Tuesday of Epiphany V – Isaiah 40:21-31

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 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 dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

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

25 To whom then will you compare me,
    that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
    calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
    and because he is strong in power
    not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
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.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they 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.

Kurt pulled up short and looked at me while he spoke. “The Holy Spirit has left my village.” Those words were spoken with deep weariness and finality. We were standing on the dike which separated his village from the river Elbe, just upstream from Hamburg, Germany. Kurt is the father of a friend of ours whom we were visiting, and he had been giving us a walking tour. The conversation had turned to the local congregation of which he was one of the only faithful members. His wife was the organist. He was the doctor in town. The church would be full for a funeral, a wedding, or on confirmation day. But Sunday after Sunday, it would be just a handful of folks. The confirmands’ promises were neglected. My friend’s father had pretty much given up hope. It felt like God had left his village.

Isaiah’s folks felt a little like Kurt. Things had gone terribly wrong for them. Their land had been ravaged, and their hopes shattered. In vs 27 above, the people give voice to despair. They felt their ways were hidden from God and their right disregarded by him. This entire reading is address to this despondency and discouragement. It also speaks to Kurt’s. It is addressed to yours too. God is far greater than our understanding. He calls forth the starry host and stretches out the heavens like a curtain. Compared to him all humans are like grasshoppers, insects by comparison. The life of a human is like a puff of air, a tuft of grass which the wind dries and carries away.

So far, that does nothing to help Kurt, you, me, or the Israelites of long ago. God is great, so what! That might only magnify my discouragement when my life is not so great. Have I made Him angry? Has He forgotten about me? But after the words of discouragement, Isaiah says something very important to all of us. God, who has all the might and never grows weary himself, strengthens the faint-hearted and gives strength to weak. Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. More than that, they shall do what they never imagined they could do. They shall rise up on eagles’ wings and fly. They will run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint. In these days of pandemic I am looking forward to that gift from God. I pray for it to come every time I say, “Thy kingdom come…” and “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” He does give strength. I have felt it in my own life and seen it in others. It is a foretaste and a promise of more to come. Amen, come Lord Jesus!

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