An English professor wrote the words, “A woman without her man is nothing” on the blackboard and directed the students to punctuate it correctly.
The men wrote: “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”
The women wrote: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”
Perspective / perception: Anaïs Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
This Advent, I would like to look at the readings from a different perspective—not look at them as we are, but from the other side of Jesus’ incarnation. In other words, we’ll be studying the Old Testament. Today begins.. and for the next two Sundays.. with readings from Isaiah. The fourth Sunday comes from the second book of Samuel. Let’s begin where all good stories begin this time of year: “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
The anticipation of Santa leads to excellent use of a particular parental behavior modifier for at least a month leading up to that most glorious day: Santa knows whose naughty or nice, and if you’re naughty: switches and coal. When I was a kid, it resulted in me pulling down the Sears catalog and opening it to the toys section in an attempt to motivate myself to be good. Of course, I always was. But what if… what if I was good and yet, the man in red didn’t show? Not only did I not get any presents, I didn’t even get the coal and switches. That might begin to get me to question certain things. Perhaps the first year I would mark it up as an anomaly: maybe he thought I moved, Rudolph forgot the GPS, any number of things. But then, it happened again. Nothing. After several years of this, the threat of Santa bringing switches and coal would have no effect, because Santa doesn’t bring anything. However, after many years, what if I begin to really think about this situation and in being honest with myself, I realize that I had only been good in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but other than that, yeah… I was a brat. And in one of those moments of clarity, I realize that Santa knew all along that I was a brat and had, in a metaphysical sense, sent me to my room to “think about what I had done,” hence, no presents or switches. Instead… silence. Eventually, I might write to Santa and say, “I know. I was a brat. And now that you don’t visit, I’m even worse. Please don’t be angry with me. I am truly sorry. Please come and visit me again.”
The Israelites had disobeyed God on so many levels that he first sent the Asyrians to take at least half of Israel into captivity and when that wasn’t enough to get the attention of the other half, he sent the Babylonians to take them. Eventually, there was a little good Babylonian king, Cyrus, who said to the Israelites, “Any of you that would like to return home, may do so.” Many did, but after they did, God was still silent. They were not experiencing the blessings they had in the past, so the Prophet Isaiah calls out to God and begins reminding God of all the wonders he has performed:
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us.
Isaiah then takes responsibility for the actions of Israel, confessing to the Lord that they had in fact rebelled and gotten what they deserved, but because of his continued silence, Israel is falling further and further away. They are losing hope that he will relent from his anger. You are our Father, he says to the Lord. Don’t you remember.
Then it comes to our reading today: the Prophet cried out:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence.
And again, the Prophet takes responsibility for the actions of the people:
We have all become like one who is unclean…
There is no one who calls on your name
But then there is a dramatic shift of tone. A statement of profound faith and hope:
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
And then Isaiah asks the Lord to once again come and visit his people:
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
The people had been disobedient. They were punished, but even following the punishment of exile, God was still silent… he was making them sit in their room and think about what they had done, and now they’ve fully understood the consequences of their actions, and in doing so, they become aware of their place in God’s economy: like clay, God is the one who molds them, makes them into his people. Yet, they are also aware of the fact that they are deserving of God’s punishment, to its fullest extent: justice. They deserve all that has befallen them, so they ask God not to be exceedingly angry. In a very real sense, instead of punishing them for their sins as they deserve, they are asking God to find another way. In words that almost break your heart in desperation, the prophet says,
We are all your people.
Instead of punishing us as we deserve, please… please find another way that we might be able to experience your blessings, that you will return to us.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
which means, God with us.
Let us pray: Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.