Advent 9: Psalm 17,18 & Isaiah 40:1-11

From Elise Davis

Isaiah was written centuries before the cross of Christ; long before anyone had heard of a carpenter’s son named Jesus.  In fact, at this point in the story, the Israelites were in exile because they had (once again) gone against the laws and prophets God had given them. So it’s odd to me that Isaiah 40 is written in the present tense.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned…”

Not “her warfare will be ended”, not “her iniquity will be pardoned.” It is.

During Advent, we are meant to be walking in the steps of these Israelites who were feeling the depth of the rift between themselves and their God, but who were being told at the same time that healing was already in motion. I can’t imagine the confusion they must have felt at what seemed like contradictory messages: their exile communicating to them, in no uncertain terms, that they had not acted rightly and as a result had to wait for redemption and release; on the other hand, their prophet telling them to take comfort, that the battle was over.  

This feels like a paradox. There is tension in it that doesn’t really make sense.

This is the tension we are to step into this Advent.

I don’t find it very hard to empathize with that tension between what is and what is promised, because it’s pretty similar to what we live in now. We have the advantage of hindsight: we can see how the Israelites’ exile was a part of the story leading from the gates of the garden to Jesus. We can watch God’s faithfulness through the centuries in their stories. But we still feel the hurt of seeing the not-yet-fully-healed, both in ourselves and in our world.  

It’s in these dark, scary places that God asks us to hope the hardest. God asking, “things look pretty bad – do you trust me to fix them?” seems to be a running theme in both the Old Testament and the New. Before Jesus walked willingly into the hands of the Pharisees who would have him killed, he told his followers “take heart, I have overcome the world.” There goes that weird verb tense thing again. Things were going to get pretty ugly and pretty scary. But he wanted them to know he was in control. He had already overcome.

I think this is the essence of Advent – this waiting for a future that has already been promised. We aren’t banking on a long shot or hoping for a miracle. We are waiting without doubt; waiting with nothing but expectation. It’s a lot to ask, to be certain. But he asked the Israelites to wait too, and they had a whole lot less information on how he was going to fix their situation.

Here’s to hoping in the tension, in the wilderness, and in the now-and-not-yet.

I am a southerner recently transplanted to New England, a Boston Fellow, and a membership assistant at a small non-profit. I love books, good food, language, and adventure.