I am startled by the Scripture readings for December 1st and 2nd in Common Prayer.* Isaiah 1:1-20. A hard word, a weighty word, heavy with the justice of God.
Here is a broken Father, crushed by the inconsolable affliction of His rebellious children. Here is the Father weeping over the burned city.
And yet these tattered lepers insist on parading their so-called sacrifices through the courts, keeping up the charade of a glittering festival.
"Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted."
Stop the insanity!
"From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness."
No soundness. Only noise.
No wholeness. Only fractures.
No peace, no shalom. Only the dizzying dance of hypocrisy even as the enemy draws closer.
Righteousness is under siege, and yet the parties and platitudes continue. The fatherless and widow cry out, but who has ears to hear?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble. tremble.
For who can stand against such an injunction? And who am I in the holiday parade?
And yet the word of justice contains a word of mercy. (Blessed be the faithfulness of God.) Here is a diagnosis, and that is grace to the gaping wounded. Here is the naked, ugly truth, and therein lies salvation.
I have known this word. I have sat in complete judgment, rightly accused by the righteous law, the weight of each commandment broken piled on me in succession. And oh, it was hard to bear. I would not have believed in the grace of such judgment had I not known His face. Truth makes free, but only in the ears of the humbled.
"Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be white as snow;
though they are like crimson,
they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword."
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
If I had not already known His kiss, I could not have received His rebuke.
And yes, every word of rebuke also breathes healing, if we come close enough to be washed in His tears. His face is turned to us, even in rebuke.
This is mercy - that He speaks at all.
This is favour - that He rips off our crumbling facades and exposes our aching bones.
This is love - that His word became flesh and bone to bear our sin, to stare us down and call our names, and to restore the ears our own swords have devoured. He does not turn away. He does not forsake.
This is love - do not miss it! This is the Word who will heal.
This is the Word of peace for the trembling.
So I pray, in this season, for ears to hear,
for ears to receive the Word,
no matter how He speaks.
* Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shaine Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro