Advent: Monday Dec 5

Isaiah 24:1-16a

Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled; for the Lord has spoken this word. The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left. The wine dries up, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the timbrels is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No longer do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. The city of chaos is broken down, every house is shut up so that no one can enter. There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished. Desolation is left in the city, the gates are battered into ruins.

For thus it shall be on the earth and among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is ended. They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; they shout from the west over the majesty of the Lord. Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; in the coastlands of the sea glorify the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.

From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One. But I say, I pine away, I pine away. Woe is me! For the treacherous deal treacherously, the treacherous deal very treacherously.

[The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

Questions:

What feelings does this text from Isaiah evoke within you?

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5 comments

  1. It is troubling to me that this reading begins with “Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate…”. It sounds like an act of aggression, or some Holy retribution for the transgressions of humanity. The rest of the first paragraph sounds like things that we are doing to ourselves. So, at first, the passage evokes sadness within me. It’s like a listing of some of the countless ways that we are trying to destroy ourselves. But then I think of the ways in which humanity is capable of working toward justice. In the face of the most challenging experiences, people step up, again and again, to accompany each other, to walk together, and to share the burden.

    1. I appreciate the way in which you hold this tension between “the countless ways that we are trying to destroy ourselves” and way “people step up, again and again, to accompany each other, to walk together, and to share the burden”. That sounds, to me, a lot like Luther’s idea that we are “simul justus et peccator”, that is, simultaneously justified (made right?) and sinful (not right?). Perhaps we could to an apophatic meditation on right/not right/not not right and seek what is beyond.

  2. This passage evokes in me feelings of despair and hope and an awareness of the tension between the two. Maybe it is hopeful that the despair arises out of a deep sense that the brokenness, injustice, indifference and hate that so trouble me are abhorrent to God. Maybe despair is a gift reminding me that something is deeply wrong, but the hope comes from believing that like Mary we all carry within ourselves the life of God. It is hopeful to me that ordinary people (sometimes in very surprising and humble circumstances) find ways to give birth to that divine presence. But still. . . .
    By the way, I remember that as a teenager in confirmation class I asked my pastor why Luther used the words “despair and other great and shameful sins”. I was having trouble with the idea of despair being identified that way. I don’t remember the reply, but I’m still trying to work it out for myself. It’s way too easy for me to be glib about it.
    Peg

    1. Peg, I am right there with you, trying to work this out for myself, too. I love your mentioning of this idea that we are all “mothers of God”, or “birthers of the Divine”. For me it liberates our association of divinity and maleness, and gives me deep hope that “despair and other great and shameful sins” are not our defining characteristics as people made in the divine image (and the mystery of that!).

  3. Apocalyptic language is always difficult for us because it always includes images of destruction and utter desolation. In John’s Revelation we are told that such images are actually evidence of God’s mercy, for they are warnings from a loving God as to what results from patterns of life which are, as Luther says, “incurvatus in se”, curved in on oneself. In balance with these images of destruction we remember the words of the apostles, “It is God’s will that none be lost.”

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