I once heard a story of a father who took his son to Toys-R-Us, and he and his son got separated. This was his first child, and had never happened before, so the father started to panic. Yet, because he could see the doors, he knew that his son hadn’t exited the building. He paced up one corridor and down another… around another aisle… peeping… looking to find him amidst a crowd of people in the Christmas rush – but he could not find his son. He found a security guard and asked him, “Do you have surveillance in the store?” The guard said, “Yes.” He then asked, “Do you have a monitor?” “Yes.” “Can I look at the monitor?” “Yes.” “Can you scan the floor?” “Yes.”
The guard began to scan up and down the aisles, and there the man saw his son, surrounded by toys, but crying. He was clearly in a state of panic. His son was all by himself among people he did not know, in a place that was unfamiliar. The son was feeling lost and alone, and the father did not know what to do. The father asked the guard, “Do you have an intercom?” The guard said, “Yes.”
The father said, “Keep the camera on him.” Then he got on the intercom and said, “Christopher.” His son looked around because he recognized his father’s voice. He continued, “Stay where you are.” The boy started looking around. “It’s Daddy,” he said over the intercom. “Don’t move. I see you although you can’t see me. Stay where you are. I’m coming.”
Though the little boy did not know it, even when he felt most separated from his father, his father was doing everything he could to get back to him. No matter how far we wander, we are never too far for God to still see us and offer the hope of being reunited. God is active and is looking after our lives in ways that we don’t always understand, even when we’re feeling like a child feeling lost in a toy store. God is our protective father, calling out to us, telling us exactly what we need to do, reassuring us of the promise that through relationship with God, everything will be ok. Rather through the prophet Isaiah, or through the store’s intercom system, God reaches out to us urging us to listen.
In our Isaiah reading, we enter into the midst of a nation whose sin has brought them further and further from right relationship with God to the point that they felt completely lost. They remember that God is their God, and they are God’s people, yet their expectations of God have become very one directional. They cry out for God to fulfil his side of the deal, without seeing all the ways they’ve abandoned and actively worked against this relationship themselves. The prophets are God’s way of calling the people to repent, to recognize, to reorient themselves to God and right the relationship that has become so broken.
In Isaiah 64, the children of Israel were much like the little boy in Toys-R-Us; they cried out for help from someone they had wandered away from, someone they could not see, nor could they be sure that they were seen. And while an intercom was sufficient for the father to announce his arrival to his son, the prophet on behalf of the people asks for something far more dramatic. He prays and asks for an announcement of God’s presence in ways that would garner respect and recognition from both the children of Israel and God’s enemies, who they viewed as their own enemies. They cried out for quaking mountains, burning brushwood, and boiling water.
Now, we should not think this request is unusual given the fact that God has been performing awesome deeds on behalf of Israel for quite some time. The plagues on Egypt that forced Pharaoh to let Israel go, the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the flattened walls of Jericho and David’s victory over the giant Goliath all readily come to mind as we consider how God has intervened and saved them in the past, so the lack of God’s intervention now makes them think that this time they may have gone too far, that God’s lack of action means their relationship is irreconcilable.
The nature of the prophets was to help God’s people see that they had turned away from God, and that God was waiting for them to turn back. Isaiah was urging Israel to stop expecting God to be a miracle vending machine, but to recognize God instead as one whom they were in relationship with, that required effort on both sides. God was waiting for them, just as they were waiting for God. As we enter into the season of Advent, waiting is a central theme, and we’ll hear it over and over in weeks to come.
Over and over in the Hebrew bible, God’s people are admonished to wait:
(Psalm 27:14) – “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord”
(Psalm 37:9) – “For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth”
(Psalm 40:1) – “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me and heard my cry”.
Now, the idea of waiting has several implications. The first is that the Lord is worth waiting for. No matter how long it takes, no matter what you have to go through, when you get to the place that God has purposed, planned, and provided, or you receive what God has promised, prepared, and produced, you will gladly testify that it was worth the wait.
Another implication of waiting is the reality that God reserves the right to keep us waiting; time was made for humans, not for God. Thus, God is not in a hurry. Another implication of waiting, which is probably the least popular yet the most applicable to the text, is the reality that while God is great, God can also be gradual. When it comes to God’s moves, God’s methods, and God’s miracles, God can be slow, and we must learn to be patient.
In all our waiting, we are not called to just sit there idly until God makes the first move. Advent waiting is an active time of anticipation, of reflection on our relationship with God in the past and preparing ourselves for what the future might hold. In our waiting, we return to God in every way we can, doing our part to be God’s people, as we trust that God continues to be our God.
Our God is a god of promise. God is going to do what God said. What we go through cannot cancel what God told us, because God’s Word is more powerful than any shortcoming we may have. Nothing is strong enough to revoke, rescind, retract, reverse or repeal God’s promises. God promised to be the God of Israel, and they were to be God’s people. God promised to make us all God’s people through Jesus Christ, calling us to repent, and reconciling us to new relationship with our God.
This passage in Isaiah closes with an impassioned appeal for God to look favorably on the people of Israel, forget their sins against God, and to remember that they are God’s people. I am inclined to believe that the wait had far less to do with God remembering than it did with the people remembering; remembering that God is our caring and concerned parent, watching, searching, and calling out to us like a father in a toy store.
God’s hope is the hope of a Parent, who always hopes against hope that the children will see the error of their ways and return home. Our hope is the hope of a child, realizing we’ve wandered too far and are lost in a toy store, trusting that there is hope that we can be reunited once again. So, we eagerly wait, hoping for a future we don’t yet know, but that we are sure our God will be a part of, turning to us as we turn back to him. Amen.