|Photo courtesy of gameanna / freedigitalphotos.net|
Back during my years as a Cub Scout, we had our Cub Scout Promise; our Cub Scout Motto, and our Law of the Pack. We had to memorize all these—and I still remember them today. But we also had some unwritten rules …
Whenever we were together, our den mother would frequently say, “a good Cub Scout would do this;” or, “a good Cub Scout wouldn’t say that…” She did this so often that her words became a kind of inner voice that would speak even outside of scout activities. It told me to hold the door for adults; pick up trash on the playground; and to always be prepared.
We Christians certainly have our Laws and rules, too: the Ten Commandments; our Baptismal Vows; and the Civil Laws. But don’t we also have some unwritten rules than an inner voice speaks to us?
One unwritten rule we have is that you don’t complain to God. You don’t question. You don’t get angry with God. You don’t accuse God of being silent and uncaring.
But that’s exactly what the prophet Isaiah is doing today!
The reason is simple—the nation of Israel is in dire straits. Babylon has destroyed Jerusalem and taken the people into exile. The prophets told them that all this happened because they had sinned so grievously. Not too long ago, the Persians conquered Babylon, and the new king sent the Israelites home to rebuild Jerusalem. But how do you rebuild from nothing? The people needed a miracle from God, now more than ever. But none ever came. After years and even decades of waiting, the people grew weary. Many believed that God had abandoned them.
Most of us know what they were feeling—and all too well… Trouble rains down upon you like a flood—and it doesn’t stop. You pray and you pray and you wait; you wait for that miracle and that deliverance. But there’s no peace; no direction; no comfort; no hope… Then we reach our breaking point. Not only is it difficult to trust God, it is difficult to love God. You question everything you believe. You wonder if God is against you; if God doesn’t care, or if God isn’t real…
This is exactly what Israel is doing. But Isaiah affirms that it’s normal to question; to doubt; and cry out. It is normal to lament dire circumstances. It’s normal to do all these things together as a community. These are all part of the human experience of faith.
The worst thing you can do is to silence your cries and complaints—because then, you abandon all hope.
We’re invited to do exactly what the Israelites do here: they let their doubts and questions draw them together—and they cry out to God with one voice. They confess their sin. They lament their losses. They look back and remember all that God has done before. And together, they wait—they wait for God to act, and to be the God they need him to be: a God who is gracious and merciful.
This season of Advent is a time for us to do the very same; to confess our desperate need for God’s mercy and love. We’re sinners. We’re hurting. Our world is hurting. We need God to tear open the heavens and come down; to forgive our sins; to deliver us from evil; to deliver us from hunger and disease; to deliver us from our despair and lead us in the way of hope.
The truth is that God has torn open the heavens, and has been born into our humanity in a manger. Jesus is the sign from God that our hurts are not hidden from his sight, and our prayers are being heard. Jesus is the sign that we’re not alone. Jesus is the sign that God will act.
So it’s okay to question and doubt. It’s okay to cry out. This is one of the reasons why we exist as a community—and this is how we get ready for Jesus. God will act—and usually not as a thundering display of power and might, but in more subtle, and surprising ways—just like a helpless baby born in a manger.
So we get ready for God to be who God is. We get ready for the Holy Spirit to give us a new beginning, lead us forward—to transform our lives in ways we never expect. We trust; we obey. We get ready for God to be who God is—gracious, and merciful for Jesus to come and be our Savior. We can depend on him.