Who Wants to Talk About Virtue?
Our Isaiah passage and our psalm today are among my most beloved scriptures in the Bible.
How many of us can ever read Isaiah 40 without hearing Handel’s setting of it for Messiah?
And Psalm 85:10, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other,” I count as one of the most vivid and beautiful descriptions of the Dream of God in all of scripture.
I notice a shared image between Isaiah 40 and Psalm 85.
Isaiah is commanded to proclaim: “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.”
Psalm 85 says, “Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven…and our land will yield its increase.”
These are images of plants growing up from the ground, but we notice that the result is very different in each case.
We humans are like blooming plants, but we do not last. We fade and wither, and quickly return to the Earth, our source.
What plants grow up strong and stand fast forever? The virtues or values of truth and righteousness, and the Word of God.
What do we make of this? What does it have to say to us in our walk of faith?
Advent is a good time to reflect on our mortality.
It is technically a penitential season, which means it is our opportunity to reflect on sin and death.
As grim as that seems, we don’t reflect on sin and death to be morbid or self-abasing. We do it because it helps us gain needed perspective, to see ourselves as those flowers that fade and the grass that is cut down.
And what’s the purpose of that?
To teach us to cherish every moment we have in this mortal life, and also to remember that no matter how big the mistakes and regrets we have, they too are as fleeting and mortal as the grass in the sweep of the long story of our loving and forgiving God.
So we learn from our texts that virtue lasts: truth, righteousness, mercy, and peace.
What does that actually mean? Continue reading