Monday, December 8, 2014

Power and Poetry

1   Comfort, O comfort my people,
          says your God.
2   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.
3   A voice cries out:
     “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
          make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4   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.
5   Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
          and all people shall see it together,
          for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6   A voice says, “Cry out!”
          And I said, “What shall I cry?”
     All people are grass,
          their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7   The grass withers, the flower fades,
          when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
          surely the people are grass. 
8   The grass withers, the flower fades;
          but the word of our God will stand forever.
9   Get you up to a high mountain,
          O Zion, herald of good tidings;
     lift up your voice with strength,
          O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
          lift it up, do not fear;
     say to the cities of Judah,
          “Here is your God!”
10  See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
          and his arm rules for him;
     his reward is with him,
          and his recompense before him.
11  He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
          he will gather the lambs in his arms,
     and carry them in his bosom,
          and gently lead the mother sheep.

This week we light the candle of peace for Advent. Honestly, it’s been one of the least peaceful weeks in a long time for me. Anyone else had a challenging week? Have you heard sad news?  Have you watched the news? Have you faced health challenges? Have you felt like things are fall apart and there is nothing you could do about it? Can I get an amen?

I know some of you have had difficult a week because I’ve talked to you and prayed with and for you. Your concerns are life altering and have been heavy on my heart. And I know that many of you have prayed for me as well. I’m always amazed at the power of spoken prayer. Words of prayer that articulate our pain and give us comfort in times of distress. Words matter.

We use our words and God’s Word to remind us that there is more to life than that which we see in front of us. The words in the Bible reminds us over and over again that God hears us. Words of prayer can remind us that we are not alone. 

The God of creation hears our words and our cries. God responds with comfort. This is the interactive poetry of life with God.

As we make our way through Advent, we read a lot of words from the prophet Isaiah. He describes the journey out of darkness into light. Isaiah tells the story of the ups and downs of the human experience, our experience.

The comfort Isaiah talks about is not the comfort of prosperity or false cheer. It is true peace. God’s shalom.

He uses words of poetry to describe both the valleys and shadows of sadness and the mountaintops of joy and peace. He tells the story of harsh judgment and loving forgiveness. We name our Advent candles to symbolize this journey Isaiah writes about so powerfully. A journey from despair to hope. War to peace. Sadness to Joy. Enmity to Love. Without Christ to with Christ.

Our Advent journey began last week with the people worried that God had abandoned them. They were crying out to God to tear open the heavens and come down. Today, Isaiah offers comfort and reminds us that in our ups and downs, we are God’s people. In poetry like Isaiah’s, even small words can have a big impact.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Isaiah uses the tiny words my and your remind us of our relationship to God.  He brings to mind age-old covenant from the time of Moses:

I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. (Ex. 6:7)
I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. (Lev. 26:12)

We are reminded that the relationship we have with God is eternal, despite the hardships we face in life—and the mistakes we make.

Our problems may be different from the people in Isaiah’s time, but we still face bodies that decay, have thoughts that betray us, do things we wish we didn’t. We find ourselves in situations that leave us crying for comfort. But, God doesn’t leave us to face the storms of life alone. God remains in relationship with us even though we make mistakes.

As the parent of a young adult and a teenager, I’m learning how hard it is to watch them make their own mistakes.

For example when my oldest daughter applied to college she applied to the art school—she is a visionary and a wonderfully talented artist. Then right before classes started she decided she wanted to major in astrophysics. Even though she hadn’t had a math class since her sophomore year of high school. Even though she didn’t like math. Even though she took no joy in doing her math homework.

Needless to say, it was a not a good year for her.  She learned to cope with the stress of failure. So did her parents.

But did it change the things that really matter? Did it change my desire for her to be at peace and comfortable with who she is? Did it change the fact that we are bonded by love? No.

I will be your God, and you shall be my people, God told the Israelites. I can say with authority that I will be her mother and she shall be my daughter.  The circumstances don't change the relationship.  Over the summer, I comforted her, helped her lick her wounds and sent her back this year as an art major. So far, so good.

