Come Down . . .

As we look around us, we can already see glimpses of Christmas springing up all around us.  The hyper consumerism of the season is already overwhelming.  Today is what has come to be known as Black Friday.  We are innundated with ads for things that are presented as must haves but are definitely not needed.  The world of excess that I hinted at in the previous devotional seems even more present now.  Thanksgiving has barely come and gone; and yet in and around us Consumer-oriented Christmas has been encroaching since before Halloween.  The true meaning of Christmas is bound to get lost if we are not careful.  Tucked between Thanksgiving and Christmas morn, is a very important season that deserves our time and attention.  

This Sunday ushers us in to one of my favorite seasons, the season of Advent.  Advent is a time when we celebrate not only the first coming of Jesus, but we also anticipate the second, promised coming of Jesus.  This season is one of repentance, expectation, hope, anticipation, and waiting.  The paraments, the liturgical cloths that grace the altar and pulpit will either be purple or blue.  Purple reminds us of a call to repentance in preparation for the second coming of Christ.  Blue points to the aspect of this season that is full of hope.  Both blue and purple call to mind that Jesus is King of Kings, a royal one in our midst.  There will be an advent wreath in our sanctuaries.  The wreath embodying the nature of God who has no end and no beginning.  The evergreen color reminds us of God's ever present and ever loving nature.  The candles point to the weeks of waiting, of hoping, of anticipating.  This Sunday we will light the first candle.  The first candle, typically a purple candle, is sometimes called,  "The Candle of the Prophets."  It symbolizes hope, expecation and anticipation of the coming Messiah as foretold by the prophets.

Today we will be focusing on the lectionary passage for the first Sunday of Advent that is from the prophet Isaiah:

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 forever.

Now consider, we are all your people. 

Isaiah 64:1-9 NRSV

In today's passage, we fnd ourselves in the midst of a prayer of lament and a cry for help and mercy. (To understand the greater context of this lament, go back and start with Isaiah 63:7 and read through our text for today; I would even advise reading through verse 64:12.)  It has been rough going for the people of Israel.  Their world has been going "to hell in a hand basket," as the saying goes.  Even though they have been released from their servitude in Babylon, and Cyrus the Persian has allowed them to return to Jerusalem and even helped provide resources for their arduous journey and the rebuilding of the temple, it has not been an easy row to hoe.  They have found that their city and temple are essentially rubble.  They are fighting amongst themselves.

Isaiah begins this prayer of lament by recounting the mercy and lovingkindness of God (See Isaiah 63:7 and following.)  This prayer of lament becomes very raw and lays bear how Israel feels even if it is not an accrate portrayal of God.  In the desparity of the people, they blame God.  From the beauty and authenticity of this lament, we realize that God is big enough to handle their anguish (and ours), their misplaced blame (and ours), their fear (and ours), and their anger (and ours).  This prayer of lament is not a retelling of facts, but rather an authentic and raw display of feeling.  The people of Israel are at their wit's end.  They know that their relationship with God is not good.  Their bend toward sin and willful disobedience has gotten them to a place of misery.  The consequences of their sins have seemed unbearable at times.  The prophet likens them all being as one who has become unclean, and that even their righteousness, their goodness is a pollluted garment, literally a stained menstrual garment.  (For more on what this anaolgy implies, I invite you to go back and read Leviticus 15:19-30.)  The prophet is saying that not only are the people unclean and full of sin, that everything they touch seems to also be tainted by sin.  Even that which is good, is tainted by sin.  The prophet goes on to use the image of a leaf, that is no longer connected to its source.  Israel, because of its iniquity, because of it sin has lost its connection with God.  God is there wanting to be in relationship, yet Irsrael keeps on choosing disobedience.  And because of this sinful behavior they feel far from God.  Israelt is feeling consumed by their sin and as if God has hidden God's face from them.  Yet even in the midst of this seeming despair, the prophet knows that God is able to make a way where there seems to be no way.

As we look at the world around us, we too can lament our situations.  The world still seems to be proverbally going "to hell in a hand basket."  And we find ourselves crying out, "Where are you God?"  "Oh Lord, that you would come down and rectify this situation."  Where are you, God, when the world is rendered apart by war?  Where are you, God, when there is poverty beyond our comprehension?  Where are you, God, when there is disease, cancer, and illness we cannot even fathom?  Where are you, God, when natural disaster strike?  Where are you, God, in the midst of our suffering, pain, loneliness, depression?  Where are you, God, when everything seems to be going wrong?

In the midst of feelings such as these, the prophet cries out to God:

"O that you would tear the heavens, that you would come down . . .."

The prophet is not afraid to call out to God.  Isaiah goes on to say that when God does come down that God's presence will be so known that even the mountains will quake at God's presence.  Not only will the mountains quake but also the people.  

The prophet goes on to reference a time when God did awesome things in the past.  God has been about the work of awesome acts on behalf of and in amongst the people of Israel for quite some time now.

