Digging and Building | Reflections from Advent 3 (part 3/5)

Part 3/5 of a set of reflections written for Ware Episcopal Church on the daily lectionary during Advent 3. 

Isaiah 9:18-10:4 

18 Wickedness burned like fire,
    devouring thorn and thistle.
It kindled the thickets of the forest;
    they swirled in rising smoke.
19 The land was scorched by the rage of the Lord of heavenly forces;
    the people were like fuel for the fire.
Not one person pitied another:
20     they consumed on the right, but remained hungry;
    devoured on the left, and weren’t satisfied.
    They devoured the flesh of their own children.[a]
21 Manasseh devoured Ephraim and Ephraim Manasseh;
    together they turned against Judah.
Even then God’s anger didn’t turn away;
    God’s hand was still extended.

10 Doom to those who pronounce wicked decrees,
    and keep writing harmful laws
    to deprive the needy of their rights
    and to rob the poor among my people of justice;
    to make widows their loot;
    to steal from orphans!
What will you do on the day of punishment
    when disaster comes from far away?
To whom will you flee for help;
    where will you stash your wealth?
How will you avoid crouching among the prisoners
    and falling among the slain?
Even so, God’s anger hasn’t turned away;
    God’s hand is still extended.


One of my favorite Christmas movies is Home Alone, which is a slapstick comedy about burglars who try to rob a home that is inhabited by a young boy accidentally left at home. What makes it so ridiculous is that the villains never learn to stop while they’re ahead—they keep plowing through an increasingly booby-trapped house. If there’s a mistake to make, they make it. They never quite get the message.

This is a light-hearted example of what I see in today’s reading from Isaiah. When trouble comes, “not one person pitied another” and the wicked keep writing “harmful laws to deprive the needy of their rights”. Israel just doesn’t get it. They don’t know how to respond in a way that doesn’t just compound the mistakes that they were originally making. They dig themselves deeper into the hole.

It’s easy for us to look at this passage and realize what was going wrong in Israel. But I wonder if we’d be so quick to point it out in our own day. After all, there are so many conflicting messages about truth and fact (let alone right and wrong) that it’s hard to know if we’re building a ramp or deepening the hole.

This passage, however, gives us a place to think about where we can amend wrongs like writing laws that deprive the needy of their rights, robbing the poor of justice, and stealing from the vulnerable. As we await the celebration of the birth of ourSavior, let’s use this time to discern where we’re digging, and where we’re building a ladder.

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