Tear Open the Heavens

Advent 1B – Isaiah 64:1-9

“Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Did you catch the urgency, the poignancy of the prophet’s cry? The prophet’s plea comes from the midst of the ruins. If you want to see what I mean, read on to the end of Isaiah 64. The Chaldeans had conquered the land, looted the nation’s treasure, taken the leading citizens of Judea captive, broken down the city walls and destroyed the holy temple. On the human level, who can most resonate with the prophet’s cry? The people of Atlanta or Columbia in 1865? The citizens of Berlin or Tokyo in 1945?

Ruins of Mannheim 1945
Ruins of Mannheim 1945

As Isaiah sits in the ruins, he knows that his people bear a large degree of responsibility. Certainly, to acknowledge Judean responsibility is not to excuse Chaldean brutality, greed or lust for power. Also certainly, not all misfortune is the result of wrong doing. Becoming aware of your own complicity in your misfortune, though, goes a long way toward fixing the problem. You and I aren’t prophets and we don’t see with the prophet’s clarity, but the author of this oracle knows the awful truth.

The prophet knows his people’s guilt, but he asks for God’s help anyway. With the prophet, the quintessential Advent hymn calls out, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Those of us who don’t live in the ruins don’t feel the urgency of that plea. Why would we want God to break in now? My life’s pretty good! We just celebrated Thanksgiving and we are very aware of our blessings. We might want Christ to come, but not today. We have plans.

If we really want to know what it means to hope, we need to sit with those who live in the ruins in the ruins of their cities or farms, in the ruins of their hopes and dreams, in the ruins of their families or personal lives. There are so many ways to sit in the ruins. If we can identify with those who see their lives as ruined, then can we know that the coming of the Lord is not an interruption of our pleasant lives, but the true fulfillment of the promise implicit in creation.

Our Advent readings invite us to look back, to recall the hopes and dreams of God’s people before the coming of Jesus. But they also invite us to look forward to the day when Jesus will come again. The gospel reading proclaims that God indeed is coming. Isaiah pleads for God to open the heavens and come down; Mark proclaims, “they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

God sees and hears the pleas of his people. He will come to make all things new. Christians, of course, not only believe that he will come on the clouds, but that he has come in the form of a servant and that he left us with a down-payment on the age to come in the form of his spirit.