If you had a way to check my location history (or, sadly, my bank account), you might see that Hobby Lobby is the place I frequent the most during the months of November and December. Walmart would be a close second, I am sure, but this time of year is when I often find myself staring down aisles of garlands and glass jars and felt and fabric, wondering which project I should tackle next. I take pride in my homemade ornaments and decorations throughout this home, and I love finding new pie recipes to test on dinner guests and parties during this time of year. Many a cold, gray day is spent with a cheesy TV Christmas movie, hot chocolate, and strands of hot glue and fabric scattered over the coffee table, and I like it that way.
Just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I started a study on the book of Isaiah, and it’s pretty intense – in a good way. I am learning to look at this book in a historical context and literary context, and the intellectual side of me is thriving in learning more about God through the structure and content of Isaiah’s prophecies. Since I learn something new every week, though, I am finding I need to flip back through and remind myself of all that God is teaching me, and it’s pretty timely with Christmas approaching. So much of Isaiah’s message is to point Israel to their current sin and rebellion and consequences, then point them to a coming Savior and Messiah. Advent devotionals and church sermons and Christmas carols all constantly quote Isaiah, and I am finding that it is allowing me to go deeper into preparing myself for the celebration of Christ’s birth next week.
As I was reviewing notes from past chapters, Isaiah 2:8 stood out to me:
Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made
The nation of Israel was split into two nations during this time: The northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel had turned its back on Judah, and both countries were experiencing the consequences of their various sins, namely the worship of other gods and their desperate attempts to find rescue from alliances with other nations. They were no longer worshipping Creator God, Provider God – they were looking to pagan gods and rituals to solve their problems.
And as I survey our tree filled with homemade ornaments, the penny-pincher tree skirt created from a tablecloth, and the burlap stockings sewn with leftover wedding fabric three years ago, I wonder how the Israelites, with all of their incredible history, could ignore God and turn to things they, too, made with their own hands. While Hobby Lobby may feel like a magical place this time of year, there’s nothing in there that could be pieced together to create something to compare with the world our God has created. It baffles me that someone could carve something out of wood and stone then worship it as if it contained some piece of a deity. Unless, I suppose, their deity was represented by rock.
That phrase “the work of their hands,” though, strikes me as relating more to our day and age. We may not worship statues or canvases with painted resemblances of sun gods and beastly characters, but the things our hands create, such as success at work or academic achievements or even families and finances, often take our attention and our hearts away from the Holy God. I frequently find myself obsessed with material possessions or the life I want to create for us instead of finding myself at the foot of the manger, awed by a Creator God who contained Himself in a baby’s body to be with us.
But Isaiah prophesies that the day is coming when Israel will recognize that these idols have failed them, that the gods they looked to for salvation will not bring peace, and they will turn back to the God Who opened the Red Sea, the God Who rained down food in the wilderness, the God Who brought defeat against a giant, and the God Who preserved a people for Himself. Their salvation will only be found in Him.
Our hope, in the same way, is not found in the magazine-worthy, Pinterest-inspired living room at Christmas. A savings account with that magic number will not bring security. A perfect job or fulfilling community group or new home cannot hold our hope. As ironic as it sounds, our hope is found in the baby we celebrate during this time of year – because that baby was God, and that God grew as a man to take our sin consequences upon Himself so that we might find rescue in Him from this world and from ourselves.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)