Crying Out 

Sunday, December 3, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Isaiah 40:1-11 

Let’s pray…Holy God, you call us to cry out, to declare your good news, to announce that you are here, even when we are unsure of it ourselves. In those in between times of faith and uncertainty, give us hope to hold on to and the vision of your prophets, who assure us that you prepare straight paths through the deserts and wilderness of our lives. Amen.  

 

When I was in about sixth grade, I signed up through the community rec department to compete in my very first (and only) track meet in Pipestone, MN. Way down in the southwest corner of the state. About 12 kids and two college aged coaches loaded into a 15-passenger van and headed for the meet early that morning. One of the coaches drove. The track was just west of town, basically in a corn field beyond city limits. The meet went great. I learned that being a sprinter was never going to be in my future, but at least I tried.  

 

After the meet, we loaded up the van, and headed home. Or so we thought. You see, when we turned out of the parking lot, we took a right – going west – toward South Dakota, instead of a left, back toward home. I noticed, but I didn’t say anything. I figured I was 11! You think they would listen to me? I heard a couple other kids in the back quietly question the direction we were going, too. We continued on for a few miles. We didn’t come back into the town of Pipestone. When one of the kids in the back finally said something, the college coaches dismissed him. By now, we were definitely in South Dakota. We kept driving. There was more rumbling about us going the wrong way, this time it was getting louder so the coaches up front could hear. But the driver didn’t listen. About 15 minutes later (which to those of us who knew we were going the wrong way, it felt like an hour and a half), we came to a town that had a sign that said, “Welcome to Egan, SD!” And immediately the van erupted with a collective, “I TOLD YOU SO!”  

 

 

The role of the prophets in the Old Testament was often a cry that falls on the deaf, stubborn ears of God’s people. They saw things coming. They weren’t afraid to say something. The people didn’t listen and, in the end, when bad stuff happened, the prophets often expressed a holy “I told you so!” 

 

But today’s word from the prophet Isaiah is different. The people have already experienced the hardship of their neglect of their covenant with God. Eighty years in exile in Babylon was enough. God’s anger and frustration with them would not last. Mercy had arrived. It was time to come home to Jerusalem and home to God. God instructed the prophet to cry a word of comfort and redemption. He was to call them back to both the strength and tenderness of God.  

 

But Isaiah didn’t seem so keen on crying out in this way at first. In verse 6, a divine voice says, “Cry out!” and the prophet responds, “What shall I cry? All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it. Surely the people are grass.” In other words, “Why bother. It’s not going to make much difference, and the people are going to just waste away anyway.” Some faith this prophet had… 

 

Ever feel this way? Like the effort to affect change just isn’t worth it, or you doubt people will listen – even when the change you’re called to affect is good and life-giving news to others? It’s inviting that loved one you have to eat a little healthier or address an addiction that’s impacting their lives and yours because you love them and you want them in your life as long as possible.  Or maybe it’s finding a way to talk about deeply held convictions with a friend who holds different convictions in ways that deepen your friendship rather than destroy it. It’s not easy, and it definitely feels risky, right? But living in the in-between, silence is no way to live either.  

 

In a lot of ways, that’s kind of how the whole world feels right now, doesn’t it? Like we’re all stuck in this in-between zone where only the loudest most extreme voices cry out. And their cries are filled with condemnation, when it seems that what we need most are cries for hope and healing and a level way forward through the desert, together. That’s the kind of cry God is demanding.  

 

God does not give up easily on those God calls to cry out – and that goes for us who are baptized in Christ’s name. We are called – to cry out in this season of Advent – in this season between here and not yet, between what has been and what God promises to bring in Christ Jesus, between exile and homecoming. God’s response to Isaiah – and to us – both acknowledges the reality of human fragility and fickleness, and at the same time God speaks a word that lifts our heads out of the fog of resistance – “Yes, the grass withers, and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”  

 

This is the word that delivers from sin and death, the word that brings hope to our weary, withered world, the word that renews and redeems and reconciles all people and all creation to the Creator. In this season of Advent, we prepare the way of the Lord by crying out to others this glorious reality, even when it’s hard to believe anyone is listening. Because if we are silent, if we resist God’s call to cry out for hope, we let those who cry out division and discord, or apathy and antagonism, send us right back into exile from the God who has called and claimed us, and whose saving love make all the difference.  

 

Coming home after exile is never the same. We’re changed by the journey home. We can’t ignore what has been, but we can trust that God is there, ahead of us to lead us, beside to befriend us, around us to comfort us, and within us to give us strength for the journey home, both now as we await Christ’s coming at Christmas, and in the world that God has yet to reveal when Christ will come again to make all things new. Amen.  

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