Written by Simon Jones
So, do you remember those halcyon days when you entered a café or bar that was full of people? Everywhere you looked people were talking and your ears were washed by a sea of disconnected words. Well that’s how Isaiah 40 opens. We enter a new scene in the book, 150 years after the first part ends and we are greeted by a host of voices clamouring for our attention. Here we are not so much invited into a conversation as assailed by a cacophony of speakers – 1-2, 3-5, 6a, 6b-7, 8, 9-11 – maybe five or six in all.
And at the heart of this is v6b-7, the voice of someone offered a job who gives God a piece of his mind in a bid to turn it down. But it’s the voice that grows stronger and more confident as this remarkable poem unfolds over the next 15 chapters.
The voice in v6b-7 is the voice of everyone who feels that God has paid them too much attention and he wants him to leave us alone. Like Colin, an ad sales executive on the last paper for which I worked, gay, disabled, HIV+ who gave me a mug as a Christmas present that I still use to remind me there is no cure for Aids. I wished him a happy Christmas, told him what I’d be doing and he said he didn’t do Christmas because nothing good happens in the world and God was not as useful as his crutch. He didn’t live to see another Christmas…
The prophet puts into words what many feel: there’s no good news, look around you, all people are frail and fragile and God keeps blowing them over, like a scorching wind (6b-7). And too often the source of the lashing wind is the church, God’s would-be mouthpiece, which snipes and snarls about lifestyles and choices without understanding what it’s like to walk in the shoes of those it is addressing.
The prophet who opens the collection of words in this amazing book (back in ch 6) volunteered to take a message of judgement to people who won’t pay any attention. But this new prophet doesn’t want that gig. The voice of v6f is certainly aware of what’s gone before – don’t send me with a message like that, a message of the scorching wind that blows people away. Don’t send me with a word of judgement.
But his voice is only one of many in these verses and the others clamouring for our attention are suggesting that God has something altogether different in mind. So Isaiah 40 opens with an invitation to listen, to tune in to the voices echoing around us, voices of dislocation and disillusion; to tune into the voice within us, fragile and uncertain; and to find God’s voice in it all.
So, this is a great text for an advent journey. And we often speak of our advent journey, getting from here to Christmas having passed through some kind of preparation along the way. But that’s not the journey the voice speaks of here. The voice that cries out in v3-4 tells us that something is stirring, that God is on the move, speaking comfort, sweeping into the lives of the unsettled, the broken, the forgotten. It’s a voice picked up in the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel, as John the Baptist blazes a trail for Jesus to arrive with a message of the coming Kingdom and a new world order, a world of peace and justice.
And so as we walk into the café or bar with its clamouring voices, we also hear the sound system playing a selection of Xmas hits, including this one from Deacon Blue:
You’ll know it’s Christmas
when the snows are beginning
and someone’s singing a song.
If there’s a star in the sky
if the air is filled with the mystery
if there’s a babe in the church with a choir
you’ll know it’s Christmas…
If there is love in this world
if there is something worth struggling for
If there’s someone you’re holding close
you’ll know it’s Christmas
Really what Ricky Ross really captures in his sly and subtle way is the spirit of advent. Advent is our invitation to get ready to meet him because he’s at our door, in the things we think worth struggling for, in the people we hold close. In advent we get ready to welcome our God not as a conquering king but as a baby in a manger with the attendant choirs of angels, at the centre of an ordinary family’s celebration of new life and hope for a better future.
Advent is an invitation to tune into the only voice that matters among all the other voices clamouring for our attention. And as Ross sings in a different Christmas song,
I can’t carry you
you’ve gotta make your own way there;
this boy belongs to you
move a little closer, don’t be scared.
what better invitation do you need this advent to tune into the only voice that really matters?
This post is part of an advent series. Twenty-Four diverse voices have been invited to share some thoughts on one of four themes (Hope, Peace, Joy and Love) each day during the season of Advent. Each contributor has been given just one theme and no further parameters – they may write as much or as little in the style of their own choosing.
If you haven’t done so already Sign up for reflections direct to your inbox.*
*After 24th December 2020 you will continue to receive the latest blog posts from thebrokenchurch.net, you can unsubscribe at any time following the link at the end of your email.