Friday, December 2, 2011

Tear Open the Heavens and Come Down: Advent 1 Year B

It’s our reading from Isaiah that really spoke to me this week. I am struck by the image of a prophet appealing for God’s intervention.  Haven’t we all been there: yearning for God to intervene in our lives? And I take great comfort in the knowledge that one of the greatest prophets had those feelings. 

The book of Isaiah spans over several centuries and periods during Israel’s history. Isaiah tells the story of Israel during war, devastation, exile and, eventually, return to Jerusalem. Isaiah, though, is a prophet, not a historian. The foundation of his storytelling is theology: connecting God and God’s activity to God’s people. So, the prophet often finds himself in the middle, triangulated between God and the people. 

There are many themes in Isaiah’s prophecy: the primacy of The Law, caring for the weak, the justice and judgment of God.  And, Isaiah has one final resolve: to return Israel’s reliance and faith to God no matter their circumstance. Isaiah knows that when Israel depends fully on YHWH they will know the full compassion and mercy of God.

Our reading this morning falls in the third section of Isaiah. Written during the fall of Babylon, it chronicles the return of God’s people to Jerusalem. This particular section focuses on conflict within the community: Israel’s internal turmoil rather than external politics. 

And their internal conflict has everything to do with their relationship with God. During their exile from Israel, the people felt abandoned by God. And so, they abandon The Law, God’s way. Feeling lost and defeated, they begin to practice the religion of their conquerors. As they return to Jerusalem, they continue to worship other gods, continuing to ignore The Law, to ignore YHWH.  These practices create great divisions and break down the community of Israel. They forget to care for one another, putting their ways before all others.  Isaiah knows there is only one solution: God’s intervention. 

So, as we read in our text today, Isaiah cries out for God’s intrusion into history.  He appeals to God as Creator and Father to show God’s self to the people. Isaiah believes that once Israel knows that God is with them, they will return to God. 
Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence…O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…
How will God intervene? God will leave the heavenly throne and establish God’s self on Earth.  With this act, God will bring peace, justice and righteousness for God’s people. This is the ultimate intrusion of God in history. It is exactly what Isaiah asks of God today.  

It is no coincidence that we read this text on the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is the season when we prepare for the coming of God’s son: Jesus, the Messiah. This is a two-fold event. Of course, we celebrate the first coming of Christ: Jesus’ birth into the world. During Advent, though, we also prepare for Christ’s second coming.

I know, I know: we rarely, if ever, talk about Jesus’ second coming.  We associate this event with strange cult figures who declare the end of the world. Or strange images from Revelation of winged and multiple-eyed creatures.  Our reading from Mark’s Gospel doesn’t help. Which one of us yearns for the day when the sun and moon will darken, stars will fall from heaven and the Son of Man will come on clouds of power and glory? Which one of us is ready for that day?

Let’s face it:  we prefer to focus on the baby Jesus instead of the heavenly One.  The baby Jesus is easier to celebrate. Everyone loves a baby, especially one who doesn’t keep us awake at night.  To focus on Jesus’ second coming requires us, in the words of Mark, to keep awake. To prepare for Christmas during Advent,
allows us to focus our attention on the past: that time when God came among us.  The call of Advent, though, also requires us to look at our present and future.  Advent asks us to imagine that God did more than act in history.  Advent reminds us that Christ is human and divine, a precious child and a heavenly king. 

This is good news. We need both.  Christ’s humanity is a sign of God’s care and compassion for creation.  Christ’s power and glory is a reminder that He is more than one of us.  He is also One with God.  He is the bearer of God’s kingdom: God’s peace and justice for all creation.  Jesus’ coming among us binds us fully to God: through his humanity and divinity.

Take a look around us. Our world is full of problems: hunger, poverty, injustice, disease, and war.  And there’s no doubt that we seek to cure these ailments.  We depend on science for our cures, government for our conflicts and entertainment to soothe us. We give money, collect food, volunteer, offer a listening ear and friendly advice.  Still, even with great confidence in our strength, we cannot solve these problems. It seems there will never be a time of peace, justice and well-being.  Yet Advent stands as a reminder that God has intervened before and will come among us again.

Isaiah has his time, his moment of asking for God’s intervention.  Advent is our time, our moment to ask for God to perform awesome deeds once more, to “tear open the heavens and come down.”

And so, Advent is a time of hope.  It is our time to remember how Christ’s birth began a new era and brought a new way of life.  It is our time to believe that God will act in history again.  We say our prayers; we decorate our homes; we sing comforting and soothing carols.  We volunteer more, collect more food and go to Church more often.  This is all watchful living: participating in and recognizing God’s actions in in our world. And these are all expressions of our yearning for God’s presence among us.  This yearning is a sign of confidence and trust in God.  Christ’s life among us was one of healing and mercy, the revelation that this is the heart of God.  When Christ comes in power and glory, the heart of God will rule creation.  This is the root of Christian hope: that one day God will come down from the heavenly throne and establish God’s self in creation.

May Advent make us ready to receive Christ among us: as a precious child and as “…the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory...”

Peace be with you this Advent,

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