by the everlasting father to his misguided children. I’m Still Here. If you think you are fine on your own, you’re not! But when you find yourself in pain that you cannot endure, I will comfort you.
This is what Christmas is about. This is what we await this advent season. I pray that today you would be struck by both the infinite power and tender mercy of our heavenly father.