Listen (Isaiah 51:1-5)
Before reading this, pause a moment and listen. What can you hear: the sound of traffic, a clock marking the half-hour, a moment of silence? Living alongside a main road it is seldom quiet for long. Nevertheless, when the roar of traffic fades, quieter sounds emerge. Birds sing, insects buzz, leaves rustle and distant sounds are borne on the wind. There is always something to hear if we listen carefully enough.
We live in a noisy world. Not just birds and bees, machinery and conversation; our senses are constantly assailed by people seeking our attention. We learn to be selective: headphones help us select our own private noise, selective hearing, the busyness of everyday life which absorbs us; we tune out what we do not want to hear. Surrounded as we are by sound, we lose so much in the noise. Listening demands concentration; listening is an art.
God’s people were in trouble. For years they had let God’s voice get lost in the noise; chosen selective hearing. The consequence was the destruction of the Temple and exile. Now they were hundreds of miles from home, surrounded by the pomp and power of their conquerors. Had God abandoned them, or was he, after all, not strong enough to overcome the gods of Babylon?
We may not be exiled, though many are, but we are surrounded by troubles. Where is God when churches are closed and empty; when the unjust, the ungodly triumph; when disease, natural disasters and conflicts shatter our peace? Even as we sing hymns of praise we wonder, ‘where is God in all this’? Where is God today, and all our todays? We cry out for answers, but are we listening?
Listen. ‘Listen to me you that seek righteousness, you that seek the Lord’ (Is 51:1). God speaks to those who want to listen. Look, he says, look where you have come from. Don’t look back to a golden age in times past. Don’t hanker after ‘normal’. Look instead to humble beginnings and see how God has built on them (Is 51:2). Having looked at where we come from, look ahead. Listen, hear, trust; the familiar will vanish but there will be grounds for thanksgiving. God’s salvation will be for ever, his deliverance never ended (Is 51:6). As we ponder the troubles around us and ponder what God has to say; let us listen.
Rev Philip Payne