The Promise of God

 Inspired by Isaiah 55

So, we have come to the end of our readings from the Hebrew scriptures. I know, some of you are probably thinking, “Thank God!” Ok, it’s only been three months, calm down! I get it though, it can feel like a long haul from our first reading in Genesis on September twelfth to this reading from Isaiah. But I still think it’s a worthy journey. Traveling with God’s people from their earliest stories all the way to being on the cusp of the baby Jesus.  

Hearing how they survived life’s challenges, hearing how God was with them every step of the way, recognizing how similar they are to us, has made this journey we’ve taken the past four Autumns, a rich, robust foundation for the reading of the gospel every Winter and Spring. As an intern in Alabama, I once had a family ask me why we even bother with the “Old Testament.” “We’re Christians not Jews!” they said. If you get nothing else from this journey, I hope you get this, that the Hebrew scriptures are not only ripe with grace, but that they form the foundation of the Gospels, without which, would make no sense. 

So, let’s dive into this last reading from the Hebrew scriptures, from Isaiah, and speaking of foundation, this reading is the perfect set up to the Gospel of John reading that we have next week, let alone being a perfect reading during the Advent season. Isaiah is writing during the end of the exile, as God’s people are returning home, if that’s what you want to call it. Imagine your house being ransacked while you are away, your church burned to the ground, your city pillaged, and you’ll begin to imagine what they were coming “home” to. I’m reminded of the words of Frodo Baggins from the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy when he says, “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand...there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.” 

This was their state of mind as they returned home, and their prophet, Isaiah, who had walked with them for some time, had some words of comfort for them, in the words of an invitation! But like all prophets, his words also come with a challenge. In the version we are reading from, this entire portion of Isaiah comes to us in the first person, and I absolutely love that. Isaiah uses God’s own voice to send us these words of comfort and challenge, directly from God’s own heart, to our hearts. First an invitation, an invitation to a dinner party to end all dinner parties, “All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!” 

In their context, these were words of grace like no other. Remember, they were returning home with nothing, to nothing. No jobs, no homes, no savings accounts, no food but what they could carry and find. So, the idea that God had something that cost them nothing! That was good news! The only thing that was required, was to be thirsty and hungry. And God was even willing to throw in some wine too! God is even willing to go beyond the basic necessities of life! What’s more, this invitation was for everyone, not just the people that God had been traveling with up to that point. But for anyone who wanted what God was offering. Again, the only requirement was to be thirsty and hungry. When Sara and I were newly married, we fell on some pretty hard times like many young couples do.  

She was pregnant with our first child and we both lost our jobs around the same time, our food stamps had run out, and we literally didn’t know where our next meal was gonna come from let alone how our bills were gonna be paid. In the midst of all this, one day we were standing in the entry way to our little apartment, saying goodbye as I went off to look for work again, when all of a sudden there’s a knock on the door. We open the door and it was our pastor. She said that she was in the neighborhood and felt like she should stop by and see how we were doing. Well, we both could barley talk we were so moved by her timely visit. After explaining our situation she immediately grabbed her church checkbook and took care of that month’s bills and food. We did nothing to earn or deserve that gift, other than being in need. 

Isaiah continues with a bit of a challenge, which turns out to be quite timely during this Advent season. God says, “Why spend money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?” In other words, keep your priorities in check! Don’t spend your resources, whether that be your time or your talents or your treasure, on things that don’t nourish, on things that don’t bring life. One theologian said, it’s the opposite message of Black Friday! Instead of spend, spend, spend; instead of go into debt for a futile attempt to find happiness, either for yourself or others, focus on what is lasting, on what is sure, on what you can count on, on what will really see you through when times are tough. And what might that be? This is where this passage sets up the Gospel of John so beautifully. 

Because the answer to that question is: God’s word. Toward the end of our passage God says, “Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and don’t return there without watering the earth, making it conceive and yield plants and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater, so is my word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty. Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend.” I love the confidence with which God says that! The question is, what is God’s word? If you answered the Bible, you’d be wrong! But I think that’s what a lot of people think when they hear the term, God’s word. But what it’s really referring to is God’s promise. Think of it this way, what do we say when we ask someone to swear they will do something, to promise to do something, we say, give me your word. 

That’s the kind of word that God is talking about here in Isaiah. God’s promise to all, to provide in ways that only God can, in ways that go beyond the basic necessities of life even. God’s promise to provide hope when all else seems lost. God’s promise to love when you feel unlovable, to your last dying breath and beyond. God’s promise to provide peace, the kind that only God can give. These are what God’s word is all about. Not some words written on a scroll thousands of years ago, but the very promise of God to never cease being God. The very promise of God that took on flesh and bone in the form of a little baby on one fateful night in Bethlehem. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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