Here Is Your God

Advent II “Here is Your God!”

It is at this time each year that our attention is drawn to the Messiah by George Frederick Handel. Combined with the libretto prepared by Charles Jennens, which is more or less Old and New Testament passages from the King James Version of the Bible, the Messiah is perhaps the greatest and most widely recognized aesthetic expression of spiritual truth ever created. Its slow, soothing first strains open with poetry from Isaiah: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned” (Isaiah 40:1–2).          

It underscores that our God is not merciless or vindictive, stingy, strict or severe. Nor is God aloof, detached, indifferent, or unconcerned. No, Isaiah’s God exudes kindness, solicitude, and affection toward all.

 

 


 

Look at the power of God which has no end, in which is your Life… Think not of the long time the rod of the wicked was on your backs but rejoice in the tribulations and persecutions, which is for the trial of your Faith…. Remember that Christ the Word was tried and all the Prophets, Apostles and martyrs were tried for their testimony to the precious pearl, Seed and Truth and what sufferings they had in all ages… by the dark world….Know the New Covenant made manifest in your hearts, the Law of God written there and the anointing within you to teach you.  Then you need no man to teach you.  It teaches you…. For you who are children of God, are not to look for Salvation from the hills, neither to look at the arm of flesh, nor put confidence in man…The Lord God Almighty preserves you all in his everlasting arm and hand.  Bear one with another in the gentle Wisdom, which is peaceable and from above.”   Geo. Fox 1663

 

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak 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.

3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every 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. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

9Get 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!” 10See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He 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. Isaiah 40:1-5; 9-11

 

It is at this time each year that our attention is drawn to the Messiah by George Frederick Handel. Combined with the libretto prepared by Charles Jennens, which is more or less Old and New Testament passages from the King James Version of the Bible, the Messiah is perhaps the greatest and most widely recognized aesthetic expression of spiritual truth ever created. Its slow, soothing first strains open with poetry from Isaiah: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned” (Isaiah 40:1–2).          

It underscores that our God is not merciless or vindictive, stingy, strict or severe. Nor is God aloof, detached, indifferent, or unconcerned. No, Isaiah’s God exudes kindness, solicitude, and affection toward all. The God of this poetry longs to bring every human being “close to His heart” (40:11). From start to finish, the Christian story celebrates this God who is above all else characterized by gentleness, tenderness, and empathy toward “all flesh” (40:5).

When this passage of Isaiah was written it was a dark and dismal world for the Jewish people.  They were then held captive in Babylon.  Earlier in their history, when in the wilderness, God had been with the Hebrew children who fled Egyptian captivity.   He showed them the way to a promised  land but they let their fears distract them. They didn’t trust God to act on their behalf. They didn’t enter the land of milk and honey, the land of promise, the land of fruitfulness because of the reports of giants in the land.  The residents, they feared, had weapons of mass destruction and as a result they defected in place. The consequence of not acting on God’s promise was forty more years of wandering, a dying off a fearful and disobedient generation and the birth of a new one. That hardly sounds like good news – but there is good news embedded in it.  God did not abandon them.  God stayed with them in their wanderings.  He was like a pillar of fire in the night, a cloud to lead them in the day.  He provided manna and water in the desert.  He made their shoes to not wear out.   That is quite a statement about God’s forbearance with humanity – and with us.  

In the age of Isaiah, precisely because of their refusal to live according to their covenant with God, precisely because they violated the trust God had given them to care for the widow and orphan, the alien in their communities, the impoverished and the disabled and let justice be perverted in their courts and became a people without mercy or compassion, the Jews were hauled off into exile in Babylon.  It was a mass deportation of the leaders and the affluent to be slaves, leaving behind the poor to be ruled by a force loyal to a foreign despot.  Their religious sites were desecrated.  Their economy was in ruins and what was produced from the land was siphoned off to fuel the life of the cities of their enemies.  When the Prophet was told to comfort the people he wasn’t being told to be sympathetic to their plight.  That is true human foible isn’t it – we want someone to sympathize with our situation, to be understanding, to stand with us in our discouragement.   Maybe, we hope, God will intervene to make our life less miserable?  The temptation of God’s people is to focus on our oppressor’s cruelty and the horrible situation in which we find ourselves. God had something quite different in mind.

