North Hill Christian Church
November 29, 200
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Isaiah 64:1-9
I have this vivid memory from my childhood of me sitting at the dinner table, with the Toys ‘R’ Us Christmas catalog circling all the toys that I wanted. As I look back, I know that I was not paying attention to how much things costed, or how much space they required, such as a full sized pinball machine. I had all these grand expectations of what I would get for Christmas, setting myself up for disappointment when I did not get those things that I wanted.
I hear these same desires filled with grand expectations in Isaiah 64:1-9 this morning as we hear it with an ear to awaiting the birth of our savior. “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.”
The text begins with these dreams of how God could make these grand gestures of power, like those of old. How God could break forth into the world, not with a gentle presence, but one that invokes images of mountains shaking, and the heat that causes water to boil. These are violent, norm disrupting images of power. All of which are meant to cause the other nations to tremble at the mere presence of the divine.
Until verse 5 there is not hint of self examination or reflection of the people’s needs and relationship with the divine. What is at the forefront of the mind as we hear those first verses, is for God to solve the problem of those outsiders who once held them in exile. Those outsiders who worship other Gods. Those outsiders who invaded the promised land and destroyed the temple. They should pay. They should be afraid for we have God on our side.
And yet, this imagery, while wanting to call forth the power of God as heard through the scriptures, is tempered when we recognize that those actions of those other nations was precipitated by the people of God forgetting their covenant with the divine. Forgetting their own sin, and simply want God to solve and prevent all of their problems with other nations.
In my mind, I have these images of Aslan from “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C.S. Lewis, who has great power to utterly wipe out any of those what would do harm to Narnia, and yet so much of Aslan’s actions in those books, requires relationship between himself and the people. This connection that goes beyond knowing and affiliation, but deep connectedness. A relationship that requires Alsan and the people to work together side by side, helping one another. When the people forget their relationship with the great lion things go awry, but in those places where they are truly connected, things become knit together and brokenness is healed.
It is no secret that C.S. Lewis wrote this series of books heavily influenced by his own Christian Faith. One begins to understand his theology and beliefs as you read through the entire collection. Aslan is the divine presence of the holy trinity. Aslan embodies this image of great divine power, that is tempered by the mortal’s relationship with the divine.
As Isaiah continues, in verses 5-7 we hear this recognition of the brokenness, and sin that the people have caused. It becomes apparent that there has been a time of deep reflection on the history of the people. While it would still be grand if God would break through in a great show of power, there is this recognition that the people have sinned. That the people had fallen away from their devotion to God. That the people turned away and neglected their relationship with the divine. And in doing so caused great suffering and brokenness to befall the people.
There comes this time as the people continue to await for all their prayers to be answered and their problems taken away, that they find themselves reflecting on how their own behavior and actions have made way for some of their problems and suffering. How their own actions have caused them to break their covenant with God. How they have not lived up to what the divine has asked of them, as they demand greatness from God.
Here is the thing about waiting. Even when I was a little I began making my list of wants early on. As soon as the catalog came with the Paper on Thanksgiving, I was looking through it and circling items. But as we made our way through Advent, my mind let go of all those grand desires, and instead allowed me to be happy with the surprise in opening those gifts that I hadn’t yet shook or gotten a sneak peak of prior to Christmas morning.
The time of anticipating what is yet to come, gives us the opportunity to sort out our priorities, to reflect upon our own lives, past, present, and future. The time of waiting tempers our expectations to be somewhat more realistic, while we also take up some of the responsibility as well. Even though I would often go through the Christmas catalog, knowing I was asking for these gifts from my parents, I would begin to remember and consider what I would be giving to my parents on Christmas morning.
In the final verses of today’s reading, we hear the author remember the people’s relationship with the divine. “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the works of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember our iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”
We have this remembrance of the people’s connection with the divine. Their father, their creator, the one that has brought them into being, and asking that God not remember their brokenness forever. Hoping for forgiveness, hoping that their relationship may yet be healed and brought back to what it once was. Hoping for a way forward as the people of God.
In this season of waiting. Waiting for this pandemic to be over. Waiting for things to return to “normal.” Waiting for the birth of the Christ child. Waiting, waiting, waiting. In this season, let us temper our grand expectations, while we also reflect on our responsibilities to other and to the divine. Let us reflect on mending those relationships that we have let dwindle, and heal that which separates us from the divine.