1 "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence - 2 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! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 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. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. 10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11 Our holy and beautiful house, where our ancestors praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. 12 After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?"
When Hope Seems Scarce
by Randall Bradley, D.M.A
This has been the most difficult year of my life. With my wife Brenda's death on January 1 from a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer, the COVID-19 pandemic altering our lives in March, canceling a much-needed summer trip with our kids, and leading the Baylor Men's Choir to make music when singing has become one of our most vulnerable activities, 2020 has challenged my faith in ways I could never have imagined. I am lonely, and challenged by forced isolation from losing Brenda and from the pandemic. In a year when it seems as if the Alleluias of Easter never came, and there were no ordinary days of summer, the prospect of Advent seems like too much. Yet even in the midst of this "year like no other," Advent arrives unexpectedly (again). What do we do with the promise of the Christ Child's arrival into this messy Advent in which hope seems scarce, and I (perhaps like you) find myself as weary as I have ever been?
Isaiah 64 is prayer of lament: a prayer that begins with complaints, transitions into acknowledgement of God, and ends with hope. Most likely written as a prayer for corporate worship, it gathers up our collective anger, offers it to God, discovers that honesty with God is always good, and eventually moves toward hope, albeit reserved.
In a time when Alleluias get stuck in our throats, expressing lament is inevitable. This expression is honest and authentic and is a necessary beginning point on the path toward hope. However, as we take a closer look at Isaiah 64, our 2020 condition and this Advent season, we discover that our situation is not too different from those who hoped against hope for the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. As hymn writer, Fred Pratt Green stated "Christ lives where even hope has died."
This semester in the Baylor Men's Choir we centered our fall repertoire around themes of justice, hope, reconciliation and peace. One of the songs we've sung is the African American hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a text that has been sung in protest movements since it was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. In rehearsals, we have been drawn to the line "Felt in the days when hope unborn had died."
These words poignantly express a time when even the hope of hope was absent. A dark time, no doubt. Yet this hymn, our scripture passage, and the testimony of those who have traveled this hope-seeking road before us, acknowledge that hope is not up to us. Hope is God's to give. It is God's gift to our biblical forbearers in the days when the Messiah was anticipated for what seemed far too long, it was God's gift to our African American sisters and brothers in the dark days of the past and still today, and it is our gift in what for some of us is the hardest year of our lives.
It is hope, and life without hope is not worth living. When the end is not in sight and darkness seems for a bit to overshadow Light itself, hope is relentless. "Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly." (Rev. 22.20)
Learn More About Our Guest Writer
Randall Bradley, D.M.A
Randall Bradley, D.M.A, is the Ben H. Williams Professor of Music, Director of the Center for Christian Music Studies and directs the Baylor University Men's Choir within the School of Music. In addition to his work in the classroom, Dr. Bradley has led Baylor students on summer mission trips, including one trip to Kenya that ended with a heart-warming video of students thanking the Emirates air crew with a special musical performance.
Dr. Bradley has published numerous articles related to worship, church music and music education. His books are a resource for ministers and are used as textbooks at numerous seminaries and colleges.