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Tear the Heavens and Come Down!

Advent I Common Lectionary Year B

Isaiah 64:1-9

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Audio File

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!
What has Isaiah done!
Here we are, Cedar Park,
completing a banner season of growth
in all the right places,
we’re capping it off with a joyous weekend;
Coffee house Carollers singing Christmas into the building…
Trees and Stars already in place …
and to cap it all,
we even start Advent with a baby’s baptism!
Welcoming Darcie into our midst
in anticipation of welcoming the newborn
Prince of Peace in 25 days’ time.

And then like the thirteenth fairy,
showing up at the baby shower.
in he comes, with full-throated desperation,
“Oh, God!
If only you would tear open
the heavens and come down!”

Isaiah’s voice is not the one we wanted to hear
from pulpit or pew today.
We wanted to create, for one hour at least,
some out- of -world spiritual experience
of God’s fidelity and love,
and our own capability to be grace-filled,
honest, true and hopeful.

But Isaiah has brought the world in with him.
His ancient words speak ring out a startlingly present truth.
He laments for a world that has gone horribly wrong,
that has failed to meet expectations.
and even more startling, and even more present,
he laments for a God who is not meeting expectations either.

In Isaiah’s world, an entire nation has lived for over a generation
on a diet of prophetic promises and audacious hopes
for a changed world order,
a time when God will lead them home from exile,
when God will shepherd them back to their golden city – Jerusalem
there to worship God,
and live off milk and honey,
pomegranates and olives, and wine,
and an abundance of meat and wheat.
God the restorer of the fortunes of Zion,
the shepherd folding her sheep once more in safety and plenty.

Only it hasn’t panned out quite like that.
The city was a crumbled crater of ash and ruin,
the vineyards were flattened, olive groves burned,
the fields a mess of weeds,
trampled flat by defeated armies,
the economy is in tatters, the houses have no roofs,
and the temple is gone, God has apparently vacated the premises.

Not surprising then, that this Third Isaiah,
heir to the promises of an earlier namesake, is distraught!
“Make good on who you were,” he demands of God.
“Back in the day, God, you parted seas to rescue people.
Where are you now?
Back in the day, God, you birthed a nation from
a barren woman,
why then are we surrounded by emptiness, burned out
houses where no children play?”
“Back in the day…. where are you now….?
You need not to merely tip a finger across the Sistine ceiling
with a few drops of measured blessing, God…
You need to tear open the heavens,
and come down. Be God!”

When, in the middle of his heart-rending prayer
Isaiah confesses the sins of his people,
who failed to make good on the promises
of faithfulness to the Dream of God,
we can see the failings of our own times:
How could Ferguson happen after last century’s
civil rights movement?
How can Cosby and Gomeshi,
how can religiously and politically sanctioned gay-bashing still be happening in our world when we thought we’d made such progress in gender justice?
How can the world still be held in thrall to the bottom line interests of trans-global economic empires, leaving 870 million people in conditions of chronic malnutrition?

“Oh, God!” we now echo Isaiah,
“If only you would tear the heavens and come down!”
And perhaps also like Isaiah, if we’re honest like him,
we have a touch of anger in our plea,
at God’s apparent complicity in the failings of our world.
Twice, Isaiah accuses God: “You hid yourself!”
“You’ve left us alone to suffer the consequences
of our collective sin. How could you?
How can you still?”

It’s surely a lament of our modern world
that the God of the Bible, so intertwined with the
daily lives of ancient people, seems so far off to us today.
While we can be caught up in the magical mystery of the season
and retell stories of a baby’s birth in a stable in Bethlehem,
this Christmas God-child seems quite inane,
tame and inconsequential to the needs of our time,
we frankly, honestly need a God who will indeed

“Tear those heavens,
rip them open so no stitching can repair them,
cross the chasm and enter the chaos alongside us
be with us, flesh and blod, in the hurts of the world,
as evident as a quaking mountain,
do something big enough to shake the world
aright, to make the nations tremble with
passion for justice, peace, goodwill.

Despite my wishes that Scripture for today
would have been hope-filled and baptismal-baby proof,
fit for a holy moment out- of- time,
instead, I am now thankful that
Isaiah has, with his anguished honesty,
taken his place at the beginning of our Advent,
and called us and God to be present
in the harsh realities of our present world,
and to do what the people of God alone can do,
which is to stand up and be counted in the world,
and to pray, plead, crave, demand God’s presence with us.
All of us.

For surely that’s what this Season is about.
Asking God in all honesty,
to tear open the heavens and come.


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