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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 40:12–24

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
    and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
    or as his counselor has instructed him?
Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
    and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
    and showed him the way of understanding?
Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as dust on the scales;
    see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
    nor are its animals enough for a burnt-offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him;
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him?
An idol? —A workman casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold,
    and casts for it silver chains.
As a gift one chooses mulberry wood
    —wood that will not rot—
then seeks out a skilled artisan
    to set up an image that will not topple.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble. (NRSV)

In a style that strongly resembles God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind, Isaiah challenges us as readers with a series of rhetorical questions intended to demonstrate God’s immense power. “Who taught God knowledge? Who directed God’s spirit?” The answer demanded, of course, is “no one.” God is far above all that which we experience in the day-to-day; as Isaiah says, “All the nations are as nothing before him. . . . He sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.”

Yet while this passage demonstrates a view of God’s broader perspective and challenges us to think beyond the present, I think it’s also fair to say that in the narrow context of this passage, Isaiah’s proclamation is hardly comforting. God is depicted as distant—or, at best, an orchestrator of events.

That’s why the wider context of this passage is so important. Isaiah’s prophecy is not speaking broadly but in fact quite specifically to Israel: “Comfort, O comfort my people,” “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms.” Rather than a distant, abstract God, we believe that the God we worship is invested in our lives—small as they may be from a wider vantage point.

Many of us—myself included—can struggle at times to make sense of where we see God acting in this world. But the wider promise that Isaiah delivers—and that this season of Epiphany promises—is that God is indeed with us at all times.

Lord, in this time of Epiphany—of remembering Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us—we give you thanks that you are not distant but came to be with us in Christ. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families

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