A Reading from Isaiah 6:1-13
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
9 And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ 10Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” 11Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; 12until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. 13Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
After a devastating forest fire, there are some species of trees that can regenerate by re-sprouting. This is due to the nutrients stored in their extensive root systems. The newly commissioned Isaiah uses such imagery today to proclaim God’s word about hope following destruction when he proclaims: “The holy seed is its stump.”
Eleven days into Advent, we have been reading from the book of Isaiah. One thing that is clear in these early chapters is that God is angry. Why? One reason is that the people of God have not matched their worship rituals with the actions of their lives. “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow,” the prophet cries (1:16-17).
Even though the wrath of the Holy One of Israel is vented, God promises to leave a remnant who will fulfill the destiny planned for God’s chosen ones. Continuing the theme, Isaiah later prophesies: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (11:1-2). Jesse is the father of David, the royal ancestor of Jesus.
Similar words are prayed for us when we are baptized: “Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works” (BCP, p. 308). May we be found among the faithful remnant whose spiritual roots have grown deep and stored rich nutrients for the day of desolation.
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas.
Photo – Peace Bridge Derry