ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REV. BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR
Sometimes when I read the bible I’m swept away by the sheer beauty of the words. I’m not alone in this. In fact, you don’t have to be a believer to love the bible. For some people, the scriptures are like Shakespeare. They get caught up in the words: the images, the poetry, the prose.
We believers are always focused on content. That’s as it should be. We’re looking for meaning. We want to know what the scriptures say and how we apply those teachings in our daily lives.
But every now and then I think it’s quite alright for us to simply lose ourselves in the beauty of the words.
Listen again to this morning’s lesson from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Close your eyes, if you would, and notice the striking images, the phrasing, the passion.
“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Whether one believes the bible or not, the literary merit of the scriptures is unquestionable.
Having said that, we’re gathered here this morning because we are believers. We love and trust God. We read and study the scriptures because they inform and strengthen our faith.
“All people are grass,” Isaiah wrote, “their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
God’s word will not fail. God’s promises never change.
We change. We are born. We live. And we die. It all happens very quickly. The older we get, the more apparent that becomes. Our lives are indeed fragile. We’re like grass. We have the permanence of a flower in the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, and then they are gone. It happens so quickly.
But then, time itself is a mystery. As we heard in today’s epistle, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” God’s time is very different than ours.
But God’s promises remain. God’s word will not fail. Despite all the changes and uncertainties of this mortal life, God can be trusted.
Isaac Watts was an 18th century hymn writer. His paraphrase of Psalm 90 is found in just about every hymnal in the English-speaking world. He wrote:
* O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home:
Under the shadow of thy throne thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame,
from everlasting thou art God, to endless years the same.
A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all our years away;
they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
be Thou our guard while life shall last, and our eternal home.
In this season of Advent we often hear the term “Emmanuel”. If you’re familiar with Handel’s Messiah you’ll recognize this brief recitative for alto: * “Behold! A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel: God with us.”
The term Emmanuel means precisely that: “God with us”.
In the closing of Matthew’s gospel Jesus makes a remarkable promise. Before he ascends into heaven, Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, even unto the ends of the earth.”
God’s promises do not fail. God’s word stands forever. And Jesus is with us always. We can count on that.
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