Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

December 14, 2017 / By: Bob Shoemake

Isaiah 41:13–20

I experience these Advent meditations as a daily invitation and nudge. They come as an invitation because, with the aid of Scripture and shared reflections from St. Thomas colleagues, they present me with an opportunity to deepen my faith and my relationship with God and neighbor. They come as a nudge because, like eating my vegetables or working out, doing what is good for me sometimes takes a push. Today’s invitation/nudge comes from a 2600 year-old text, Isaiah 41:13–20.

Here’s the scene:  It’s the sixth century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). Jacob/Israel (Both names are used for the nation) has been taken into exile by the Babylonian Empire and live there in captivity. The Persian Empire, under the leadership of its emperor Cyrus, is growing in strength and now threatens the Babylonians. In the midst of these geo-political machinations, we hear a prophet who speaks for God.

Let me point out four aspects of this text: who Jacob/Israel is, who God is, what God is doing, and who Jacob/Israel will become. Jacob/Israel is addressed as “worm,” a term that underscores just how insignificant Jacob/Israel is in its current circumstances. Worms are the lowest of the low, feeding on dead things and ritually impure. In contrast to the worm’s impurity is God’s holiness. God is “the Holy One of Israel” and identified to Jacob/Israel as your God. This God means to save Jacob/Israel from its worm state, grasping it by the hand, calming its fear, transforming it from lowly worm to powerful threshing sledge. Instead of abandoning lowly people, God will redeem and restore them. The threshing sledge will clear the way home. Their parched throats will be quenched with rivers and fountains, marshlands and springs. The desert will bloom and flourish with all kinds of trees. In place of their need is abundance, created by “the hand of the Lord.”

A core conviction of this prophet is that God acts in human history. Not only does God act in history but the Holy One of Israel acts on behalf of history’s worms, the lowest of the low. Two questions for reflection: Who are the worms in our culture? What is God doing with them?

Bob Shoemake
Director, UST’s Selim Center for Lifelong Learning.