“A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).
Perhaps you’ve had that one child who, no matter how exotic or exquisite a destination might be, or the fact the entire family was there, that child would begin wailing over and over again, “I want to go home! I want to go home! I want to go home!”
I think all of us can relate not only to that situation, but to that child who was homesick. We prefer to be in our own home. If you’ve been on the road for a long time, you want to go home. If you’ve been hospitalized, you want to go home. If you’ve had a long and tiring day, you want to go home. Home. The word evokes feelings of love and laughter, security and serenity, warmth and welcome. It means mom and dad, fun and games, good food, sleep. As Dorothy reminds us in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!”
When Isaiah wrote in the eighth and seventh century BC, he was writing to the Israelites who would be living in Babylon in the sixth century BC. These exiles were far from home. A monstrous reality called Babylon was a fire-breathing horror that had destroyed everything. In 587 BC, Jerusalem, that “rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces” (Ezra 4:15) was destroyed. This is “why this city was laid to waste” (Ezra 4:15).
God’s people found themselves in a faraway land. The exiles wondered: Is our God for real? If so, does he care about us? Just how can we believe in a God who lost the war? Why not worship Babylonian gods; after all, their armies are more powerful than ours? LORD, “Will you be angry with us forever?” (Ps 85:5)
The exiles are stuck in a strange land. Israel has no king, no temple, no royal city, no land, no liturgy, no sacrifice, no hope, no future and no song. How can they sing God’s songs while prisoners in a foreign land? (cf. Ps 137:4).
So by the rivers of Babylon they sit and weep (Ps 137:1), reminiscing about the good old days when they worshipped in the splendor of Solomon’s temple, worked and shopped in the city of David, and saw the Mount of Olives from a distance. Oh God, “there’s no place like home!”
Israelites in exile are not only far away from home. They are far away from the Father. As the LORD’s firstborn son (cf. Ex 4:22) Israel had demanded his fair share of the inheritance, set off for a distant county, and squandered it all on wild living; enticing Baal worship, seductive Assyrian astral deities, the perverting of justice and righteousness, heartless worship, and gutless faith. And then in 587 BC the collapse of Jerusalem.
How often do we find ourselves far away from home; far away from the Father. It’s the way we operate. We are often exiled in a Babylon of our own making. We have demanded our fair share of the inheritance and set off for distant, seductive, deadly lights. We’ve sold our baptismal inheritance and ended up with deceptive lives, empty relationships, and inflated egos. Into our exile God speaks.
When we chase after all that this world has to offer, thinking that will bring happiness and contentment, we discover the truth that all men are like grass that withers, like flowers that fall. We yearn for something more, something better, something lasting, something secure. And our God has just the thing. We don’t last, but the Word does. The word of our God stands forever. He keeps His promises.
When Israel’s history seemed closed and hopeless in their Babylonian captivity, the LORD raised up a messiah, a Savior, a king named Cyrus. Cyrus and his Persian empire conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem where they would rebuild the city and the temple. Once again, just as He had done in the Exodus and countless other times, God rescued His people.
Later, another Savior, a greater Savior, would come, with a greater rescue mission. This one would be a Servant who would be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (53:5). And guaranteeing this deliverance is the power and faithfulness of God’s word (55:10-11). The word of our God stands forever. These promises will not return empty. In Bethlehem this faithful Word took on flesh and blood. He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (e.g., Mk 15:34; cf. Ps 22:1). And then He died to set His people free. And raised on the third day, He reminds us of all that He had promised!
“Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). “We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1). Heaven is our home!
As we make our way through the Advent season, we need to remember that God wants His people to be comforted by the message He speaks through Isaiah. Certainly, we are like grass that withers and flowers that fall, but that is not the final Word. When He says, “The word of our God will stand forever,” He is reminding us of His faithfulness. The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. And Jesus’ dying love means that we are going home! How do we know for sure? “Grass withers, a flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”