It’s as if the author of this passage knew about the water cycle that we learned about in elementary science class!
Did you catch that? “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater…”
It’s as if the author (which interestingly, many scholars believe was not Isaiah himself but an author paying prophetic tribute to Isaiah — many call this section [chapters 40-55] Second Isaiah), it’s as if the author had taken a science class and learned the water cycle. Then brilliantly uses the water cycle as a metaphor for how God’s word works: “...so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
God’s word as water cycle! Draw me a picture of that!
And God’s word today, in this 3rd Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for the Mass of Christ - Christ-mas, as we clean and clear our homes and our hearts for the Messiah-child, as we wrap up another semester in the Old Testament (today’s our last OT text for a while, as we move into the NT until at least the summer...) As we scurry around all busy and excited — it can be a really great time of the year — God meets us in the word, God waters us with hope and promise, and God RESTORES us anew.
This is a restoration text, it is a restoration story. (Last week I talked about resurrection, not resuscitation; this week, it’s restoration.)
God restores Israel. Isaiah 55 sings of a return from exile. Christ-mass is coming! After all those years in Babylonian exile, the Persian King finally frees the Israelites. They are in the process of returning home, we believe, when this chapter was penned. And the author is painting a beautiful picture of what restoration looks like, even as they return home to ruins — their holy sites destroyed and grown over by years of both encroaching occupation and desolation. Imagine if we were taken away, others would move in, right? And when we finally return home, 50 years later, there would be all kinds of work to do. Suddenly we’d be the outsiders, the foreigners, as far as the new locals were concerned. This was Israel’s place, returning to the land of Judah — all of this, 600 years before Jesus was born. The plight, the work before them, the despair..
And here’s the prophet again singing, “Hey, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters and you that have no money, come, buy and eat…” Come and feast on God’s goodness and grace! Come to the table of welcome and mercy and hope, the prophet sings.
It’s like water on the blazing fire, it’s cooling the scorching and parched earth, God’s word falls fresh on sorrowful ears and hearts.
Ever had a feast after suffering! It’s the best, right? I was helping my friend Brian move yesterday. He and his wife just got a bunch of land up in Murrieta, and as you may know cross town moves are way tougher physically than cross-country, especially when you’re doing it yourself.
And my best friend was doing it himself, so I went up there to help him out, and all day we were loading the uHaul from the storage unit and his in-laws garage, driving a few minutes and then unloading again. Back and forth. I know you talk about how young I am, and tell me to quit complaining, but Brian and I, who’ve been friends since college now 20 years ago, didn’t feel so young yesterday. We were laughing — we’re both hurting a bit today. (It was actually a lot of fun.)
But then, after a long day, dirty hands, nasty sweat rings on our t-shirts, long after the sun goes down, he treats me to prime rib, horseradish, freshly brewed IPA, roasted asparagus, a pizookie! Feasting after “suffering” is the best, right?
Come, everyone who is sore and tired, everyone who is famished and depressed, and afraid and alone. Come you who are grieving and you who are angry and you who are anxious. Come to the waters of God’s word, and God’s meal and receive restoration for your souls, your hearts, your minds, even your physical bodies. Come and eat, and drink.
Come to the manger (comes from the French manger “to eat”. Isn’t that interesting?) Come and feast with your tired bones, and worn-out spirits. We’re starting to look more and more like those “shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night,” yeah? Washed up, empty, returning to our trashed homes, overwhelmed...and bitter.
The text alludes to letting go of the bitterness too: “...let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that God may have mercy on them, for God will abundantly pardon…”
When we come to this great feast — we don’t eat alone. No one feasts alone. That’s just a big meal. But a feast, a banquet, is with family and friends, new in-laws, even a few we don’t like. Let it go, God says today. I will forgive them, and your anger and anxiety and stress is wreaking havoc on your body and soul. I love you too much to let you suffer in that way too. This is about total restoration!
Here is our God! Waiting for us, welcoming us, feeding us with grace and forgiveness! This is the Word that comes down from heaven, and it takes root in us, it grows in us. Like the water cycle, the rain doesn’t fall in vain. The rain waters the earth, God’s word waters our troubled existence.
It refreshes our parched spirits.
“Ahhh…” Brian and I kept laughing at how wrecked we were...
God’s word-as-water-cycle gives us hope too that there’s more for tomorrow. We receive enough grace for today, and then more will cycle back again tomorrow. So we can calm down and simply trust in God’s benevolent precipitation of mercy. (That’s what we symbolize and enact with the offering each Sunday.) It’s the ritualizing of ‘enough‘ — God’s given us enough and so we turn and share our money and welcome others in the same way God has shared with and welcomed us.
This is Advent activity: getting ready. Restored and renewed and refreshed even this day. We continue to wait and work and watch with hopeful and joyful hearts. And we continue to approach and revel in this great feast of Love Divine.
For God draws near. Be not afraid: the Word accomplishes.
It is made flesh and dwells with us. Thanks be to God. AMEN.