Each week of Advent during the service, small groups are leading the congregation through a short devotional. Below is the devotional from December 3.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity for ever. Now consider, we are all your people.
Today begins the season of Advent, four weeks of reflection and preparation for our celebration of the birth of Jesus, the word of God made flesh among us. This may be a new tradition for some of us here, or some may be skeptical: Jesus was already born, why should we prepare? At the heart of Advent is a call to look backwards and forwards—to have one foot in the past to celebrate what God has done, and one foot in the not-yet of what God will do.
Our Scripture reading today puts us back into the story of Israel, the people through whom God promised to redeem the whole of creation. The prophet Isaiah was writing at a time of great anticipation and great uncertainty. The Israelites had been in exile from their homeland and temple, leaving them feeling like God had abandoned them. All around, pagan rulers and gods were a constant reminder that things were not as they should be. Psalm 80:4 says what many people probably felt: “O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?”
Some of us may feel similarly. We may feel God has left us, or that the world is filled only with bad things. We may even wonder if God is actually there. It is us and any who can identify with Israel’s pain that Isaiah prays both with and for. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake at your presence.” Isaiah is calling on God to interrupt the status quo, to literally tear through the veil that separates heaven and earth. During Advent we too ask God to interrupt the status quo, both of our world and our lives. We yearn for God even more than usual to do again what God does best: interrupt our “normal.”
Can we pray this way without a season called Advent? Absolutely. But we are frail humans—it is impossible for us to do this 100% all the time. Advent is itself an interruption to the normal of our daily lives and routines. But God also asks something of us. In Mark’s Gospel, Ch. 13, Jesus reminds his followers to “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” Advent is an invitation to us to be on guard, watchful, and prepared. We are to examine ourselves, confess our sin, aligning our lives with Jesus’.While Isaiah looks forward to an abrupt, apocalyptic interruption, we know that God’s interruptions are often more at the level of a whisper, or even the sound of an infant crying, than a bang. In the busyness and noise of holidays and shopping, Advent invites us to allow ourselves to be interrupted with space for quiet listening for Christ’s in-breaking into our world.
We light this first candle of Hope to remind us to place our trust only in God’s ways of interrupting this broken world.
Prayer: In-breaking God, We beseech you to tear open the heavens and our hearts and invade our space. Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Amen