Posts Tagged ‘isaiah’

Advent – Light In Darkness

December 12, 2008 Leave a comment

During the season of Advent waiting, I am confronted with the sinfulness of man and the goodness of God. When Isaiah says that the people living in darkness have seen a great light, we ask, “Why are they living in darkness?”

The writer of Proverbs tells us that the wicked stumble in the darkness and do not know what makes them stumble. The wicked deeds of man thrust him into the darkness. The darkness is the utter sinfulness of sin. What does that mean?

Sin is not simply a violation against God’s law as though God were some kind of ogre that creates rules and slaps us down when we fail. Sin is a violation of love, of relationship, of personhood. Sin violates other persons and in so doing, deforms our own person.

We were created in God’s image for a relationship of love. In this relationship there is an exchange of love between persons. Our very identity, our very essence of personhood is in the loving exchange with other persons. We were created to relate to God as person and to other humans as person.
In the story of Cain and Abel, we see sin corrupting relationship. Cain violates relationship with God and with Abel. He kills Abel, breaks relation with God and is cast into darkness. The violation of love damages him. He is a walking dead man, stumbling into the darkness. He gives birth to warring and violent people who hate, corrupt and ravage other human beings.

When we think of evil and darkness and villains, we point at the other guy: the one in the dark cloak who comes to suck the blood of innocents. The symbolism within the vampire is a symbol of sin and evil. The vampire cannot dwell in the light. The vampire takes life but does not give it. The vampire is threatened, destroyed by the light. But the vampire is not someone else: we are the vampires.

While some modern films may reinterpret the vampire symbol in a sympathetic way, I would suggest that is only because we may be trying to justify our own blood-sucking, life-stealing nature. We may feel sorry for the poor tragic vampire, trapped in a dark world. But this is like feeling sorry for the serial killer who victimized your own family. It is evil and perverse and ignorant.

And we are the evil ones in danger of destroying everything, everyone around us.

When ancient Israel falls under judgment, God gives her over to her sin. And it destroys her. Sin deforms, destroys, and darkens everything. Sin is not freedom but slavery to the worst possibilities within us. The trick is that it seems innocent and justifiable. But it is always destroying our capacity to love and be loved. And that means it always destroys everything in a world created for persons to love in both time and space.

Derrida is rightly the prophet who sees through the empty progress of the personless world of modernity. It is not a Hegelian spirit of progress that will move us to some great destiny. It is not the inevitable synthesis that Marx sees as a correction to the oppression of the worker. Our world of progress is rooted in sinful people who violate and are violated. Thus deconstruction is in inherent in the creation of all our systems, structures, and solutions.

Even as we admire the birth of the baby, we know that birth is but the first step in a journey to death. The complete deconstruction of the person. Living within this tragic cycle of human deconstruction, human corruption, human evil, how can we ever find hope?

Only when we can face the utter sinfulness of sin, can we begin to appreciate the light of Advent. In this Advent waiting, we enter into the story of Israel and discover our own story. When God’s chosen, God’s elect, God’s people are cast into outer darkness, we see the first glimmer of something that will ultimately change everything. Israel, God’s blessing for the world, enters into the dark, stumbling death of all humanity. They are suffering for their own sin, yet they are also a sign that God will not abandon all humanity in darkness.

He promises that a king will come to rescue them. And that king will rescue all people. The hope of Advent is the hope of a God who so deeply believes in relationship that he will join his fallen, corrupted, broken people in the darkness. He will bring light to those stumbling in their sins. Jesus comes as the Israel of God. Jesus, God with us, enters into Israel’s history, humanity’s history. He enters into the darkness of sin and suffering so completely, so perfectly that he dies. In his death, he carries all the suffering and struggling and corrupting of sin in himself.

The opposite of the vampire, Jesus is a life giver. Instead of sucking our blood, he bears our death and offers His blood, His life to us. In his resurrection, he overcomes the destructive and destroying power of sin.

During Advent, we celebrate this light that keeps shining out in darkness. Though we still sin, His light cannot be diminished. We trust that His light will ultimately shine out so completely that all things will be enveloped in His light. Darkness cannot resist, overcome, stand against His light.

So it makes perfect sense to celebrate during the darkest season of the year with lights and laughter and songs. If we struggle to find a voice for rejoicing, let us look beneath the snowmen and reindeers and Santas to the Savior. The snowmen and reindeers and Santas are little lights for children that help them to rejoice and play and sing.

But the fantasy, the dream, the magic they all point to is more real and more wonderful than any child could ever imagine, let alone any adult. Love does triumph. Relationships are restored. God has not and will not forsake us in the darkness of our sins.

So let us sing and play and delight ourselves in imaging and wondering and expecting. For though the day seems long and our own darkness seems so dark, it is not too dark for His light. During Advent, we are looking expectantly, hopefully, joyfully towards the spark of His light that will eventually be the full light of day.

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Advent: The Cry of Desperation

December 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Advent breaks into our satiated lives with a disturbing cry. Beneath the constant chaos of non-stop activity, we’re confronted with lonely, aching voice of desperation.

