I don’t remember the first time I ever flew in an airplane, but I do remember what it feels like to be a child and look out the window as the plane climbs higher into the sky. I remember how cartoonish yet perfectly real the ant-like cars and trucks appear as they move up and down the highway. I can picture how cities and fields and warehouses and factories and schools and rivers and lakes all look like a picture but still have the animation of real life. I can recall understanding for the first time how my community was put together, how neighborhoods were connected by roads, and how clean the line between city and country was.
In Sunday’s reading from Isaiah 40, God is described as the one “who sits above the circle of the earth” and can see that “its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” The contrast between God’s power and creation’s frailty is depicted by a great distance—an unfathomable elevation that separates the one who looks down and we who look up. “Lift up your eyes on high and see,” the prophet invites, “who created these?”
Yet, as a child is fascinated with the sudden ability to behold all that is below, so too does God always behold even the tiniest detail of what is beneath him: it is “he who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name.” We are, by comparison, tiny grasshoppers. We are, in God’s eye, “like stubble.” Still, the prophet declares on behalf of God’s people, “My way is not hidden from the Lord…He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”
I live in a culture that celebrates power. Last night, millions of people tuned into the Super Bowl, and why? To watch one team beat the other. Even though most of us have to ties to Seattle or New England, we want to identify with a winner. We are entertained by a display of physical force, intellectual prowess, and pregame preparation. We celebrate the familiar coach-quarterback duo who again hoisted the Lombardi trophy. We mock the play selection of the offensive coordinator who chose to throw the ball and stop the clock instead of try to put the game away with his team’s powerful rusher. And why? Because we know that power is good and weakness is threatening.
This Sunday, however, we will embrace the opposite message. We are not strong. We are not powerful. Like it or not, the prophet reminds us that even the princes among us—even our greatest athletes—are like grass in a field, which is scarcely sown but the breath of the Lord blows on them and they wither to nothing. Yet that is good news—good news because still God is with us. God does not honor our strength. He does not care for us because of our might. God shelters us in our weakness. In our powerlessness, we are made powerful by the one who is truly powerful.