God Gets It!

A Sermon by John Brierly McCall, D. Min.


Isaiah 40:1-11

We’re surrounded by mystery; things we can’t understand. You may have heard this past week the British Intelligence agency GCHQ has created an online coded puzzle as a way to identify young adults who have what it takes to become spies. There are screens of seemingly random numbers, all leading to a single 9-letter word. If you can crack it you get the fast track to a job interview. Several people did, in fact, crack it within three hours. It’s a mystery to me. Not only could I not crack the puzzle. I can’t even figure out the name of the agency that everyone refers to as “GCHQ.”

www.canyoucrackit.uk.co

 

We’re surrounded by mystery… things beyond our understanding. Two of us look at the same thing and draw different meaning: Mention the current economic crisis and some will call it a grave danger while others call it a warning that we need to tinker a little here and a little there. Mention “Occupy Wall Street” and some will call it a shameful act by a bunch of losers while others will proclaim it is true democracy in action. And utter the name Herman Cain…?

 

I just don’t get it. But God gets it.

 

That much may seem self-evident: that since God created heaven and earth and you and me; since God set the sun and moon and stars and planets in their orbits; since God causes the earth to turn through days and nights and cycles and seasons, it’s obvious that God gets it.

 

Except there are frankly so many times when it seems God must be confused or self-absorbed or deaf to our cries. Maybe hard-hearted; maybe unresponsive. Or as we said last week, maybe just silent.

 

In the middle of the night when sleep won’t come and the burdens of the days won’t leave us alone, then we may agree with the character “Boris” in the Woody Allen movie, Love and Death. At the end of the film, he says, “If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that He’s evil. I think that the worst you can say about Him is that basically He’s an underachiever.”

 

Scripture and hymns remind us of God’s many attributes. The familiar Advent hymn, “O Come, Emmanuel” tells us God is “wisdom from on high” and “desire of the nations.” The contemporary hymn, “Bring Many Names” reminds us God is strong mother, warm father, old and aching, young and growing, great and living. Nowhere do we read or sing – “drifty, clueless God…” But we do wonder if God gets it.

 

By and large, Jews are better able than Christians to admit to this ambi­valence – these mixed feelings. Christians seem to think it’s their job to defend God against all critics and doubters; that God’s shoulders aren’t quite broad enough to handle our disappointment or outright anger.

 

Jews, on the other hand, seem quite ready to scream and throw dishes. Some of the Psalms almost literally say “O, for heaven sake, Yahweh. Are you with me or against me, or just sitting this one out?”

 

We may not get it. But God gets it. With wisdom and compassion worthy of the Creator, God knows when to push, when to pull, when to get out of the way; when to scold, when to cajole, and when to soothe.

 

For 39 chapters, Isaiah the prophet faithfully speaks God’s word of warning and judgment toward the nation of Israel now in exile. {In truth there’s one sentence in Chapter 3 that’s somewhat comforting!} It’s enough to make you cringe.

 

Scholars agree that Isaiah 40 was written by a different, unknown prophet – maybe a disciple of the first Isaiah, some 700 years before the Christian era. He was in exile in Babylon amidst the Jews who had been carried off by the soldiers of Cyrus the King. The Jerusalem temple had been desecrated then destroyed. Men were slaughtered, women and children were massacred, and the few who survived were taken hostage to a foreign land. That’s wilderness.

 

What’s more, Hebrew theology is clear that such bad things are God’s punishment for the evil they’ve done. They get what’s coming to them. So Isaiah told them that God was angry with them for their unfaithfulness. And they were now in exile because they deserved the suffering. They’d had their last chance.

 

So God grabbed them by both shoulders, looked them in the eye and said “look at what you’ve done; look at the agony you’ve brought on yourselves by disobedience and pridefulness. Listen!” This is the God who gets it, even when we don’t.

 

And the people listened. Their broken spirits were healed. The scales of justice were balanced, the penance complete, and now the restoration was at hand. So comes the word of God in Isaiah 40 with a startling word of calm:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

 

Isaiah held a dream before the people of Israel – a dream that seemed almost too wonderful to believe. But God made the promise to the heart-sick and lonely and grieving people. And God kept the promise: “Comfort, O comfort my people.”

 

Isaiah the prophet and John the Baptist both proclaimed the God who is infinitely just – demanding our best while forgiving our worst. The invitation to the comfort of Christmas comes to those who have faith that God will bring us from where we are to where we need to be. We can trust this promise because 2000 years ago, God entered the world and took on full humanity so that none of us would ever have to lose ours. {Still Speaking devotional for December 1, 2011, by Quinn Caldwell; http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/)

 

As we listen to God’s word of comforting presence, we know the best way for us to live is to offer our presence to others. When a couple divorces long time friends drift away. When we sustain a deep loss such as the death of our spouse, others may pull back because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Rather than making matters better we make them worse. Henri J. M. Nouwen, the late Roman Catholic priest and author, was thinking of that when he wrote:

Those who can sit in silence with their [friend], not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief, and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.

 

We, too, can incarnate the spirit of god, embodying love.

 

As I shared in the prayers this morning, this week I represented you in going to be with Denise and Mark Calkins, and stand with them beside the empty hulk of their burned-out home. Because of your support of Crisis Community Crisis Ministries I had the privilege of handing them an envelope filled with cash, and the assurance that we cared. There was nothing I could say – no words that would take away the pain, but showing up is the best gift we can give each other.

 

So, too, God accompanies us in this Advent travel as we light the candles and pierce the darkness and lift the claim that God gets it – both judging our sin and extending us healing – and with a word of promise says:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”