Something is wrong.

Our ingenuity cannot fix it. Our laughter cannot repress it. Our motion can silence it. The painful howls of Jeremiah echo across time, penetrating our cool pretension of comfort and ease:

My eyes fail with tears,
My heart is troubled;
My bile is poured on the ground
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
Because the children and the infants
Faint in the streets of the city.
(Lamentations 2:11)

Something’s wrong. Something’s terribly wrong. Jeremiah watches in disbelief as his world collapses. He cries until no tears are left–only the dark, putrid bile of despairing revulsion. All anguish of all the years converge in Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations. The overwhelming grief of sin’s destructive force is realized in this moaning cry of desperation.

But we don’t know this desperation. Thus we find it difficult to wait and watch the coming of the Lord. And this waiting is the essence of Advent. How can we wait if we are not really even anticipating his coming? Sometimes, we think His coming might interfere with our plans, our hopes, our dreams.

“O Lord, don’t come yet. Please wait until
I’m married
I’ve traveled the world
I’ve fulfilled my dreams.
I’ve seen my grandchildren.

“O Lord, don’t come yet. I’m not ready.”

Isaiah lived among a people very similar to us. He could see they were clothed in rags and were desperately poor, but they proudly sported their humiliation as a thing of pride. They were blind to their desperate condition.
But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
And there is no one who calls on Your name,
Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us,
And have consumed us because of our iniquities.
(Isaiah 64:6-7)

Advent begins the church year, reminding us. We are desperately in need of a Savior. During Advent, we stir ourselves to take hold of God.

Without the Advent’s desperate longing, Christmas joy seems empty and mocking–a superficial smile covering the anguish caused by sin. Our world is not all right. Would we, could we but catch a glimpse of the pain that stretches across this globe in one single moment, we might break under the weight of grief. Jeremiah’s lamentation over the destruction of Jerusalem anticipates this woe more fully than any other human prayer–save one.

The tears of blood shed in the garden by our Savior. Jesus realizes this anguish perfectly and suffers beyond all human comprehension and grasping. In his suffering, he enters into the suffering of every single human across the ages.

In moments of clarity and honesty, we admit an ache that reverberates through our being. The ache of failure, of suffering, of bitterness, of loneliness, of rejection, of loss, of separation. We know the ache of disappointment, of dreams that will never be realized, of sorrow that knows no consolation. We may deny it. We may ignore. But we still suffer. And the fear of these pains drive many of our actions in this world. Ultimately, we all face the desperate terror of being separate from God. And it burns within our souls.

Only from this realization of desperation can the waiting for the coming of the Lord make any sense. As we pause from the frivolity of our darkened and darkening world, may we acknowledge our all-consuming condition of neediness.

Only then, may we come to understand the wonder and the glory of the hope Jeremiah discovers in his dark night of eternity. For in the midst of Jeremiah’s song of woe, he realizes there is hope in waiting upon the Lord. As we begin the season of waiting and longing for our Lord’s second coming, let us join the waiting and longing for His first coming, and discover a hope that cannot be shaken.
My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the LORD.
(Lamentations 3:20-26)

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Advent – Remembering the Future

December 4, 2007 Leave a comment

Remembering the Future
Looking forward with hope is active resistance the experiences of life. The longer we live, the more we experience the pain, discouragement, disappointment and seeming hopeless of life. People disappointment us. We disappointment ourselves. Nothing lives up to the hype.

Isaiah realized that he was a man of unclean lips and he lived among a people of unclean lips. The very people chosen to reveal the goodness and glory of the Creator could not. They were flawed and failed. Their kingdom split and their history is not a story of ever-increasing glory but a story a darker and darker defilement. They fail God. They fail the world.

Isaiah exclaims that the people have “turned away backward.” They’ve become a desolate nation full of corruptors. They abuse one another. They oppress the weak. They forsake the fatherless. In other words, they look a lot like our world today. Looking around at our world of war, we cannot help but see ripples of unfaithfulness and broken relationships.

Nations war against nations. And this war is not limited to one or two or three geographical regions of the world. We are all at war. We war with our neighbors. We war with our friends. Even in the family and the church we see pain and betrayal. The places that should be provide a place for love to flourish sometimes foster the deepest violations of intimacy. It is easy to become bitter, hurt and lose hope that life can really be meaningful and love can truly prevail.

Facing this dark world, Isaiah remembers. By the grace of God, he remembers the faithfulness of God. He remembers the promises of God. He remembers the longsuffering of God. Looking back through the story of Israel’s failures, he also sees another picture. The longsuffering God prevails upon His people again and again.

Our friends may fail us. Our country may fail us. Our lovers may fail us. We have failed us. For if we are truly honest, we have also failed the people around us. Yet this longsuffering God is still at work in our world and our lives.

