It occurred to me this week that I really don’t have a very profound appreciation for the beauty of creation. That certainly is one of my failings, and I suspect that as failings go, it is a pretty important one, at least in terms of our passage this morning. Our house is situated so perfectly, that if we wanted to, we could observe the glory of the sunset every single evening that the sun was present. But do we? Absolutely not. Every once in a while, as evening approaches, one of us may glance out the window and say, “Oh look, see the sunset! It’s beautiful!” And we’ll all look, and we’ll all ooh and aah, and we’ll make promises to pay more attention next time, and we’ll make covenants with each other to remind each other about looking for the sunsets, but when all is said and done, we don’t watch the sunset. And it is a shame, because every sunset is a gift from Almighty God, and a lesson in God’s sovereignty over all of creation, and of God’s deep and abiding love for us. The same is true of gently falling snow, which I tend to erroneously view with disgust, and what Isaiah doesn’t quite call, in our passage this morning, the starry host.
If you have your own Bible with you this morning, and it isn’t the same version as our pew Bibles, most likely in verse 26, you will find something that is called the starry host. And most of us, I am sure, have a pretty good idea about just what the starry host is. It is that mighty army of stars that shows up in the night sky on evenings when it is not overcast. And an army it surely is. The ancients could not even come close to numbering the stars, and I’m not sure that the moderns have done much better. We do know, though, that those stars are not tiny pin pricks of light in the night sky, but rather, they are huge, gigantic suns that fill the vastness of a universe, that really, we can’t even begin to define, let alone understand. And so this huge army or host of stars also reminds us of God’s greatness, and authority over all of creation. And yet too often, my attitude towards the majesty of this heavenly host of gigantic stars or suns is, “Meh, stars, smars.” And of course that is just as wrong as my attitude about sunsets and gently falling snow. And so there has to be a cure for my lack of wonder and awe when it comes to appreciating the glory of creation.
And I think the cure for me, at least, is in verse 26. On the one hand, the prophet Isaiah intends for us to be absolutely overwhelmed by the majesty of the starry host. We’re supposed to know that the universe is huge and vast and unlimited, and that we are small and tiny and insignificant in comparison, because we are. Verse 22 makes that very plain. We inhabitants of this earth are just grasshoppers, tiny, small, here for a season, and then gone. And yet, as vast and huge and unlimited as the universe is, God takes care of it, God’s sustains it and God watches over it. God is continually involved in maintaining the universe and so Isaiah tells us, look up, lift up your eyes, look at the stars. God created them, God sustains them, God has names for all of them, and because God is great in strength and mighty in power, not one of them is missing; not one of them is neglected.
And suddenly this grasshopper is feeling like a star. Not the movie or TV kind, but the heavenly host kind. And that works for me wonderfully. Even though I know better, from my perspective, stars are still pretty small; just pin pricks of light in the night sky, perhaps even insignificant, just like me, in the vast, grand scheme of things. But if God maintains and sustains and names each member of his starry host, I can infer that God is going to maintain and sustain this tiny grasshopper whom God has also named by the agency of his parents. I can also infer, with great joy, that like those tiny pin pricks of light in the night sky, that I will not be neglected by God, grasshopper though I may be.
And that is why I ought to be more amazed and astonished by the glory and majesty of all of creation. It is why I should watch a sunset in peaceful serenity, knowing that as night comes with beauty, that day will surely follow. It is why I should receive with joy the sight of gently falling snow, realizing that a fresh blanket of snow adds to the beauty of all of creation. And it is also why I should better appreciate both the vastness and enormousness and the tininess of God’s army of stars, because I am numbered, and loved and known among them. These are things that I should pay more attention to. These are things that have the potential to bring me joy as I live out my days in the bowels of this broken and damaged world.
And look, the prophet doesn’t neglect the reality and the terrible specter of this broken world either. In a high and mighty discussion of the glory and the wonder and the majesty of creation, and the glory and the wonder and the majesty of God who brought all of this together, the prophet mentions that there will always be a few grasshoppers who think more highly of themselves than they ought. Some of these self exalted grasshoppers may think of themselves as being big, really big.
Over the years, God’s people, as we read about them in the Old Testament, suffered through a slew of really bad, really rotten, truly evil leaders. And verses 23 and twenty four may very well be a reference to those terrible leaders that the faithful among God’s people patiently endured. But there is also a very good possibility that the whole of Isaiah chapter 40 is directed at God’s people who are languishing in exile in Babylon. Before being carried off to Babylon as slaves, God’s people had become terribly unfaithful, and their leaders reflected that unfaithfulness, as leaders often do. It is a well known axiom that we get the leaders that we deserve. But once in Babylon, the whole scene changed. God’s people suffered greatly under pagan kings who had no regard for justice and no regard for the God of all creation. The first king was a fellow named Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar liked to think of himself as the king of kings and even as the king of the whole world, so exalted was his opinion of himself. But as the people of God watched, eventually, poof! Nebuchadnezzar was gone.
Isaiah says that God brings princes to naught and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. And this is all in stark contrast to the way that God loves, sustains and nourishes his little grasshoppers.
In a bit, we are going to be gathering around the communion table. The communion table is for us a safe refuge from the ravages of this broken world, for it is the place and time that we remember that the real King of Kings and Lord of all creation gathered with his disciples in the privacy and intimacy of an upper room and said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 22: 15, 16)
The “before I suffer” part speaks volumes to me. It is beyond profound. For millenia, God’s people had suffered under brutal regimes. They had suffered under the Egyptians, they had suffered under Babylonians, and now they were suffering under the oppressive rule of the Romans. But now, God himself had come down to be with his people, and to suffer and die on their behalf. God had only done this one other time. At Passover, when God’s people escaped from Egypt and fled into the desert, God saw fit to go along with them. God was there at every step of the way, at every turn of good or of evil, throughout the entire desert wanderings. Most of us remember that God was present in a cloud of smoke by day and in a pillar of fire by night.
But now, as Jesus settles into the celebration of Passover with his disciples, God is present with them in human flesh, prepared to suffer in human flesh, on their and our behalf.
And it was on that night that Jesus established a new and everlasting covenant relationship with his disciples and with us. When we gather for communion, we look back on the wonder and glory of God being present with his people, since the since the foundations of the earth. We look back on that moment when cloud and fire became human flesh and lived among us. We rejoice in Jesus’ promise to us that he will always be present with us in spirit as a daily source of comfort and strength. And we look forward with eagerness and joy to that day, when with the sound of a mighty trumpet, he will return so that we might be forever with him.
And so yes, we rejoice that it is God who sits above the circle of the earth in all majesty and power, but it is God who also sits with us in the pews, sharing his wonder and glory with the grasshoppers who gather here week after week.