All Earth is Waiting
| Isaiah 64:1-9
||Sun, December 1, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
|Lying there in the hospital bed
surrounded by tubes and machines
he grimaces in pain with every laboured breath.
Sitting there beside the bed
keeping vigil hour after hour
through the long night
they repeat their whispered prayer
like a mantra:
"O God, where are you when we need you?
where are you when we need you?"
The sound of the mail arriving through the slot
makes her heart sink.
She knows that there will be more cards
with happy letters from happy families
wishing her a Merry Christmas.
If they only knew
how impossible such wishes sound to her now,
how many years she has prayed to God for a Merry Christmas
how dark and lonely it is in her apartment.
If they only knew
maybe they would stop wishing
and start demanding the 'peace on earth'
that the angels promised so long ago.
she says to herself,
"I shouldn't think such thoughts".
Half way around the world
in the heart of East Africa
we can only imagine what it is like
to be a refugee trapped in the forest
the children crying
the rebels catching the innocent in cross-fire.
well fed and warm
safe and sound
we can be sure of but one thing ...
the prayer that rises up out of the jungle has a familiar ring:
"O that you would rend the heavens and come down ...
O God, help us".
And here we are on the first Sunday of Advent
unpacking the creche
setting the animals in the stable at church
and putting up the lights at home ...
preparing to catch the Christmas Spirit
when the Book is opened
Isaiah speaks once again.
Isaiah with his desperate lament.
This doesn't seem right somehow.
We come to light the candle of 'hope'
and instead hear a prophet who sounds full of gloom.
We come to get ready for the arrival of God,
to celebrate the presence of God
but all Isaiah can speak about
is the silence of God
and the absence of God.
He is the one who, years before,
heard God's voice -
clear as a bell;-
and felt God's touch -
like hot coals touching his lips.
While watching the coronation of the King in the Temple
God had called him to speak and to act.
And Isaiah said:
"Is it I, Lord?
I will go, Lord."
There is no doubt about it ...
Isaiah knows all about the presence of God.
back home from years in exile,
wandering through the rubble of the once magnificent Temple
and seeing the remnants of a once great nation
reduced to bickering and scavanging
Isaiah prays in a way that we're not expecting ...
not in church at any rate ...
and not in the Bible, that's for sure.
Sure, people may rudely blurt out demands of God
in the heat of the moment ...
but you and I know that by the time our prayers make it
into church or the Bible
they have been cleaned up for public consumption.
Yet here is Isaiah wailing at God:
"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down
so that the mountains would quake ...
and the nations might tremble at your presence!
Like you did in the good old days ...
no one had ever seen or heard anything like You ...
You who respond to those who wait faithfully".
Those who wait faithfully.
Maybe that is what makes Isaiah think twice.
All of a sudden his lament changes.
Now he is no longer lamenting a God
who is nowhere to be found.
Now Isaiah names the lamentable state of the world.
"That's just it",
"we aren't waiting faithfully ...
Look at this mess,
we are polluted
our society abandons its poor,
children go unprotected
and the addicted are left to themselves.
Even our righteous deeds
are like a filthy cloth.
We try to clean ourselves up
to make amends ...
instead we make even more of a mess.
We develop new government programs,
the self-help sections boom in every bookstore
we go to church with every intention of cleaning up our act
and still things go from bad to worse."
Isaiah paints a bleak portrait.
But it is not clear who is to blame.
Yes ... he says that we have sinned
that we have messed up ...
that we no longer call on God's name
or even try to get a hold of God.
We've got no one to blame but ourselves ... right?
Isaiah doesn't seem so sure.
He has the audacity to point a finger at God as well ...
at God who has stopped speaking,
just plain stopped being involved.
"No wonder", says Isaiah,
"no wonder things are so bad.
What did you expect, God?"
Well this is just a bit much,
don't you think.
daring to speak to God in such a tone.
And a prophet, too ...
hasn't he been to Theological School ...
hasn't anyone taught him the 'dos' and 'don'ts'
of writing the Prayers of the People?!
He should know better than to use such a harsh tone
when saying his prayers.
Or should he?
Maybe Isaiah understands the 'dos' and 'don'ts'
of the people's prayers better than we think.
Maybe Isaiah knows that it is the real prayers
not the 'theologically corrected' prayers
that need to be heard in heaven's courts.
Yes ... maybe Advent needs to begin here
with the real prayers of a world
that wonders just where God is ... really.
A world full of spiritual craving and searching.
A world lamenting its sorry state
A world that finds every move to escape the quick sand of sin
just causes the mire to deepen
and the problems to worsen.
Yes ... Advent must begin here.
Not with the sure and certain hope
of God's never failing presence ...
but with the anguished cry
from the common human experience
of God's seeming silence
and of God's apparent absence.
But do you see?
Isaiah knows that this can not last.
Isaiah's lament is actually full of hope.
He is not waiting in despair for the other shoe to drop.
Isaiah trusts in God
even as he knows the absence of God.
Here ... as he wails in lament
Isaiah calls God "our Father".
Now we have become so used to this language of intimacy
that we forget its rarity in the Old Testament.
Isaiah is the first to use it.
And look ... he calls God "our Father"
not when he is snuggled safe and warm in God's arms
but when he feels abandoned, orphaned, alone.
He calls God "our Father"
because he is sure that we are God's children,
God's dependents ...
that, in the final analysis
we are God's responsibility.
Standing here under these banners this morning
takes us back ...
back to the tent of gathering
for the World Council of Churches in 1983 ...
the tent which welcomed that multi-coloured
"Oeikumene" ... ecumenical.
It means "the whole inhabited world" ...
And in 1983
under these banners
we heard the prayers of the whole inhabited world
in every language
and in a wondrous variety of melodies.
All of them responding to the same desperate lament.
For, you see,
all earth is waiting
for one who will rip open the heavens
and come down ...:
for one called 'Emmanuel' ... God with us.
But there is something different about our waiting.
We have learned not to expect
the unmistakeable, ear-splitting sound
of the heavens being torn open
in earthquake, wind and fire.
Instead we keep our ears tuned
for the still, small voice of One
whose cry from a manger
and lament on a cross
all too easily
falls on deaf ears.
So watch ...