In the midst of a bleak, yet honest vision of human failure, we need God’s grace to remember rightly. As we remember His longsuffering, we remember that grace has prevailed and will prevail in our lives and our world. Like Isaiah we see beyond the bleak disappointments of life and learn to hope.

As we wait and long for the fullness of love, let us remember the future with Isaiah and behold the longsuffering love of God prevailing in our families, our culture and our world.

Isaiah 2:2-5
2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the LORD’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,

“ Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
5 O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the LORD.

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John the Baptist

December 9, 2004 Leave a comment

His life was devoted to one purpose—prepare the way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist had lived an ascetic life of absolute devotion to God. His burning passion was to see the Anointed One. In one sense, his life brought into focus the intense waiting of all ages for the Coming One: The new David that Isaiah proclaimed would usher in the kingdom of God and restore the world to an Edenic state of innocence.

When Jesus final appears, John the Baptist humbly yields the stage to Him acknowledging Jesus as the “Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.” John takes his leave with a warning announcing that Jesus would “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

In the lonely dungeon, John the Baptist hears reports that the one he proclaimed as Messiah, goes to the parties, does not fast, and surrounds himself with questionable people. He sends words to Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

Jesus may have loved John the Baptist more than anyone on the earth. He saw John as one of the greatest prophets to ever live. And yet, even John could not see the fullness of the kingdom. Jesus alludes to Isaiah and other testimonies from the Old Testament to describes His call, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Mtt 11:5; Is 35:5-6).

The kingdom of God has come but in a way, that not even John the Baptist had anticipated. And Jesus says, “(B)lessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Mtt 11:6). The Messiah comes to the weary, to the waiting, to those lost and struggling in the darkness. The Messiah comes with the kingdom of God bringing joy to the sad, comfort to the mourners, hope to the hopeless, and humiliation to the proud.

The Messiah will come again. Though He tarries, we wait. We anticipate His coming by walking in the reality of His kingdom now. But we also grow weary, and sometimes even doubtful. One of the greatest trials we face in this life is the challenge of time, of waiting. We must wait upon the Lord. Our redemption is near and yet not quite near enough.

Like the children of the Exodus, we are crossing a desert. We are heading home to the presence of the Lord. Yet, the desert saps our energy, our strength, and even our faith. As we wait, we need the grace of God to “strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees” (IS 35:3). Our fearful hearts need to hear, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you” (Is 35:4).

Like John the Baptist, there are times when we may question and wonder, “Are you the coming one or should we look for another?” But He is faithful.
The same power that can cause a desert to blossom (Is 35:1) is at work in our hearts. The grace of God can bring new life and new hope to our weary souls. As we long for home, as we look for the coming of the Son, we also rest in His grace. His can lead by a way we do not know into a place we have never imagined.


November 29, 2004 Leave a comment

Over 2000 years ago, Isaiah sang a song of peace to a people with war in their hearts. He looked into the holy city of Jerusalem and saw a people corrupted with violent words and violent ways. Yet he envisioned a time when all nations would draw from the wellsprings of peace in Jerusalem. Listen…his song still echoes across our land.

“It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Isaiah 2:2-4

We begin the Advent journey with Isaiah’s song on our lips. We yearn for peace and even cry out for peace but we live in a world bent on war.

Jerusalem is still a city consumed in war. In fact, it has known more violent conflict than virtually any other city in history. And yet, Isaiah’s song still echoes: “neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Looking past the pain of the present, Isaiah envisions the end. He sees Jerusalem as a city of peace—bringing peace to all nations of the earth. He sees a world of perfect harmony.

Not to be confused with an endless state of tranquility where nothing happens, harmony is a realm of endless variety and stunning diversity, and yet, like a masterpiece from Mozart, it brings complexity and depth of structure into a stunning resolution. Perfect harmony.

The Lord appears as a judge, a mediator, and an arbitrator. His wise judgments settle the grievances of all offended parties. In fact, the nations are so transformed by his intervention that they willingly transform their tools of destruction into tools of renewal.

Advent begins in hope by contemplating a hopeful end to all things. If we have no hope for peace, how can we ever work toward peace? How can we ever live toward peace? Without hope, we will consciously or unconsciously perpetuate the cycle of violence that engulfs our world.

The nations will never know peace as long as the people have war in their hearts. Many of those who scream for peace the loudest do it with a heart of rage. Each of us carry weapons of war—hurtful thoughts, hurtful words, hurtful actions. We hurl our invectives at those who oppose us, offend us, betray us, and oppress us.

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

Yet, if we truly embrace the Advent vision of the consummation of all things in the perfect justice and equity of God’s grace, then we might draw energy from that vision of peace even now. We might actually begin to live as peaceful people.

The Advent hope promises that the one great Arbitrator will ultimately settle all grievances. With this hope in mind, we can take our weapons of war and turn them into harvesting tools of healing thoughts, healing words and healing actions. We anticipate peace by helping the oppressed, loving the hurting and embracing our enemies.

During the mystery of Advent, may each of us personally enter into the season of renewal with a heart and life that echoes the peaceful dreams of Isaiah.

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