by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
The amount of times I have said, heard, or seen the phrase, "Burn it all down!" in the past few weeks, months, heck, year, is innumerable. Every day there seems to be a new reason to burn it all down: the church, the government: all of the things. I alternate between irate and exhausted most of the time, with tiny moments of hope, joy and love scattered among the refuse. It seems like most of the people I interact with each day are living in a similar place.
Then in walks todays texts with this fantastic message of, "Comfort, o comfort my people. God is coming, and she is going to burn it all down."
No, Isaiah doesn't say God is going to burn it all down, but it does say that the mountains will be made low and the valleys will be lifted up: a fundamental reordering of things as they are. And this reordering seems as though it is there to make God's glory obvious. It is in the lowering of the high and the lifting up of the low, the equity of things, that God's glory is seen.
When we look at John the Baptist's pronouncement in Mark, not everything he is saying comes from Isaiah. The beginning of his pronouncement, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you..." appears to be from Malachi c. 3. Malachai continues:
“But who can endure the day of His coming?
And who can stand when He appears?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
And like launderers’ soap.
3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver;
He will purify the sons of Levi,
And purge them as gold and silver,
That they may offer to the Lord
An offering in righteousness.
“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem
Will be pleasant to the Lord,
As in the days of old,
As in former years.
5 And I will come near you for judgment;
I will be a swift witness
Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
And against those who turn away an alien--
Because they do not fear Me,”
Says the Lord of hosts."
I can't help but think John knew what he was doing. He wasn't mixing these two texts on accident, he was doing it on purpose. The Judeans in the crowd would have known something else was going on -- many likely knew where he was going with this. By stringing together these two pieces of prophetic scripture, John was saying a whole lot about who Jesus was and what he was coming to do, without saying very much at all.
God is coming.
God is coming to make things right.
God is coming to re-order how we do things.
God is coming to give us a new way to understand power, to understand true wealth.
God is coming to give us a new way to view God.
Our previous ways of looking at God, of understanding God, of expecting God to be in certain places and do certain things will be destroyed.
God will burn it all down. Then God will make all things new.
The pain of birth will create new life.
The brilliance of Christ will make us unafraid of the shadows.
We must prepare for this thing to happen, to start the work, or we will be really, really caught off guard when it comes, and it will be a lot more painful and difficult than it needs to be.
But things will change. God will arrive.
Therein lies the comfort.
Comfort, o comfort my people.
Big thanks to my friend Rev. Jed Fox for helping me see much of this stuff. Text study is a blessing.