Advent – Isaiah 10:1-4

posted in: Isaiah, Old Testament | 1

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We live, as I reflected yesterday on the preceding passage, in interesting times. Our earth groans. Culture is cracking and breaking. We live on the right side of history, but the wrong side of His story, in so many ways and in so many cases. Life is painful. Life is brutal. Life ends. Babies are born today who will likely live well over one hundred years. Babies will be born today who won’t see tomorrow morning. Our world is incredibly complex, incredibly fractured, incredibly connected, and beyond the wit of man to fully comprehend.

Aha, you say!

Now we jump to a nice bible passage that tells us of God’s goodness and grace, and we pack up and go home.

Don’t we?

But life isn’t like that.

Often, our picture of God is quite wonky. We see him as an Eye in the Sky. A cruel king or unelected despot, interfering and destroying our lives.

Over the weekend before Christmas I was lucky enough to be wonderfully hosted by my in-laws, and to watch a brilliant action thriller, called Eye in the Sky, which forced those of us watching it to ask questions about ethics on both a global geo-political scale, and the day-to-day realities of life on the ground.

Have you seen the trailer?

 

 

But God is not like that. In fact, he forces us to think about the way we act and vote and engage in the world. The next passage from Isaiah, prophetic words from God’s heart, are not as ‘festive’ as we might desire, but

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.

You may think it a strange passage to reflect on ahead of Christmas, but this is something I’ve been wrestling with before and throughout Advent. Christmas films don’t feature drone attacks, political machinations, or moral decisions. They are meant to keep us laughing, rooting for a hero amongst mild peril, and enjoy spectacular fantasy landscapes.

We don’t want to see a child sprawled on a hospital bed, dead and wounded.

We don’t want the reality of the world to impinge on the way we live, worship, and get merry.

Look how this passage ends. The words preceding it are fire and brimstone, a metaphorical Hellfire missile of divine judgement targeted on those of us complicit in systems and cultures that crush the poor. There is a scene in the film Eye in the Sky where the drone pilot’s finger hovers over the trigger, preparing to release his payload, but reluctant.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised…

God has every right to punish us for the darkness we’ve made of his world. God has every right to be angry. He could, with an infinite multiplication of force compared even to the Western military, strike. But.

His hand is still upraised.

In that simple sentence the whole of Salvation history, the Gospel of Hope, is contained. The true miracle of Christmas is wrapped up in this raised hand. The smiting hasn’t happened. The creator still broods over his creation. Angry, yet justified.

Christmas is just around the corner. Will we see what God holds in his hand? The New Year is just after Christmas. Will we take the words of Isaiah 10 seriously as a prompt in our public and political engagement?

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