A Homily for the Second Week of Advent
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the seed which brings forth new life in the desolation. Amen.
Prophets have a hard job. Think about it: Moses is sent back home to tell the Egyptian royal court – people he likely knew growing up – that the Lord was about to send plagues against them. Samuel’s first task was to tell Eli, his mentor and guardian, that the Almighty had turned his back on him and his sons. Elijah and Elisha both flee for their lives. And so it goes: Isaiah, serving in the temple, is confronted with an overwhelmingly awful (that is, awe-filled) vision of the heavenly throne.
And his first reaction? “Woe is me!” He is keenly aware that he and the entire people of Judah are unworthy and that he was gazing upon the very definition of Goodness, Power, and Might.
And then it got worse. Because then the angels said,
Don’t worry, you’re not gonna die. Here, let me just burn your lips with this flaming coal. All better? Good. We just want you to go tell Israel and Judah that calamity is coming. Oh, they’re not going to understand you. But keep on preaching coming disaster until…well, until disaster strikes. What’s that? Oh, yeah, you’ll know when it’s time because the cities will be in ruins and the people gone. Honestly, it’s going to be like a wildfire burned everything, and then a second fire swept through to burn whatever stubble and twigs were left.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been through an area ravaged by wildfires, but scars mar the landscape years, even decades, later – scorched trees, barren hillsides, fallen logs. A massive series of wildfires tore through Yellowstone National Park the year I was born; in total, 36% of the park was burned (put into practical numbers, that’s 800,000 acres, or 1,250 square miles – a little larger than Rhode Island, or six times the size of Bibb County). When I visited the park seventeen years later, interpretive signs showed before-and-after pictures to illustrate what the park looked like in the months leading up to the inferno and while it was engulfed in flames – and visitors such as myself could see with their own eyes how the landscape had been permanently altered.
Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, to tell people that their home was destroyed, their entire world changed forever by a raging inferno. How much worse must it be to in Isaiah’s position: not only does he come bearing bad news of coming disaster, but he does so on behalf of the Almighty, who was supposed to protect the descendants of Israel, as if to say,
So, uh, I know our entire way of life is supposed to be based around a relationship between our people and the Lord, and that all of our national stories are about how God saved our ancestors, but that’s not going to happen this time.
But if you have ever been through an area ravaged by wildfires, you have likely also seen how quickly nature bounces back. In Yellowstone, seeds protected in the ground took root within days, and green blades of new life followed shortly after. The scars remain, but new growth comes through the ash. It’s as though all of creation points to the miracle of the Resurrection, bearing holy witness to God’s ultimate plan for humanity.
Disaster may strike. In Israel, shortly after Isaiah was called to ministry, the Assyrian army swept through and laid waste to the northern kingdom. Just to the south, in Judah, Jerusalem was besieged. It was an event that changed everything – the scars are still visible today, some 2,700 years later.
But even in the destruction, hope remained, like a green shoot coming out of the ash, a holy seed bearing lively witness to God’s ultimate plan.
During this season, we turn with eager expectation as we wait to celebrate the arrival of that holy seed, the one who brings new life through the ash.