I find myself, because of another project I am working on, reading ahead in the lectionary texts and commentary (I know, church nerd). And last night, as I was relaxing and winding down toward sleep in preparation for a big Sunday of Joy, I was reading Isaiah 63:7-9:
7 I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD,
the deeds for which he is to be praised,
according to all the LORD has done for us—
yes, the many good things
he has done for Israel,
according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
8 He said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will be true to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
9 In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.
Apparently, in the context of the full Isaiah 63, this is not quite the cheery-First Sunday after Christmas text that it appears to be at first glance. When read in context, what we really hear is the love of God through his continual sadness that we as humans often just don’t get it — we don’t understand our purpose, we don’t understand the gifts of our lives, we don’t understand that kindness and love are the most important qualities of our humanity. And, that we don’t understand that all that divine goodness is wrapped in a human package, and we will therefore make mistakes.
After reading Pastor Amy’s opinion column in the Associated Baptist Press, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ebb and flow that seems to be going on in our congregation lately, and I can’t help but think that maybe, if some of the people who have departed lately or who are in the process of departing, or who are thinking about departing for whatever reason, if those people perhaps read all of Isaiah 63, they might see things differently. They might understand that the community of faith is an organic thing, not a perfect thing — that the only perfect thing is God’s love. The rest of us will screw it up sometimes. And if God can forgive, well, maybe we could give it a try.
So I will go on thinking about Isaiah 63, even as I sing and pray my way through this third day of Advent, the day of Joy. And going forward, I am going to try my best to welcome my mornings with this prayer from Isaiah: “I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us.”