Called To Labor With God

The Book of Isaiah opens with a scathing indictment of the arrogance and hypocrisy of the people of Israel, calling them a “sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children!”  But almost immediately, God invites his people, “Come now, let us set things right…Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow.” 

Over and over again, Isaiah conveys to God’s people both the indictment of their behavior and the promise of a better age to come.  Today’s first Mass reading from Isaiah provides a beautiful description of that promise: The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf cleared…the mute will sing…streams will burst forth from the desert…the thirsty ground will become springs of water, and so on.  In the midst of destruction and death, there is the promise of life. 

It is important that we not read Isaiah purely as an ancient historical narrative.  Our society is not very different from the society that Isaiah witnessed.  Our world has in many ways turned its back on God, replacing God with the idols of rampant individualism and money.  It is a world that rewards promotion of the self to the exclusion of others; that encourages individual pursuits vs. communal goals.  There are, of course people who remain faithful to God, just as there were during the moral breakdown of Israel.  But our world as a whole worships much that is not good, much that is not God.   A world of war and terrorism.  A world where countries execute their own citizens, where parents mistreat children.  A world to which we can hear God say, as he did to Israel: Ah, sinful nation…evil race…corrupt children.

Just as Isaiah’s words were a comfort to the people, it should be comforting for us to be reassured that God is relentless in the desire to be reconciled with us.  One preacher summarizes Isaiah’s Advent message like this: “No matter how much the world shatters into pieces, we carry in ourselves a vision of wholeness that we all sense is our true home and that welcomes us.”

And just as Isaiah called the people to prepare the way of the Lord, we are called to do the same – not only in Advent, but in each day of our lives.  The beautiful vision of the kingdom in today’s reading requires our active participation.  We can’t sit around complacently and wait for the vision to become reality.   Rather, we are called to labor with God to make it so.  God continues to work through us to prepare for Christ’s reign. 

[Note: This is the reflection I wrote for today for the University of St. Thomas Office for Spirituality Advent Daily Reflections]

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