Monday, November 29, 2010
The Word Isaiah Saw...
We think of words as either being spoken or read. If the author is good, the written word can paint pictures in our minds but we seldom think of actually "seeing" a word. When I was growing up the media were much less explicit about sex and violence; the scariest movie I saw left all the horror to the imagination of the viewer and showed little on screen. Today we leave less to the imagination. In some respects, this diminishes both the power of the word as well as dulling our senses to the ability of that word to impart a visual image.
Today as we begin our Advent journey and a new church year, we heard Isaiah tell us of the Word of the Lord that he saw. Now take just a moment to think about this. What did Isaiah actually see? Did Isaiah see words written on a page that built images in His mind? Did Isaiah hear a voice whose words vanished into silence and melted away with nothing but his memory of what he heard? No, Isaiah SAW the Word of the Lord. In other words, God's Word is concrete and real, the Word that accomplishes its promise.
Isaiah saw the Word of the Lord concerning Judah and Jerusalem. The Word that he saw was that God keeps His prophetic promise. He set apart Israel for a purpose and His plan was revealed in small steps throughout Israel’s history. What Isaiah glimpsed was a small part of this grand plan unfolding according to God’s timing. Isaiah saw that this was not a word to fill his imagination or a word meant only to live in his memory. This Word was concrete, real, and powerful. According to Isaiah, this Word would come to the womb of a Virgin, be born, live, suffer, and die. The Word that he saw was the Word that is Jesus Christ.
Did Isaiah understand what he saw? Did he imagine the creche and Bethlehem? No, the mystery of God in incomprehensible; we do not get an insider’s view into how God works but He reveals Himself in bits and pieces. Nevertheless, Isaiah believed what he saw and he understood that this was the concrete and powerful Word had to be spoken to Judah, Jerusalem, and world.
The Word of God that we see is beyond all imagination – that God would come and dwell among His people is more than His people could ever hope for. What Isaiah saw was the God not of distant mountain tops but the God who walks in the valley of the shadow of death – with us and for us. What Isaiah saw was not the distant light of a far off God but the nearer Light that shines in our darkness and that darkness cannot overcome it. What Isaiah saw was the God who is not created by human imagination but whose imagination created us and all things, preserves us, and has become our Savior.
Isaiah did get a good story to tell or a picture image to paint, but a glimpse of one small slice of God’s ever unfolding plan of salvation and the unveiling of His love. It was at once terrifying to Isaiah that God would dwell among His people and comforting that He would dwell among them as Savior and Redeemer. What Isaiah received from the Lord we see in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He is the Word that has dwelt among us full of grace and truth – not as the holy Word to terrify but as the comforting Word to serve us with salvation and save us by grace.
This is what we see every Sunday morning. We are not here to have our imagination’s fed so that we can paint our own picture of God. We are not here to listen to a word that fades into silence and is alive only in our memories. We are here to see the Word of God made flesh where He makes Himself known: in the water of baptism, in the cleansed conscience of the forgiven sinner, and in bread and wine that delivers grace now and promises a banquet of grace to come. We come as those whom God calls His own to see everything through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He is not an idea or a feeling of God but God in flesh, among us, that we might behold His glory, believe in Him, and dwell in the light of His life and favor forevermore.
The Palm Sunday crown saw this same Word. He was in appearance just a man and yet more than flesh. They saw in Jesus the promise of the Father and the bringer of salvation for them and for all who would receive Him. They did not understand the cross or empty tomb but cried out in welcome to the Word made flesh. They cried out in welcome and laid down palm branches not for another earthly king who demanded respect and authority, bu as heaven's king who came to save. He was Isaiah's suffering servant and prince of peace at one in the same time. He was the child given in flesh as Lord and Savior for all.
Jesus Christ is not some word on a page or an idea to be known or a feeling to have. Christ is THE Word, living, active, and powerful. We meet this Christ as the Word made flesh, the mighty God in humble flesh and blood. He is the Word who battles our enemy death, who bestows grace that triumphs over sin, and who delivers life beyond death and the grave. We see in Him the payment for all our debt so that we might be free to live out our new lives, in grateful response to Him and by the power of His Spirit. We see in Him the God who is not only near to us and but accessible in the means of grace and approachable in the intimate conversation of prayer.
Today He bids us "come, and walk in His light and in His life..." Now we must open our eyes to see what remains hidden to our earthly eyes. This once for all Word not only has the power to set us right before God, it has the power to build bridges between us angry, bitter, and divided people.
We Christians must stop trying to turn Jesus into propositional truths for our minds to which we give mental assent. We need to stop thinking of faith as emotions to fill our empty hearts. We need to stop trying to make Jesus into a new law that makes us moral or a spiritual guide to make us good. He is the Word who spoke creation, who whispered into the prophet's ear, who was raised up as God’s once and future redeemer, and hid that redemption in the cross and empty tomb, who built a bridge between earth and heaven, that the dying might life, the wounded be made whole, and the dirty might be cleansed.
We are here to see the Word of God – not to understand it or to give our consent to it. We are here to see that Word made flesh in Christ, to believe and trust in that Word made flesh, and to walk in Christ all the way. Today that journey begins in Advent’s promise, it takes us to the Christmas manger, it leads us to the Lenten cross, it shows us Easter’s glory in the open tomb...and then we find out it is all ours for today and for eternity. This is the Word that for now is seen only by faith until the day when we shall see it with our eyes forever. Amen.