Musician Alanna Glover reflects on Mary’s song and the hope we share in Jesus' birth.
REV MITCH FORBES
For our second Advent 2023 devotional, Rev Mitch Forbes reflects on the life-giving and life-changing hope of Christ coming into our common home.
A Declaration of Hope
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 for ever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
My neighbour spent a lot of time in the lead up to the referendum at a ‘Vote Yes’ stall at Bar Beach. She would often come home and say to me ‘Mitch, I can’t do it anymore! What’s the point of trying? People don’t change! Nothing changes!’ Despite her disappointment, she continued to show up until voting closed in Newcastle.
I wonder whether this is how you are feeling at the end of this year? After a year of war, rejection and disappointment. We’ve done our best to create change but often feel that nothing is changing.
I was thinking about this as I read Isaiah 64. You get the impression that the prophet feels like things are pretty hopeless in Israel, like things will never change.
He says: ‘all our righteous deeds are like filthy cloth!’ (v6b)
Or ‘there is no one who calls on your name!’ (v7a)
And ‘your holy cities have become a wilderness… Jerusalem a desolation… all our pleasant places have become ruins’! (v10-11)
Israel’s own sin (addiction to power, exclusion, and violence) and the oppression and destruction they feel at the hands of their enemies, feel like problems that are beyond the ability of the prophet to solve. He has testified, organised and advocated for change but nothing is changing.
He might feel like change is extremely unlikely but right in the middle of the passage we get this ‘from ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God beside you, who works for those who wait for him!’
The prophet is picking up on a theme that is pervasive in the Hebrew Scriptures ‘waiting on God’.
In times of despair and hopelessness one of the things that marks out the faithful from the rest of the world is their stubborn commitment to waiting in hope that the God of love can and will intervene and change people’s hearts, indeed change the world!
Waiting is horrible. But then sometimes all we can do is wait. Think of someone waiting to hear news of a loved one who is caught in a war zone. Or a mother waiting to hear news of her daughter in surgery.
For the Christian, waiting in these moments of powerlessness is not passive. Waiting is a declaration that there is still hope. I might not be able to change things but no matter how dark things get, the God we worship can ‘tear open heaven and the mountains will quake at his presence.’ (Isaiah 64:1)
At Christmas we remember that God truly did ‘tear open heaven’. The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.
We remember that in Christ, God has delivered us from slavery to sin, death and the devil and that one day the world, our common home, will be full of God’s presence!
By faith we believe that The End is liberation and renewal for the entire cosmos!
This Advent let's raise our voice, shout, advocate, organise and agitate! And when the forces of evil seem to outnumber those of goodness and love, let’s not give up but wait in hope for the God of the otherwise hopeless to step in and bring life-giving, renewing and restorative change.
Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
Rev Mitch Forbes lives on Awabakal land with his wife Kristen and three kids and is the newly appointed Congregation Minister at New Lambton Uniting Church. He is a thinker, speaker, writer, pastor and regular guest on the Spiritual Misfits podcast. Alongside his work at church, Mitch runs a (semi)liturgical community called NewCity.