I will hope in God Let’s pray…. Rev. Stuart C. Buisch
May I take a moment to trace, as near as I am able, my experience of the last nine or more months. These are memories and recollections which we know can be altered by ourselves.
A virus was discovered. I wondered what that would mean. People I talked to said this won’t go away for at least six months. I have since heard predictions of two years all the way to never – usually implying that like every major historical event in human history some things will have changed permanently.
In community with other clergy and church members plans unfolded. Larry offered to tape the services, Brooke and April offered to down load them onto Facebook and our web site. The church went empty of staff and ministry went on in very different ways. Little by little I noticed that the virus was experienced very differently by people, everything from terror to denying conspiracy theories and seemingly everything in between. About that time, I was alerted to a need in a covid19 unit for pastoral care. I applied and was accepted. The loss in mileage pay in north Tonawanda and hours and mileage loss in Tuscarora were now balanced. More to the point the COVID virus has faces, deaths, families and the reality for me of weekly tests – none of which have returned positive.
As anxiety levels climbed, both in the unit and in the community, I have noticed my own concerns. I have thought about my own death in different ways. I have appreciated my family in new ways. Even the exercise walks with the dogs have taken on a life enriching level for me.
Why am I telling you this? Isaiah 8 seems to shed light for me on this experience we are in and it discloses something of the Jewish era before Christ. Israel knew God in their festivals, in their weekly sabbaths, in their practice of faith but that faith was an appendage onto the important things like agriculture, economics, power and living well in Syria and Israel – the part of God’s people who broke off from David’s rule in Judah and the worship in Jerusalem in the temple.
As Isaiah preached judgement, destruction even though the Israelites might try to figure it out and make their personal plans. They were trying to fix things their way.
Light has come in my tunnel of these days when I have more actively sought to see what God sees in these days. When I have refused to see only my needs and sought God’s face for workers who are not furloughed with pay but all those workers and businesses that have closed completely. For those front line workers, aka essential workers for whom the tips have diminished, sometimes by as much as 40%. Those people who are receiving more sexual harassment because stress levels are so elevated and we refuse to stand in the gap for the vulnerable women and children upon whom this behavior is focused. “Because when all is said and done,” one modern translation reads, “the last word is Emmanuel – God with us.”
We celebrate Advent each year because we have to be reminded that we cannot get too close to this “God with us” Jesus. We cannot possibly trust Christ enough. We cannot possibly see God’s hand working in and through us adequately. We have to be reminded that as Proverbs says, the horse can be made ready for the battle but the victory belongs to God. In this time as in the time of Isaiah, Maher-shalal-hash-baz (spoil speeds plunder hurries) is named before he is born. God is not surprised by the things that surprise us. God is with us. Christ makes what has always been true – God with us - visible during his life time. Today we can and must believe that God is not surprised by COVID. God knows what lies beyond this event and God will still walk with us.
There are various clues to such faith. We are stewards of these truths hidden in scripture. We have the opportunity to pass them on to our children or the children around us. We promise this every time we baptize.
Furthermore, God’s nature is not confined to visibility. Not for nothing did St. John of the cross describe the dark night of the soul. God was present when John could not see or experience the Holy One. Isaiah too had this situation, ‘as for me, I will wait for the Eternal, even though God feels absent, even though the Almighty has hidden their face from the family of Jacob. Isaiah will still put all of his hope in God.
Then things get personal. Isaiah named his child the promise that impacted Israel. Maher-shalal-hash-baz (spoil speeds plunder hurries) is certainly not a name I have heard in any class I attended or taught. But serving God calls our family into the question. We name our children the promises of God when we are asked to. And when they have ‘common names’ they still are fulfilled promises from God. The next generation after ours calls us to mind that God is at work beyond us. In our children we hear the angel armies of God, singing, crying and shouting.
We would do well to join their chorus of praise and in that chorus gain strength for the days that we are in. We would do well to look at the next generation to see what God can do not only in our lives but in the lives of those who follow us. The next generation bears the promise of God in the same way that next advent we will ask again, how is God Emmanuel this year? We will wait to hear the answer and find strength from God in that answer. In the name of the Knitter of the Universe, the Pain-bearer of humanity and the Breath of today and tomorrow, amen.
Almighty God, you sent your servant John the Baptist to prepare the way for the coming of your Son; grant that those who proclaim your word may so guide our feet into the way of peace, that we may stand with confidence before him when he comes in his glorious kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Judge and our Redeemer.
Praise and honor to you living God for the John the Baptist, and for all those voices crying in the wilderness who prepare your way. May we listen when a prophet speaks your word, and obey. New Zealand Prayer