“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15
“What to be, what not to be, that is the question.” In adapting the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I am echoing a question that is surely on the hearts of many as we face a global pandemic which is changing our lives and history. Some of us have found ourselves more and more busy and some of us have found ourselves with time to spare; both situations seemingly controlled by circumstances outside of ourselves. As God’s Church and Children, what are we to be and what are we not to be? Church, Worship, and life are different. There are harsh realities to deal with and our foundations have been rocked; much of what we have placed our trust and confidence in has been found fragile and even false.
This, though, is also an incredible time of opportunity, and hope; it is a time to wallow in the depths of God’s amazing love and return and rest in the presence of our Lord.
The Church is entering the Season of Advent, a time of expectation and preparation as we look to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, both in Christ’s incarnation and as we look forward to Christ’s return. As we celebrate Advent this year, how might the Church be a blessing to our communities, friends, families and ourselves; how might God be glorified? In the relevant section of Hamlet, amongst other even more serious matters, Shakespeare is comparing the harshness of life with the fear and uncertainty of death; even if life is painful what would death bring? Not a pleasant musing, but then, the Advent liturgy and readings challenge us to look to such matters, specifically: death; judgement; heaven; and hell. How can this be helpful in our current climate; how can we celebrate Advent and discover the riches of God’s rest? The answer is found in returning to God and believing in God’s Sovereignty. In our Lord’s presence we can find rest and blessing that, in turn, will bring glory to God and bless others. Permit me to elaborate and explain.
The beautiful Scripture quoted above is found in a section of Isaiah (Chapters 28-37) which connects to the themes of Advent and where God is shown to be sovereign over history. It follows the previous section (Chapters 13-17) which teaches that there will be a time when the world will be one people worshipping God alone. In the relevant section God is shown to be the real power behind world events, despite how it may seem to God’s people. In these chapters six ‘woes’ are highlighted. In the chapter where our verse is located, the ‘Woe of an Obstinate People,’ is covered; it can also be called the ‘Woe of Faithlessness and Faithfulness.’
This striking verse opens with these words, ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation.’ The word ‘repentance’ is also sometimes translated as ‘returning.’ Have you ever found yourself on a highway, travelling for some time, before realizing that you have been going in completely the wrong direction? When in that situation something has to occur to make you realize your dilemma, equally you have to be open to hearing that you have been going in the wrong direction. Then embarrassment has to be overcome to turn back. In Isaiah, God’s people were being called back to find rest in God. In this rest was their salvation; they had to repent, though, to complete a U-turn on the highway of life.
This Advent Season could be a time for us as a Church and individuals to listen to God and hear God’s voice calling us to walk in God’s way (Isaiah 30: 16). As we face a very serious situation, the focus of Advent can remind us of God’s Sovereignty, Providence, Love and purposes. It can be a time for us to hear God’s voice and return to God where we are given rest knowing that we are ‘taken care of’ and that our ‘salvation’ is in God’s Hands.
As we read on in this verse, we see that ‘resting’ means trusting which in turn is displayed in an attitude of quietness and confidence. These attributes become our strength because they are founded on God as we face life’s challenges. It takes belief in God through Christ to enter this rest (Hebrews 4: 3 and the whole chapter).
So, the call this Advent Season could be for us to return to God to see God for who God is; our Sovereign Lord. To make any necessary U-turn as we hear God’s voice and ‘rest’ in the provision of our Lord’s salvation. And as we face huge difficulties to have a strength that comes from a quiet confidence in God’s providential nature remembering that, ‘the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!’ (vs. 18). Practically, we could devote ourselves to the season of Advent, the liturgy, Bible readings, prayer, and devotionals accessing the resources made available at this time. We could commit to our Daily Office and as the Body of Christ in this Diocese have the same vision.
As we are in the year 2020, the comparison with 2020 vision is often made. As God’s Children, if we are to have clear vision our eyes need to be on the Lord. As we focus on God, God indeed transforms us into God’s likeness. I began by asking ‘What are we to be?’ Through faith we are to be God’s children (John 1: 13, 1 John 3: 1). As our ‘being’ is renewed by the Lord our ‘doing’ changes. In this way the riches of resting in God can result in the transformation of our ‘being’ so that our ‘doing’ reflects God’s love, blesses our communities, and so glorifies God. Amen.
David Labdon serves as a priest at St. Aidan’s Church and is the Archdeacon for the Archdeaconry of Portage – St. James.