Thousands of years ago a prophet of Israel spoke these words on behalf of the people of God. They have reverberated through the annals of history. They sum up the people of God’s cry in the midst of pain, brokenness, sin, and the feeling that God is distant and aloof from the world. In Isaiah 64:1 we read, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” Isaiah prays that God would see the pain and brokenness of his people and come down. Come down and begin to set things right.
Have you ever prayed that prayer? Lord, rend the heavens and come down. Maybe you didn’t say it in those exact words. Maybe they sounded like, “God would you come down and make it right? God where are you in the midst of all the brokenness, pain, sin and violence in our world? Are you even there? Do you even care that this world seems like it is falling apart?” When we look around and see all the destruction that is happening currently. When we see ISIS, and Boko Haramcausing so much pain, devastation, and violence. The police shootings, the protests, and the violence and racism at home. When we see people not having enough to provide for their families. When we see all the things that seem to be wrong in our world. We all end up praying that prayer. God just come down and make it right. God why is there so much suffering in the world. God do something. And we wait. We wait for God to act. We may stand on the other side of history that Isaiah and the people of God in the Old Testament. When their cry was for God to actually break into history and begin to set things right. Their cry was answered 700 years later in the person, work and ministry of Jesus. And while we stand on the other side of history after the coming of Jesus, we still find the cry of Isaiah on our tongues. We still cry, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” We still wait for God to come and make things right. To put the world right, the way that it should be.
Today we begin the season in the Christian church known as Advent. Advent is derived from the latin word adventus and means coming. In the church we focus on three different comings. 1. the birth of Jesus2. the incarnation. 3. the second coming of Jesus. And it is the start of the Christian year. A writer by the name of Joan Chittister writes: “The liturgical year does not begin at the heart of the Christian enterprise. It does not immediately plunge us into the chaos of the crucifixion or the giddy confusion of the resurrection. Instead, the year opens with Advent, the season which teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious. It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have until now ignored.” And so as we enter Advent today we wait. We wait the coming of Jesus to set this world to right. To fully redeem everything. To bring Shalom (the way things should be) into it’s fullness, that which started when he came the first time. We wait for his second coming and the recreation of the world.
Let’s tun to Isaiah 64 and read Isaiah’s prayer on behalf of the remnant that had returned to Jerusalem after the exile. Their hopes and dreams of how things will be when the returned to Jerusalem wasn’t playing out how they hoped. Things weren’t perfect or the way they thought they should be. And so the remanent prayers a prayer of Lament.
Isaiah 64:1-9 says, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens( and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.”
As I mentioned this is a prayer of lament from the people of Israel the remanent returning from exile. And this is also our prayer in the midst of Advent in the real world where things aren’t going well. Where the world isn’t perfect and we are disillusioned. This is the prayer of a pain brought on by the consequence of people’s sins, experienced most deeply as anger and alienation from God. Their appeal is for God’s intervention- to heal the alienation and to halt the damage of their sins.
So the prayer of lament begins with the people praying that God would come down. To come down and engage in the brokenness of the world. The people of God remembered the stories of God engaging with with their forefathers and mothers. They recalled the stories of God trembling the mountain (Exodus 19:17-18…Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.) They remembered the stories of God delivering the people from the hand of Egypt. They recalled the amazing stories told to them from their parents. And they wondered why God wasn’t showing up in that way again. Why wasn’t God doing amazing things on behalf of his people again? And so they cried out and waited.
In verse 4 we read, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” The remanent recall how God revealed himself in days past to those who waited for him. They recall that God was truly God because of His actions on their behalf. That no other god was able to hold a candle to Yahweh. They recalled Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (1 Kings 18). They recalled how Yahweh had just delivered them out of exile. But when they got back, it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It was perfectly how they had imagined it. And so they cried out and waited.
This cry and waiting would last 700 years and they couldn’t have imagined how God would choose to reveal himself…in the coming of Jesus. He shows us himself. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know how God acts in the world? Look at Jesus. In sending Jesus, God reveals himself like never before. Acts in a way that has never been done. He reveals himself through the person of Jesus, His son.
This is what we celebrate in Advent. The first coming of Jesus…that we look back to. And the second coming of Jesus…that we look forward to. Jesus came to begin the process of recreating the world as it should be. The work begun with his life, death, and resurrection, which continues throughout time and will culminate in his second coming, when this world will be as it should be. The world as it was in the begin will be the way it is again. The cries of the people of God for God to show up was answered in Jesus ultimately. And our cries for God to show up will be answered in Jesus.
And so they cried out and waited for God to show up. But in the midst of the waiting they began to wonder a few things. Why wasn’t God showing up in the way that they expected? Did he even hear their cry and their longing for his engagement in the world? Was it something that they did or weren’t doing that was causing God not to show up like he did before? If they did right wouldn’t God show up? Maybe they were sinning against God and that was the reason He wasn’t showing up. In verses 5-9 we read their thoughts. “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.” They equate their brokenness and sin to a menstruation cloth. A garment used and considered defiled. And because of the people’s sins, God seemed to be hiding himself from the people. The failure to seek God is attributed to God’s hiding, seeking is futile because God has left the guilty to the consequences of their sin. And the beg and plead even more, even though they say that God can’t be found. They beg and plead for God’s hand, his presence and his deliverance. The cried out and waited. And, as I mentioned before, they waited 700 years to find the fulfillment of their cries and their longing. Why we need Advent. Why we celebrate Advent. Why we look to Jesus. Because of our sinful state. Our brokenness not only on an individual level, but on a corporate and systematic level. Our cries for deliverance is not just a cry for God to set things right in the world, but also a cry to set things right in ourselves. We cry out for God to heal the violence, pain, death, and destruction that is going on around us. But he didn’t just come to heal and restore and redeem the world from it’s sin, he also came to heal and restore and redeem us. He came to put everything to right, individually, corporately and systematically. In Jesus, we see that God is set on answering this prayer through restoration and healing. He comes down and He reveals himself, all for the purpose of restoring us and our relationship with Him. This is Advent. Our hearts are weighed down with gratitude. Out of our history of brokenness, Jesus crafts a future of restoration.
And so we see the people of God in the Old Testament crying out for God to rend the heavens and come down. To show up and put things to right. And 700 years later Jesus shows up (why we celebrate Advent) and through his life, death, and resurrection, he redeems, restores, re-creates, and rescues all of creation, which includes us. But we still wait, we still long, and we still see the effects of sin all around us and inside us. We still cry out as the people of God for God to come down and set it right once and for all. And in Mark 13 see Jesus talking about that time when the Son of Man will come back and set the world back the way things should be. I’d encourage you to go and read that this week on your own. When Shalom will come in its fullness. And so we cry out and we wait. We wait in this advent season for Jesus, his second coming, and for the world and for ourselves to be completely re-created.
But what do we do in the meantime? Do we just sit around for Jesus to come back? What does it mean to “wait” during this advent time? Where have we seen God show up and begin the process of redemption and recreation? And how does God want to use you and us to bring about restoration for the people in our lives? How will you and I actively pursue that over this Advent season? Let’s talk about those things together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. How might God be calling each of us (individually and corporately) to wait during this Advent season?
3. When and where have you seen God show up and begin the process of redemption and recreation?
4. How does God want to use you (and us together) to bring about restoration for the people in our lives and in the world around us? How will you and I actively pursue that over this Advent season?