I’m usually a little behind when it comes to media crazes. I didn’t start watching The West Wing until the show had run its course. A serial political drama with complex, interesting characters was right up my alley. One of the things President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, would say when he wanted to talk privately with one of his staffers was, “Walk with me.”
Today is the first Sunday in Advent and our Scripture passage is from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a Hebrew prophet who lived in the Kingdom of Judah during the 8th century B.C.E. During the time of Isaiah, prophets were recognized as astute observers of the events of the time. They spoke what they understood God’s message to be for the people and expectations God had, especially the actions, from the people. Prophets did not hold back and often the message was harsh and not well received. After all, who wants their less-than-compassionate behaviors and actions to be revealed!
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
~ Isaiah 1:10-20
Most of us will read that passage and think that it is harsh; that Isaiah was alienating his audience right out the gate! But what God is really saying through to Isaiah is, “Walk with me. Let’s walk and talk. Let’s work this out.”
Advent is a time of waiting for God to show up and wondering what God is going to do. But it’s not just waiting and wondering on our side about what God is going to do. God is waiting and wondering too. God is waiting on us and wondering what we’re going to do.
Now that’s something to get our heads around: God waiting for us. God wondering about us.
That’s exactly what this passage is about. God is telling Israel that God has had enough of sacrifices and burnt offerings. The rituals they practiced and festivals they celebrated had become an empty burden to God. What God wanted from them was their faithfulness, their devotion and love. God was waiting for them, in their faithfulness, to reach out to the oppressed, defend orphans and care for widows. In other words, God wanted Israel to look beyond themselves and see a hurting world that needed their help.
Maybe it’s time to take up God on that request; let’s walk and talk. How are you waiting for God to show up in your life? What are your wonderings about what God is doing in the world? Likewise, God is waiting for you to show up to be a presence in the world around you – maybe your home or school, or work. Maybe God is wondering what you’re going to do. What is your answer?
During this time of year, especially in this season before Christmas, it is easy to get caught up in things that are good, but still miss the things that are important. Help me to be faithful to You, myself, and others around me. May I be ever mindful that You continue to seek those who are lost, using even me to bring Your love to those around me. Amen.