You see, the word comfort isn’t just about sympathy.   The Word com-fort simple means with-fortification, to be fortified.   No, he offered them strength.    Yes, a highway is to be built in the wilderness. That is were we meet God – in the wilderness. The people were to not look to themselves, blame their oppressors nor to pitifully indulge in their condition.  It was to God alone who is both powerful and compassionate – like a good shepherd.  That is why Handel and Jennens began the Christian story at a signal juncture by highlighting the character of God. Isaiah’s poetry imagines a sentinel who climbs a high mountain and screams at the top of his lungs: “Behold your God!” (40:9). He compares this God to a shepherd tending his sheep: “He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.” Yahweh is a God who builds a highway in a desert wasteland, who raises valleys and levels mountains, and who makes “the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”  He gathers his lambs and carries them home in his arms. In this situation – with all the people in survival mode – the Prophet Isaiah asks the people to look to God.  What makes this ironic is that the same Prophet had warned them that this coming catastrophe wasn’t at the hands of the Babylonians but a punishment dealt them by God for the way iniquitous way they treated the least able, most needy and powerless of their community. Now, with the time of punishment complete they were to lift their heads and look at God.  Look at the God who was strong enough to send them into exile in the first place and understand that this same God was also strong enough to deliver them from the captivity into which he had sent them.  Isaiah tells them that God will comfort his people – not by some miracle – but by strengthening them.

In the summer of 1981 Dr. Art Ammann, the former Director of the Pediatric Immunology and Clinical Research at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco treated a prostitute IV-drug abuser and three of her children, all four of whom presented unusual deficiencies in their immune systems that were aggravated by opportunistic infections that did not fit normal medical models of disease. He determined that the mother and all three children had contracted AIDS, which was tragic enough because the disease was fatal, but perhaps more devastating was his shocking conclusion, hotly contested and very controversial at the time, that HIV-AIDS had passed from the mother to her children as an “acquired” and not an “inherited” disease. Ammann reflects back on those days: “We were disturbed not only by how severely sick patients were, but also by how the disease impacted entire families. HIV-AIDS created pain and suffering that ruptured relationships, families and communities, and incited a secondary worldwide epidemic of widows and orphans. Not long into the epidemic discrimination and stigmatization by both Christian and secular communities aggravated the anguish of those who already suffered with AIDS.”

                “As the epidemic grew, I saw an opportunity for Christians to respond, as they often had, with the tenderness of God the Father that was incarnated in the life and teachings of Jesus.  Throughout my medical career I had related the teachings of Jesus to disease, pain and suffering. I found comfort in the words that He spoke and how He touched individuals.”  He wrote: “This became intensely relevant to my interactions with AIDS patients. Although I did not fully comprehend the meaning of their pain and suffering, I reached out to those with AIDS to offer comfort and hope—to touch them physically and spiritually as I felt that Jesus would have done.” Then he wrote:”I also understood that Jesus the healer broke the stereotypes of His day and provided both physical and spiritual healing. Studying the Old Testament, I could not escape the conclusion that justice was linked directly to care for widows and orphans without qualification as to how they became a widow or orphan. Cause was not a determinant for rendering justice. ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’ (Psalms 117:17).”

And now the story turns to us.  We are in pretty dire straits.  We are told to be as fearful of our enemy’s weapons of mass destruction, or as fearful of economic collapse as the escapees from Egyptian captivity were afraid of the giants who supposedly peopled the promised land.   We are in pretty dire straits.  We have been divided, with the poor and dispossessed marginalized and the non –compliant and belligerent incarcerated and those with capacity to lead and produce worshipping the gods of affluence and serving interests of the truly rich and powerful.

Twice, the Old Testament has given us stories that warn us to look to God rather than our own situation, our oppressors or our own abilities.  That God is still a God of com-fort.  Isaiah tells us to look to God.  He strengthens us.  In his strength we are enabled to reach beyond ourselves to Comfort God’s people.

 

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Pastor's Page. Bookmark the permalink.