Wait: Not your normal 4 letter word!Epiphany
Do you remember the movie Chariots of Fire that told the story of Scottish athlete and missionary Eric Liddell. Today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah 40 was the passage Liddell read when he preached at the Scots Kirk in Paris on the Sunday he would have run his premier race during the 1924 Olympics.
Liddell had refused to run the 100 metres, the race he was favoured to win, because the races were held on Sunday. He would not desecrate the Sabbath by competing on the Lord’s Day. He went on to win the 400 metres that was held on a weekday. We don’t know why Liddle chose this passage in Isaiah, but it is obvious that what was most important to him was his relationship with Christ.
Isaiah chapter 40 was written about the Israelites while they were in exile in Babylon. The Israelites were enslaved and far from home. This is a message to people who are tired and weary, scared and stressed and overworked. They were anxious about the future, feeling lost and alienated from God. They were strangers in a strange land.
The prophet calls the Israelites to know and to remember what they had forgotten. “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?”
Isaiah goes on to describe what God has done and the power of God. The passage begins with good news. God is the answer. God is the sustainer. God is the creator. He is the solution. He addresses those who are weary, who grow faint and tired.
Is Isaiah also speaking to us? How do we find direction when we are weary and tired and don’t see the way forward?
The answer to that is tucked in the middle of this passage, “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” What does it mean to wait on the Lord? Haven’t we waited long enough? What does waiting look like? How do we wait for the Lord?
Whenever the Israelites got ahead of themselves and tried to figure out things on their own, they got crossways with themselves and crossways with God. Perhaps there is something else we need to discover about waiting on the Lord.
We want to believe in a life filled with certainty and life has been anything other than certain. That’s why many of us feel so exhausted. We feel the precarity, the fragility of our lives, and that things have been taken away, maybe not in an instant, but slowly over the course of time.
I recently came upon the concept of outcome language and pretend certainty We use outcome language to define our lives as measurable, defined, and guaranteed. We pretend certainty because we believe we are resourceful people and we will figure it out. How do these concepts reveal who and what we trust?
Waiting on the Lord is not measurable. Waiting is dependent upon the relationship we build with God. We rely upon God when we nurture that relationship. But, we keep going back to darkness, and giving in to our pain and panic. Trust in the Lord renews our strength. It is what God will do in the midst of our exhaustion.
What does it mean to wait on the Lord? It means we have come to believe that we can trust God. We are not deserted people. We may be discouraged people, but we aren’t deserted people. There is a difference.
When we feel we have been deserted we lose our patience with God and one another. When we lose patience, we begin to lash out both at God and other people. We give up on ourselves and what God has gifted us with. We don’t remember what God has already done for us.
We are reminded that God does not grow faint and weary. Those who place their faith and hope in God, those are the ones who have their strength renewed. Throughout the entire chapter, the prophet doesn’t want to focus on things as they are, the current state of affairs but to focus on what will be. We can be realistic about the state that we are in, acknowledge our feelings, our weariness, our fear, and pay attention. We don’t deny reality or get seduced by false narratives that takes our sights off of the Living God.
In the closing verses of Isaiah 40, I was drawn to just how active it is: walking, running, even flying. We may find ourselves asking, where does one find the energy, the strength, the stamina, even the courage to walk, run, or even fly? Today, so many are exhausted, stressed, overworked, and tired, scared, overwhelmed by just about everything.
Frederick Buechner writes,
So, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in Christ’s role as fully as we know how. To wait for Christ is as best we can to be Christ to those who need us to be Christ to them most and to bring them the most we have of Christ’s healing and hope…
What this looks like in behavior is to serve and to be Christ to those who need us to be Christ which reminds me of Simon’s mother-in-law in the story in the gospel.
Simon invited Jesus to his house to welcome him, to be hospitable, all the while knowing his mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever. He knew that Jesus healed people and hoped that would be the case for his mother-in-law. They arrive at his house and the first thing Jesus does is take her by the hand and lift her up. The actual word is Jesus “raised” her which is an image looking forward to what would happen to him. Jesus began this healing ministry in a personal way in the community of the disciples. Do you need to be lifted up? Do others need you and I to lift them? The first thing the mother-in-law did after she was healed was to serve the disciples by cooking a meal for them.
When our own fatigue and exhaustion gets in our way, remember that Isaiah means that God is enough. God is the one who provides what we need the most. Our response is service.
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.