Dr Kate Harrison Brennan launches our Advent series with a reflection on Christ interrupting our world in a beautiful, political and dramatic way.
Jessica Smith is Community Pastor at St George’s Anglican Church, Paddington and Common Grace's Operations Director.
Today's reading is Isaiah 64:1-9
Are you ever beset with longing? There was one year of my life, after it felt like just about everything had gone wrong, that was characterised by deep aching. Things felt out of shape - life wasn’t meant to be like this, the world wasn’t meant to be like this - and the tone of the year was one of crying out to God to make it different.
In today’s reading, Isaiah the prophet hauntingly cries out in longing and lament, interceding for the people of God. Isaiah cries out with such deep desperation. It’s a cry of pain and anguish, for God seems so far away, so absent, so other. Yet in dependence, and a deep awareness that there’s no other way for things to be fixed he cries out ‘rip through the barrier’, ‘tear through whatever keeps us apart’, ‘be active, come down, fix it’.
God came and met Isaiah’s longing for intervention in the bizarre birth of a tiny baby, surrounded by animals and shepherds in a no-hope town, on the periphery of the empire. A strange and unexpected answer to Isaiah’s prayer.
This part of Isaiah – his future vision of Chapters 55-66 - relates to when the first exiles are returning from Babylon. They feel deeply abandoned by God. They’ve come home but to a wasteland, a destroyed sanctuary, to limited self-rule and where tensions abound between the returnees and those who have been living in the land. This was not the golden age the prophets had promised.
And so Isaiah voices the desperate questions: ‘Where are you God? and Why are we so wayward? Has your patience with Israel run out? Have you withdrawn your love and care for us?’
For hundreds of years the people of God lived in this silence.
As the New Testament opens, Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah are still in much the same position, living under Roman occupation with only their hope in God to sustain them.
Yet on them, the prophecies of the Messiah were dawning, and with them we witness the amazing answer to Isaiah’s prayer. To “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”, God says ‘Yes’.
A resounding, surprising ‘Yes – I will come down. I will do the unimaginable and I will tear the heavens open. I will come from the heavenly realm and inject myself into time and place. I will be the wonderful answer you are hoping for. I will be with you.’
The very unexpected beauty of God’s answer to Isaiah’s heart-cry shatters, divides and transforms history. ‘I won’t restrain myself any longer, I won’t remain silent’. And as a result, societies have quaked and hearts have been set on fire.
After God’s incredible intervention, the heavens have been rent and there’s no going back! God is now with us; with us in the human person of Jesus, who has washed us clean and sits at the right hand of the Father. The chasm that Isaiah called out has now been breached. God is with us!
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Daily Reading Isaiah 64:1-9
64 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2 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!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 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.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.