Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Praying In Exile

Yesterday I posted on the Lord’s Prayer, through which Jesus reveals to us that God is our Father, who provides and protects, and also the King, who cancels our debts and delivers us from his enemies.

Today I want to take a look at Isaiah 40:1-11 (one of the Lectionary readings for this coming Sunday).  The context is this: God’s people are living in exile in Babylon; speaking through his prophet, God tells them that after judgement comes restoration, that they are to prepare to return home, and that the Babylonian empire (along with all other human empires) will not last, whereas God’s promises do.

Isaiah 40: 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  3 A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people together will see it.  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’  6 A voice says, ‘Cry out.’  And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’  ‘All people are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.  7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.  Surely the people are grass.  8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.’  9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain.  You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’  10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him.  See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.  11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

How, then, do we live in exile, as God’s people in a post-Christian society?

God is our Father, who provides and protects:

We live knowing that God is our Daddy, who comforts us (v1) and relates to us with tenderness (v2).

We live knowing that God comes with his reward and his recompense (v10), his abundant provision.

We live knowing that God gathers us in his arms, carries us close to his heart, and leads us (v11).

God is the King, who cancels our debts and delivers us from his enemies:

We live knowing that God is revealed in glory (v5), coming with Sovereign power to exercise rule (v10).

We live knowing that God has paid our debts, has decreed an end to our debtor’s prison sentence (v2).

We live knowing that these verses as a whole proclaim God’s kingly will to bring his people out of captivity and bring them home.

These words are spoken to a people living in an alien culture, spoken in order to renew their hope, spoken to give birth to faith (Romans 10:17) – which is the concrete expression of hope (Hebrews 11:1), the transformation of potential future into actual present (just as cement mix can become one of many things – a path, a building block, a sculpture – but set concrete is a particular and lasting form).

These words are written down and handed on, in order that they might do the same for us.

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