The prophet points out that God has a habit of working on behalf of those who wait on God.  When we are willing to walk by faith, when we are willing to live in God's timing rather than our own, these actions represent waiting on God.  God has a way of making God's presence known to us when we strive to live in the center of God's will, doing the work God has called us to do.  

The prophet then goes on to acknowledge both God's anger and the sin of the people.  It is clear here, unlike earlier in this prayer of lament, that the prophet is aware that Israel is to blame for its sin.  God invites us to a life in God's will, but we are at liberty to choose to follow that path or our own.  As we keep on choosing to be strong willed and disobedient, there will be consequences for our actions; yet God, is always there, wooing us, loving us, hoping we will choose what God already knows is best for us.  God is not the author of the evil in our lives.   There will be consequences for our actions.  There will be stuff that happens in our lives for which there is no logical explanation or blame.  I call it "the $&*% happens" or "the stuff happens" theology.  Bad things happen to all people.  Some of it we bring on ourselves;  some of it is attributed to evil forces around us; and some of it there just does not seem to be a rhyme or reason.  Yet in the midst of it all we find the Immanueal God, the with us God who walks with us through the valleys.  In the midst of war and violence, God is the abiding peace and reconciling presence that carries us through.  In the midst of extreme poverty, God is in the face of the impoverished, and also in the face of the ones who give a hand up.  In the midst of illness, hurt, and cancer, God acts as the healing balm and abiding presence, whether that healing comes in this life or the next.  When natural disaster strikes, God is among the people who are affected and in the people who reach out to help.  And in the midst of suffering, pain, loneliness, and depression, God is there loving us, comforting us, guiding us, walking with us every step of the way.  On our own, we can do nothing.  We are corrupted and marred by sin.  But because of God's great love for us, we realize we are not alone.  

God, Yahweh, is our heavenly parent.  When we are willing to live surrendered lives, to live as a living sacrifice, in God's hands we are like clay lovingly shaped and molded into who God is calling us to be.  God is merciful and loving.  Even when we are sinful and there our consequences for our choices and actions, God is there.  God loves us in spite of these choices.  

In this Advent season, we live betwixt and between.  Like the people of Israel of so long ago, we, too, find ourselves waiting and hoping for God to break in on the scene and make things right.  As we look toward this season of Advent, not only remembering the first coming of Christ, but also anticipating Christ's second coming,  may we have the courage to cry out to the One who is already in our midst, "O that You, O God, would keep tearing the veil between heaven and earth, that you would keep coming into our midst . . .."  May we experience the presence of God this season, and always.  In the midst of war may we experience God's peace that passes all understanding, and may we be agents of that peace.  In the midst of poverty, may we experience the prodigal God whose abundance is beyond measure, and may we share God's abundance, grace, and presence with those who need it most.  In the midst of illness and disease, may we experience the kind of healing only God can bring, whether it is in this life or the next.  May God use us as vessels of healing and wholeness in the midst of this hurting world.  When, so called, natural disaster strikes, may we be with those who are affected.  May we be incarnational in helping to bring healing and rebuilding.  In the midst of suffering, pain, loneliness, and depression, may we know that God walks with us though these valleys.  We are not alone.  And may we also walk with others through their valleys.  May we be willing to give the gift of presence.  Where is God?  God is right here in our midst.  God is Immaunel, a with us sort of God, who meets us where we are.  God, out of God's amazing love for us, breaks into our midst, bringing love, hope, peace, and joy.  This Advent season, may we present to God our brokenness, our hurt, our pain, and our darkness, so that God can bring healing, wholeness, and light.  This Advent Season, may we be willing to be real, raw, and authentic with God.  Let us cry out with the prophet, "O that you would tear the heavens, the you would come down."  Come, Holy Spirit, Come.  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.  We need you more than words could ever say.

As we enter into this blessed season may we sing the words of this beautiful hymn, written, so long ago:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus by Chalres Wesely

During this season as we celebrate the first coming, and look toward the second coming, we are meant to slow down.  Breathe in.  Breathe Out.  Take time to ponder.  Take time to reflect.  Pause in the midst of the busy-ness.  Be still.  Watch.  Wait.  Practice spiritual disciplines.  Be mindful of that which sepeartes you from God.  Be mindful of that which separates you from yourself.  Be mindful of that which separates you from others.  Draw close to the manger.  Draw close to God who continues to break in our midst, to come down among us.  May the peace of God surround and envelop you.  In the name of Jesus, our Immanuel, perfect love in our midst, we pray.  Amen.  

 All paintings, drawings, Ideas, and wording on this webpage are copyrighted by the artist.  
© 2010 Charissa Jaeger-Sanders.  All Rights Reserved.  You are welcome to use the ideas and suggestions found on this website, for no fee, as long as you give credit to Grace Works Studio.  However, if you Find this Website helpful, please consider giving a donation to Grace Works Studio to help continue its ministry.