Here is Your God
This morning I sat in a dark hospital room with someone I love who is in a dark place. Months upon months of crushing, debilitating, body and soul-sucking migraines. Often she can barely open her eyes. The smallest shaft of light makes her skull feel like it will explode; the most innocuous of everyday sounds assaults her ears like the trumpets of Armageddon. She spends day upon day of groping around in a morphine-tinged fog. My heart aches for what she is going through. I pray for her often.
I do a lot of praying and inviting prayer requests in my position. Whether during corporate worship or in Bible studies or in one-on-one interactions, I often ask, “What can I/we pray for?” Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes I don’t want to open the door, because I know that an avalanche of pain is about to come rushing in. In so many circles, “what can we pray about?” is not an opportunity to celebrate the joys of discipleship or praise God for ordinary blessings; it is, rather, an invitation to unfurl a laundry list of who’s going through hard times. My wife… My neighbour’s kid… My brother… My mom… my co-worker… They’re dying… they’re sick and nobody can figure out what’s wrong… they’re lonely… they’re depressed… they’re bankrupt… they don’t see any hope. On and on it goes. A litany of pain that never ends.
This afternoon, I’ve been making my way through this week’s texts from the lectionary in preparation for a sermon. Isaiah 35:1-10 offers a view that, from where I sit today, is simply too good to be true.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing…
The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
Streams in the desert. Sight for the blind. Sound for the deaf. Relief from the pain. Yes, I’ll have some of that, please. And soon, if you don’t mind. We’ve had quite enough of the bad stuff by now, I should think. Surely, it’s enough. What do you say, Jesus? We’ve been praying this whole “your kingdom come” business for quite some time now. You look nice in the manger and all that, and we’re very glad that you went to all the trouble of coming, but how about a bit of fixing and reclaiming and redeeming? How about a bit of that new heaven and new earth, no-more-tears action?
What do you say, Jesus?
I read on, to the gospel text in Matthew:
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Oh, so that’s what you say, Jesus. Well, again it all sounds very good. It sounds like what your disciples saw was an awful lot like what old Isaiah was talking about, to be honest. Which is pretty cool. And, well, you know I’m very glad that your disciples could go back to John and report on what they had seen. It must have incredible to see such things! But, you see that’s part of the problem. I look around, and I’m afraid to report on what I see. I see a whole lot of pain and suffering. I see a whole lot of brokenness and poverty and conflict. I see people I love weeping tears of sadness. I see death. I don’t want to take offense at you—you know I don’t. But what I see… Well, you know what I see. Not a lot of blind people gaining their sight, not a lot of lame people walking. Am I looking in the wrong places? Am I focused on the wrong things? I don’t even need something so spectacular as that stuff Isaiah was going on about. I don’t need the desert to rejoice or blossom like a crocus. I would settle for some relief from a headache for a friend.
I kept reading. The next reading was from the book of James:
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
Ah, yes. Patience. Yes, right. I know that patience is a virtue worth cultivating. I know about hope deferred and delayed gratification and all that. But I am so miserably impatient. I want the harvest now, because we need this crop. God, how we need it. My heart doesn’t seem to be strong enough for this waiting. I think, dear God, that you and I are operating with different understandings of what the word “near” means. How long can you keep asking us to be patient?
I went back to the beginning, back to Isaiah’s vision.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.
Well, ok then. I will claim these words, will lean on this strength. And I will pray it for those sitting in dark rooms in dark places this Advent season. I will pray it for those whose hearts, like mine, just don’t seem strong enough for the waiting. I will pray it because I know that the one to whom Isaiah pointed also cried out for relief. I know that the one who held the hopes and fears of all the years also prayed to avoid suffering, and then walked directly into it for the sake of all the weak hands and feeble knees and heads bowed down in pain that our world has ever seen.
Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.