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 the coming one. 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 Sovereign, you are our God; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O God, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. ****************************************************************************************
Wow, happy Advent! Tough words from this chapter of Isaiah for sure! And though this passage may not give you that warm fuzzy Christmas-y feeing you may have come here for today, it does give a great description of how many of us may been feeling lately, a lot like the picture on the front of your bulletin.... the person laying listlessly on top of the world, blindfolded- the title of that painting is called hope and there is more about it in this year's advent book- but this figure illustrates so well the sentiments of the children of Israel.
The people of Israel are calling on God, and calling God out! Just the first sentence- " 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! Show the world who you are, God! Come down here and fix these crazy people- show them who you are so things straighten out. It's what we pray almost weekly here... "God, let people see you, feel you, and be guided and directed by you..."
And the people remind God, and remind themselves- You've been here in the past- youve done it before- 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 the coming one. In other words, when we werent even loooking, you surprised us- its all you, God-
But then the people take a left turn in their pray that you and I would rarely admit we do... after calling on God, see if you can sense the accusatory tone: 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.
And there it is... it's their fault- but its also God's fault. God hasn't been showing up lately- of in the people's words, God has been angry and hiding- and we as a people have tried to cradle the world, but we've fallen into sin- and God, you let it happen. (now) We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
The word used for 'a filthy cloth,' in Hebrew, is better translated, a used menstruation cloth- something that has the chance of new life spilled on it- that is a visible proof to a woman that despite her and her partners best efforts, she carries no new life within her. It's a strong image when relating to how the people see themselves and their situation. They believe, they are sure that they can not help themselves, and since God is hiding, since God won't come and make the mountains quake, or give them a clear sign what to do, they are surely doomed, sprawled out on the globe, listless. And they confess, blindfolded, in simple awareness to the God who seem somewhere out of reach: 'We've sinned God- we didn't see you, we didn't feel you, we can't find you, we tried but it's too much- we're just as bad as everyone else... we're living in sin down here.'
And if we think even for five minutes about the situations in our lives and in the world today that we have written off because they've just gone too far, or those we think of that we call impossible to fix, and we see proof daily on the news or in the headlines that we no longer carry new life within us, and we can understand just where the people of Israel are coming from. Tax bills, sexual scandals, mass shootings, I dont have to name it all out... where are you God? Why are you hiding? We are a mess- its too much- and we keep getting deeper and deeper into it..
And they leave it right there. The confession hangs out there like an unresolved chord at the end of a musical phrase- this is a very different kind of confession than we see modeled around us. When we see people confess, it's usually for one of two reasons- one, they've been caught and want to be forgiven, or two, to get themselves somewhat off the hook by cooperating with authorities, like a plea deal- we've seen that just this week in the news, But the people of Israel aren't confessing for get a lesser sentence, or accusing anyone else- they arent even asking God to forgive them necessarily- instead they are standing before God and saying, here's what's going on.
There is something very powerful in that, and it speaks directly to the kind of relationship this group of people had with God. There is an intimacy here that we can learn from- they don't speak to God as some distant entity or benefactor who grants favors- or a judge who can grant them a pardon, they use a tone here that you would use with a partner- a spouse, or a sibling when you want to clear the air- "So, I messed up- big time. And not for nothing, where were you? You said you would be here- and you haven't shown up. I get that you were probably mad, but you know how much I rely on you. Because you're off doing your own thing, I'm left on my own here! I've made a mess of things and now I've just stopped even looking for you... 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 sin.
Intellectually, and theologically, we might know God doesn't hide- but it sure can seem that way. I mean, we do it, don't we? We get mad or hurt, and we stay away from the people we love. We cross our arms and decide to let them suffer without us, live out life without our help- teach them a lesson. So why not project that on to God when God doesn't seem to be doing what we want God to do- to fix our problems- when we have been looking for the mountains to quake and we get nothing but silence- God must be mad, right? And when we've waited long enough, and asked long enough, and prayed hard enough and still get nothing, we figure, what the heck, I'm going to do what I want now. And though we may not want to admit it, sometimes we blame God for that.
Now, most of us wouldn't verbalize that. Most of us dont like to admit that we sometimes get angry at God for not showing up, or worry that God is mad at us when God doesnt show up- but its a pretty common feeling. I'm grateful to the writers of scripture that they leave passages like this in- that we can see, yes, we're not the only ones who feel this way. Especially when we get to the very next sentence.
Because though the people are hurting, and desperate, and admittedly guilty for what they've done, and perhaps even angry with God- they do not leave the prayer without coming back around and affirming what they know to be true- Yet, O Sovereign, you are our God; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
This simple acknowledgement of who God is, who they are, is enough to affirm that though things might seem hopeless, they belong to God- they are in this together with God- and God will continue to work to make them into something they can not yet see. Like a potter moulding clay, God is continually working to bring out the best of who they are- continue to shape them and craft them- and not even for a moment, takes divine hands from them... The definitiveness of that statement- of the perpetual and continuing presence of God, despite how it my appear, is my friends what advent hope is made of. That regardless of how it seems, or any thing that we can project on God, or how distant or hidden God seems to us- the potters hands hold and mold us. Yes, the world might seem beyond hope, but God has not stopped working. Our situations might seem beyond what we can fix, but God has a plan for us. The proof of the end of our efforts may stare us in the face like a dirty cloth, but God is still creating, still planting, still growing in ways that we can not see... yet.
That is advent... that is this season of hope... that we wait, blind to the way it will happen, but confident that God is sending a savior... That's hope! That's ADVENT hope! Peace to you... Linda