In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. Isaiah 6:1-13 (NRSV)
You might not believe me, particularly if you have read through any of the census records in the Old Testament books recording the tribes of Israel, but in general, the Hebrew language does not waste words. In the Hebrew scriptures, if something is repeated, it is done so on purpose… typically for emphasis. When Isaiah writes that the angels around God’s throne say, “holy, holy, holy”, it should be translated in English as “Holy, HOLY, HOLY!” or, at the very least, “the Most Holy of All!”.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin may have been the first men on the moon, but over 2500 years earlier, Isaiah stood face to face with the source of life so powerful it makes the sun itself look like a lightbulb hanging in the sky. God’s holiness overwhelmed him. He understood in a moment how very small his own life was. Isaiah could feel how unworthy and unable he was to serve God, but he was more than willing to try.
There are varying concepts of this “worthiness” to be found all over, but only God’s worthiness reaches out and makes us worthy as well. Only in Christ can the filthy become clean and the sick made well. Why? Because God is the source of all life.
That is the mystery of Christmas. We can criticize the virgin birth and details of the gospel accounts (although not by much) but what the witnesses of 2000 years ago are truly proclaiming is that the holiness that Isaiah witnessed is the same thing that Mary carried in her womb and gave birth to in Bethlehem. The source of all life in the universe became a baby.
This passage ends with the mystery of Advent – our time of waiting for Christ’s return, even as we prepare to celebrate his first entry into our world. It is the mystery of the holy seed found in the stump. The stump is the tombstone of the tree… there is no life in it. It is the seed of the tree, found in the fruit, and much smaller that typically brings new life. But God, in His Holiness, chose the tomb to be the source of new life – perhaps gazing down through the ages to an empty tomb that would change the world forever. The Holy seed is found in that very place that it appears life has abandoned.
- Where do you experience the holiness of God?
- How does that holiness make you feel?
- Where is God sending you to carry that holiness?
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth