Oh 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. (Isaiah 64:1-4)
Today begins Advent.
I’m a lover of words (a logophile, if you will), and I always have been. In middle school, I loved the lists of vocabulary words we had to memorize and learn to use and I get a little giddy when I’m the Grammarian at Toastmasters and get to inflict a challenging new word of the day on my club. As I write sermons or papers, sometimes I catch myself being a bit too loquacious and realize I better check myself before I wreck myself.
The word “advent” is a vocabulary word. It is used to speak of the arrival of someone or something notable. Particularly, we might use it to mark the dawning of an era, usually in retrospect. One might speak about the “advent of social media,” for example.
In the Church, the word has sacred meaning. It marks the first season of the church year, which starts today (Happy New Year!). It also speaks of the coming of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, to earth, either for the first time, which we celebrate at Christmas, or the second time, which the Church awaits in hope. It marks a rending of the heavens, and opening of the veil between the holy and the human.
Advent denotes deep human longing for God to come near and dwell with us.
The prophet writing the words we read in Isaiah 64 knew this longing. “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” The prophet writes from a time long before Christ’s first advent, before God dwelling so tangibly and perfectly and purposefully with humanity was revealed in Christ.
From our perspective well on the other side of that first arrival, we may know a similar longing, so that Isaiah’s words ring all around us. “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Come, Lord Jesus, and bend all that is wrong and unjust in our world toward your holy justice.
If you are starting an Advent journey today, may it be blessed.
Note: During Advent this year, I am using the photo prompts from the United Methodist Church’s Rethink Church Initiative.
Additional note: I am aware that a lot of translations of this scripture say “O that you would rend the heavens and come down,” which is some fun vocabulary. Yet the word today is “open,” so I went with the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (which I usually yield to anyway).