Isaiah 63:15-64:4

2 Peter 3:1-9

The Rev’d Jenny Wilson


In our New Testament reading tonight, we heard the apostle Peter writing to those he has nurtured in the faith:

This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken through your apostles.(2 Peter 3:1-2)

Remember, Peter says, the words of the prophets, the commandments of Jesus, remember these things that our intentions might be aroused. It is through our remembering, our reflecting upon the prophets’ words, Jesus’ words, that we can be encouraged and nurtured in our faith, that we can find a way to live well in the faith.

Advent is the time when we spend time, particularly, with the words of the prophets. This evening we will listen for the voice of three of them, one prophet from our own time.

Last Sunday morning, Advent Sunday we heard the word of the prophet Jeremiah:

 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’(Jeremiah 33:14-16)

“The days are surely coming,” we heard God say. We caught a glimpse of God’s longing for the days when there will be righteousness and justice, when there will be the saving, healing, redemption of the people, the days when those people will live in safety.

“The days are surely coming …”

We reflected on the fact that friend of mine who knows Hebrew well says that, in the Hebrew language, there is no word “surely”. What is literally written is repetition …the days are coming, coming …says the Lord.

Last Sunday morning through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah we heard God’s voice.

This Sunday evening, though, through the prophet Isaiah in the portion that we heard read from chapters near the end of his book, we hear a different voice, we hear our voice portrayed.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
(Isaiah 64:1-4)

The prophets, it seems, portray God’s longing and our own.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down …

Our reading tonight, Isaiah’s words tonight, give voice to prayer, our prayer. And so we might, I think, look quite closely at a few of the words we heard read tonight, to see what it is we are praying.

In verse 17 from chapter 63 the prophet has us cry to God:

Why, O Lord, do you make us stray from your ways
and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you?
Turn back for the sake of your servants,
for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. 

He is talking about our sins, our straying from God’s ways, the hardening of our hearts. He is talking about the breaking of our relationship with God. God is a God of relationship and God gives God’s people Israel – and us – a way of living – the words of the law that guide how they are to live, most particularly in the Ten Commandments, and the words of the prophets that help the people hear of who God is. God longs for justice for those who are vulnerable – those who are in prison, those who are without family to care for them, the widows and the orphans. God longs for a warm welcome to be offered for those who are strangers in the land. And God loves the earth that God has made and longs also that this earth be treasured and cared for.

When the prophet Isaiah has us speak of our straying from God’s ways, these are the ways about which he speaks – ways of justice and generosity, ways of freedom and care. And we sin when we neglect these ways of God, when our hearts are hardened to the plight of those in need.

It is easy to speak in theory like this about who God is and how we often fail. But the words of this prophet are powerful and full of passion, are alive, and we might let them reach us and help us see where it is that our hearts are hardened, where in our relationship with God there is a brokenness.

What do we most regret of the last little while, the last few days, the last year? Something we have neglected to do, someone we have neglected to hear crying out to us? Is there something of which we are ashamed? Do we resonate with the idea that at times our hearts are hardened? Is there something, some situation that cries out to us but whose cries we find it too difficult to hear?

I wonder if we do not have our own modern prophets – prophets who speak in our time and place. I wonder if sometimes the voice of God and our voice of prayer is spoken through the prophetic voice of children:

Greta Thunberg is 15 years old and lives in Stockholm, Sweden. Greta writes passionately about climate change and the need for action to save our home. I wonder if she, and the children across our country who took a day off school to protest that politicians are not taking this issue seriously enough, are modern day prophets, prophets whose voices might stir us where our hearts are hardened or baffled by the enormity of the problem.

Greta wrote the following:

I first learnt about climate change when I was eight years old. I learnt that this was something humans had created. I was told to turn off the lights to save energy and recycle paper to save resources.

I remember thinking it was very strange that we were capable of changing the entire face of the Earth and the precious thin layer of atmosphere that makes it our home.

Because if we were capable of doing this, then why weren’t we hearing about it everywhere? As soon as you turned on the television, why wasn’t the climate crisis the first thing you heard about? Headlines, radio programmes, newspapers, you would never hear about anything else, as if there was a world war going on.

Yet our leaders never talked about it.

If burning fossil fuels threatened our very existence, then how could we continue to burn them? Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn’t it illegal to do this? Why wasn’t anyone talking about the dangerous climate change we have already locked in? And what about the fact that up to 200 species are going extinct every single day?[1]

Is this a voice that softens our hearts? Are these children’s voices the way God reaches us? Is this another way of crying out to God …O that you would tear open the heavens and come down?

The apostle Peter says to us that we might remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets. And as our ears become attuned, this Advent, to those prophets’ words, may we also hear the voices of the prophets in our time and place. Even the voices of children who cry out for the care of the planet we call home.