Comfort, comfort my people says your God.

Isaiah’s poetic repetition emphasizes God’s desire that we be comforted. God cares about what is happening in our lives, but God doesn’t always control it. I don’t believe God causes our illnesses nor is God responsible for the bad behavior of others. God doesn’t make our stupid decisions for us. We have the freedom to do that all on our own.

But God is there to embrace us and offer us comfort. God will “gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom.” In the storms of life we can look for the loving embrace of God.

Comfort, comfort my people says your God.

This doesn’t just come as a supernatural hug from heaven, but from our family, friends and neighbors. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” is a command to someone else. It doesn’t say that only God does the comforting. We too offer comfort through our presence and our words. We are to be givers and receivers of comfort in God.

Comfort, comfort my people says your God.

In these six words, Isaiah reminds us of God’s steadfast love and invites into the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to participate in the Living Word with our own meager words and actions. We are called to be active in the poetry of God’s creation. To lift our voices, sing praises and offer comfort. Our lives matter. Our voices matter.

Isaiah sounds like a preschool mom, telling us over and over again: Use your words.

Speak tenderly
Cry out
Lift up your voice
Say to the cities

Isaiah tells us to speak of God. To cry out about the coming of the Lord. He does this because he believed that speaking was a creative act. Remember in Genesis, God spoke creation into being. We certainly don't have that power. But when we speak, we change the reality that is around us. And maybe, just maybe, we use our words to reveal a new reality, a God reality. The Kingdom of Heaven that is at hand.  

Think about it. When we speak words of anger, what do we get as a response? More anger. When we speak words of love, what do we get in return? More love.  What we say is important.

Words matter. They help give shape to the world. If I say cat, what kind of cat do you imagine?  

Your might be calico or black or orange. You might imagine a panther or a house cat. You might think of a beloved pet or a creature that causes you to sneeze.  But chances are there the creature you imagined had for legs, fur and a feline quality. One little word has the power create an image in your mind. The words I speak call forth a response. They have power. Your little words have that power, too. That’s why we read God's Word. That's why we preach the Word. The big Word of God gives us guidance for our lives. It creates a reality and calls us to action. 

Words also endure. We remember the names of people who have died long ago. Their names tell us what they stood for—George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr.  Elvis all have a legacy. Words allow concepts like God or peace or justice or salvation or Jesus to be passed along from generation to generation. Words tell the story of Jesus and God’s enduring love. The words we say at communion --This is my body give for you-- connect us to Christ and Christians in history.

Many of us know the words of one of Isaiah’s best loved passages

The grass withers, the flower fades;
         but the word of our God will stand forever.

There are things in this life that are like flowers—they bloom and grow in beauty and wither and fade. But, flowers leave a legacy, a seed or root or bulb that grows the next spring.

In our earthly lives we will wither and fade, none of us escape that. But we can leave behind seeds of hope and promise and comfort for the next generation. The seeds that we leave are our words. Our little words and the big Word of God will grow and bloom in the coming generations. Imagine how beautiful the world would be if the words we say, the legacies we leave were words of Advent.

Remember the power of words to create? Remember the cat you imagined? As I slowly read the words of Advent, what do these words call forth in you?






When I imagine those words, I visualize ribbons of purple and red and blue and pink intertwining together and lifting up toward the a bright blue sky. They are glittery and dancing in soft wind.

I see people of all races and nations living in love and in God’s creation and abundance. I see people at peace providing for one another, not hoarding their resources and shooting one another in the streets. I see a world without despair, war, sadness and enmity. I see people living in communion with each other and with God. This is what I want to call forth with my words. These Advent words are the words I want to live out with my life.

Isaiah's words are meant to prepare us for Christmas. They prepare us for the in-breaking of God to a world that uses words as weapons berate, destroy and divide. He is a timeless poet helping us to prepare for a new reality. 

A reality ushered in by a baby, 
     starting life without words, 
     only a cry. 
A baby and his bewildered parents.
     Crying, he heard their words.
     Crying, he received their comfort.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 


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