Monday, December 5, 2011

This Advent, I'm Not Waiting for Peace: Isaiah 40:1

At this point in the Advent season, tradition emphasizes people waiting for the peace associated with the coming of Christ. As I at least hinted at last week, I believe the real impact of Advent is not waiting for Christ, but embodying the return of Emanuel. When I sing, "O Come, o come Emanuel," I am not singing for a human to come out of the clouds, as if I believed heaven were literally above the sky. Rather, I am singing for God to be born in me, that I might be pregnant with God's transformative love and power. The second coming of Christ is not a one time event to happen in the future. This parousia is a continual event. Like the first advent, this advent consists of Christ being born in humans. But this time, unlike the first, it can happen in all of us, not just in Mary.

In light of this understanding of Advent, I don't wait for peace.
"Comfort, O comfort my people," says your God.
"Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And clal out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the LORD's hand
Double for all her sins"
A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 40:1-5)
I am not waiting for peace, because I am making it.

In an attempt to mimic the Hebrew words, Isaiah 40:1 has become hard to understand in English. In the Hebrew, the verb is in a tense known for intensity (Piel). The intensity increases when the word is repeated, not something we do in English. In verse 1, God really wants comforting to happen, given the verb tense.

Apparently comforting is really needed. In v.2, we find out why: "[Jerusalem] has received [...] double for all her sins." Generally one dose of retribution is bad enough, let alone two. For this sort of comforting, generally you expect divine action. The Bible is full of God promising to make up for any sort of suffering of the Israelites, even when it is deserved.

But in this instance, God tells someone else to be the one doing the comforting. Actually, God is telling a group of someones to be comforting; the imperative "comfort" is plural in Hebrew, a construction we don't have in English.

To whom is God talking in the mind of Isaiah the author?

I don't care.

Let's remember that Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah and Tertiary-Isaiah understood the world like people understood the world before the common era (BC/E). You know, back when it would have been acceptable to think evil existed below us, in the center of the earth.

I don't care who Isaiah thought God was talking to, because God can only be telling us, in reality. A few truths from Isaiah 40:15 are: (A) people need comforting and (B) God wants those people comforted. Who is going to do that comforting? Us, the people of God.

It is no wonder that Isaiah 40:1 echoes the common construction of "your God" and "my people" from "I will be your God and you will be my people." The two concepts are inseparable. If God's people are to be comforted, then God will do it through God's people. It isn't just the concepts that are inseparable. God and God's people are inseparable. God exists in God's people.

"I will be your God and you will be my people." Today's Christianity knows this concept better in the idea of "the body." The Church is the body of Christ. They are one and the same. Inseparable. Interdependent.

Don't wait for the advent of God's peace. Be God's peace. People, let it be born in you.

1 comment:

  1. "O holy Child of Bethlehem,
    descend to us, we pray;
    cast out our sin and enter in,
    be born in us today.
    We hear the Christmas angels,
    the great, glad tidings tell.
    O come to us, abide with us,
    Our Lord, Emmanuel!"
    -Phillips Brooks (1835-1903)