A Voice Cries
I don’t know how many of you garden, or keep houseplants. I really, really love the idea of it all. I’d love to have a house that’s full of green plants.
The actual implementation, though, has been a bit spotty. I’ve never kept a plant alive very long. There were the poinsettias that I was given after the Christmas season was over–one of them lasted almost eight months, and then abruptly gave up; two others lasted a few weeks. I had three pots of flowers last summer, that all died at the same time (me forgetting to water them obviously had nothing to do with that). Once I got a live Christmas tree in a pot that I killed before Christmas even came. I even remember as a kid having a pot of agave to water–agave, which is one of the hardiest succulents out there, it survives the harshness of the desert on a regular basis–that I completely wiped out. My old roommate, in a true show of faith, because she lived with me for about half of the plant deaths I just described, gave me a pot full of succulents for my birthday this year. Only one of them has died so far?
So… yeah, I’m not the best plant-minder.
And maybe that’s why I find myself drawn to all this talk about dying plants in Isaiah. Bear with me here. About halfway through the passage, God instructs the prophet to cry out, and he responds with the important of logical question of “What shall I cry?” but then talks about dying plants for a while, which is a weird non-transition. Here, let me refresh for you what he said: “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades,… surely the people are grass.” Oh, and again: “The grass withers, the flower fades…” And it’s about here that he finally gets to the point. Because he’s not just talking about plants because he loves them, or for whatever reason really likes talking about dying plants. No, he’s using plants, these fragile, short-lived, easily-damaged life forms to remind us of two things. The first, the most important, is a truth about God: “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” Plants may wither and die, as he reminds us repeatedly, but God will not. God is eternal, and steady, and forever.
The second thing is a truth about us: we are the plants. We are fragile, and short-lived, and easily-damaged. In the face of God, the steady and eternal–even in the face of the universe–we are tiny, short-lived, fragile life forms.
And this truth centers the rest of the prophecy here. It is at the center of God’s grace, which is so evident in the verses before as the people of Israel at last are promised that God’s punishment of exile is done, that they will return to their homeland and that God’s presence will return to them. And it is at the center of God’s return, promised at the end of our passage, where God comes in power and might to tenderly feed his flock.
This truth, too, is at the center of the truth of Advent. “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” We are fragile, short-lived human beings. We face death, we face tragedy and injustice and pain. We so often fold under it, give in–are burned as if by brushfires. In Advent, we remember this truth about ourselves, as individuals and as humanity. But, too, we remember the truth that “the word of our God will stand forever.” Isaiah most definitely didn’t mean this, but the Word of God is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Even to Isaiah, the word of God was something alive and moving, taking part in creation and giving inspiration to prophets–but to us the Word of God is so much more. Christ is the Word, moving among us, remaking us into God’s image and taking away our sin, calling us to repentance and granting us the grace to repent.
And so, this Advent season, as we move towards Christmas, let us remember these two truths: that we are fragile and short-lived, and that our God is eternal and steady.
Amen, and Amen.