November 30, 2016
Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
We have come to know this first week of Advent as the week of hope. We hear the prophet Isaiah in today’s reading express hope in the form of a barren woman who will bear more children than one who is fertile.
In ancient Israel, a woman who was unable to have children was a disgrace. Children helped run the farm and do the chores. A woman who could have lots of children was considered especially blessed. God is saying that a woman who was unable to have children will end up having more than anyone else.
This barren woman isn’t told to wait until she gets pregnant. She’s told to start remodeling now. Almost a “build it and they will come” mentality.
What are we to make of such outlandish promises? There are times when the outcome of God’s promises is truly beyond comprehension. But the true nature of God’s power is most on display when we have run out of any cause to hope, when the way ahead is only dark. And yet those promises keep pressing their way into our consciousness. Then when the skies clear, what God shows us catches us off guard, so stunning in their display of divine richness.
Our reading ends with the reference to the days of Noah, and as you might remember from yesterday’s reading from Genesis, God gave Noah a sign of God’s promises in the form of a rainbow—one of the most beautiful creations of nature that the eye can see.
These words call us to press on in times of hopelessness, not because we can summon up strength, but because we cannot. In those times, all we have left to trust is God’s word alone and the assurance that it is in the darkness that God is doing something unexpected. Our eyes will have to adjust to the results of God’s marvelous works of wonder.
We may feel that the Lord cannot do very much through us. These verses contradict those feelings. The Lord called Jerusalem to prepare for her children even when it looked as if she would never have them.
What limits have you placed on your life that God has not placed? Consider that you may have you closed in on yourself, thinking that life is really about going through the routine of your day, doctor’s appointments and hospital visits, work around the house. and having a few friends and not much else.
If you read these verses carefully God tells you differently.
God says go someplace you haven’t gone before. Do something you haven’t done before. Enter a realm that scares you. Break out of the box! Take on a new challenge. Seek to serve the Lord in a new way.
When I read verses like these verses from Isaiah, almost immediately my mind jumps to thoughts about the struggling churches in our synod. I think about the rich history many of them have, the mission and ministry they’ve done in their communities, the many lives they’ve touched. But too often they have become rather comfortable in their existence, somewhat like that barren woman in our passage.
These words are also a call to our congregations learn new ways of doing things. Things that worked fine 10 or 20 years ago, when there were 350 in the pews, don’t always seem practical now. Don’t be discouraged because things change. Change is okay.
Take on a new ministry. Spare not—don’t hold back. This will require a certain diligence and discipline. Going beyond ourselves means depending on something beyond ourselves. Be open to God using your church in new ways. It could be possible that sometimes old “tent walls” should come down in order to make room for new. But as God assures us through the words of the prophet, “my steadfast love shall not depart from you.”
And so we pray: Almighty God, your Holy Spirit equips the church with a rich variety of gifts. Grant that we may use them to bear witness to Christ in lives that are built on faith and love. Make us ready to live the gospel and eager to do your will, so that we may share with all your church in the joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
(From Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pew edition, page 76)