Feet shuffle quietly in the pews around me as I walk towards the lectern. I can feel my the soles of my feet touching the carpet through my thin shoes, and as I walk, I suddenly pray, desperate: O Lord don’t let me mess this up. This is Your word. Please don’t let me mess up.
I’m reading for Lessons and Carols, a service where we journey through the story of God’s redemptive love in nine Scripture readings and choir music and old hymns. It’s the kind of service where you want to leave your mouth hanging open, that God teaches us His story through words, and music, through sound and light and air waves moving back and forth. And somehow, He’s given us the chance to tell each other the story again. He’s letting His Word go forth from human hands and human mouths and human minds. Because He loves what He has made. Because He became incarnate to live among us. Because He, too, was a human who wrote and thought and spoke.
My passage is Isaiah 11. The peace that Christ will bring is foreshown. I stand at the lectern, look at the page, look up at the faces twinkling from the candles lining the aisles.
I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and suddenly, I hear His reminder: I make these promises to all my people. You, tonight, are my people. You, tonight, are the messenger for this promise. Won’t you tell these bright faces what I have promised them?
I begin to read. I feel my voice grow inside my chest as I hear the words echo around and around the wide sanctuary. The candles dance on the altar. Someone opens the back door and I feel the rush of winter wind on my face. And I am struck by this sudden richness, this service of festival and prayer, this journeying even again to Bethlehem at the beginning of Epiphany, the feast of light, to meet the Light.
His promises are to all His people. To His people who heard the words of the prophet crying in the wilderness and on the streets and in the temple. To His people in the pew in front of me, with their blue and tan coats and weary faces. To His people who have been scattered across the globe – in poverty and fear, in hunger and thirst, in injustice, in need. To His people who have been grieving. To His people who have lonely hearts. To His people who I know and don’t know, who I see every morning in Starbucks but never recognize, and to His people who I have yet to know.
These promises I read tonight – these are the light He shines on our path as we journey towards Him. These promises, that one day no one shall kill or destroy on all His holy mountain, that the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas:
these are for you.
He made this promise for you, in this singular, remarkable, irreplaceable way.
This is what I hear as I tremble back towards my parents in our pew. This is what I hear as we bend knees and hearts.
He made you this promise.
Isn’t it miraculous, that a love so vast as to cover the earth with the knowledge of the Lord, is also the love that makes you promises of peace and life everlasting?
I cry a little on the long drive home. For the bright faces, and the brighter promise.