The Fire That Devours Our Stubble

Ah, you who drag iniquity along with cords of falsehood,
   who drag sin along as with cart-ropes, 
who say, ‘Let him make haste,
   let him speed his work
   that we may see it;
let the plan of the Holy One of Israel hasten to fulfilment,
   that we may know it!’ 
Ah, you who call evil good
   and good evil,
who put darkness for light
   and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
   and sweet for bitter! 
Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes,
   and shrewd in your own sight! 
Ah, you who are heroes in drinking wine
   and valiant at mixing drink, 
who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
   and deprive the innocent of their rights!
Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,
   and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,
so their root will become rotten,
   and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the instruction of the Lord of hosts,
   and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 
Isaiah 5:18-24 (NRSV)

There have been times when I could really relate to the Judah depicted in Isaiah. Times when I've internalized life's chaos and heartaches until I've become jaded and desensitized to the boundaries between right and wrong, joy and sorrow. I've even been cynical about God's inclination to enact change and renewal in the world or my life. Maybe you've been through seasons like that too.

For Judah, the eventual result of this behavior was a sweeping destruction that exiled many of its people to Babylonia and jeopardized its national identity. But that wasn't the end of the story. After many years, the same pattern of conquest and empire expansion that uprooted Judah, cultivated the appropriate conditions for the Messiah's coming. In particular, the cohesive infrastructure and streamlined communications of the Greco-Roman empire helped the Jesus phenomenon reach countless people. God incorporated Judah's failure and consequent turmoil into His glorious plan. Salvation was born of destruction. What a marvel!

More marvelous still is the fact that God mirrors this enigmatic pattern in our individual lives. Sometimes we self-destruct with our frailties and bad attitudes. Sometimes life descends into chaos through no fault of our own, but God isn't willing to end the story there. Instead, our heartaches form the fire that devours our stubble, so that salvation and renewal can blossom.

During the Advent season, we are prompted to wait for this salvation, not with the scornful taunt, "Let Him make haste," but with a reverent and patient faith in its inevitability. Then, we will surely encounter the Messiah, whose very presence heals our darkest wounds and answers our deepest longings.

Please pray this Advent prayer with me:

Oh God, Your love is unfathomable. When we falter, you are steadfast. When we doubt, you are faithful. Open our eyes to the marvelous story of your salvation through Jesus Christ, who is our precious strength and Redeemer. Amen.