Sunday, November 30

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down

Advent devotional thoughts


Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
    and remember not iniquity forever.
    Behold, please look, we are all your people.

As I read these words, the first thing I think of is the situation in Ferguson, Missouri after the recent grand jury decision and subsequent unrest. Our world is broken, badly broken. It makes perfect sense to wish that God would tear open our space and time Himself. Who are the Lord’s adversaries that we think He should make His name known to? Think back to Isaiah’s time when Israel faced enemies all around. They longed for God to show Himself. Think, too, of the time of Jesus’ birth. God seemed far away. The Romans and their gods were seeming conquerors over Israel and its God. Throughout the Gospels we meet people who are waiting, both patiently and impatiently, for God to show Himself.

Through the next few verses, we might disagree with Isaiah. I’m inclined to disagree when I think of the injustice in the world through the thousands of years since then. Many times it seems like God does not act for those who wait for Him, that He does not meet those who joyfully work righteousness. Then again, how many are there of those? How many remember God in their ways?

Isaiah brings his message home in the second half of verse 5. We are the problem. We have sinned. We have been in our sins a long time, as individuals and even longer as societies. Shall we still be saved?

Here, at the beginning of Advent, let’s take a good look at ourselves. Let’s confess our sins before God as Isaiah does, not only for himself, but for his whole people and nation.

The problems we see in Ferguson, Missouri are incredibly complex. Simplistic opinions posted on Facebook will not help us understand the problems, much less begin to address them. There was a tragic precipitating event that we cannot know the details of. There are significant issues around what it’s like to be black and what it’s like to be white in this country. When is power abused? Do those of us with comparative privilege really understand those without? Some people complicate matters by looting. Can we really untangle this thing? Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down.

Don’t jump to conclusions and fixes. We all need to think about our part in sin. We need to stop and consider the log in our own eye before we try to help others get the specks out of their eyes.

To complicate matters, in the case of the first Advent, God did not rend the heavens and show Himself. He came as a poor little baby far away from any center of wealth or power. However, the life of the man that child grew into began to open people’s eyes to what God was doing. God was indeed making His name known.

It has still been in a way that people could discount or utterly reject. Those who call themselves Christians have often misrepresented Jesus and given people more reason to turn from God.

Part of the good news is that in the Second Advent, when Jesus comes again, there will be no more ignoring God or hurting our neighbor. Justice will finally come in perfection. As we read in Revelation and other places in the New Testament, it will be very like God rending the heavens and showing Himself once and for all.

We should look for that day with hope and humility. We want to be God’s people then and now. We know that God does not remember our iniquity forever thanks to Jesus’ redeeming work. Let’s take account of our sins in confession and receive God’s forgiveness. And then let’s join Him in His Kingdom work now.