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! (Isaiah 64:1, 2)
This cry for God to act from the lectionary for the First Sunday of Advent seems very fitting. Calling on god to tear open the heavens. Tear down the barrier between heaven and earth that keeps the kingdom from coming and God’s will from being done on earth as it is in heaven.
But what if this has happened? What if the heavens were torn open and God has come down? (As depicted in these iconic depictions of the heaven opening.) In Advent what we wait for, what we are awake to is that God has come in the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth.
The tearing of the heavens and God coming with justice happened. It happened in a very strange and nearly imperceptible way. The nations, the powers, have been shaken. Yet, we can be unaware, live as though all is lost. Admittedly, in times like these, it doesn’t seem like this story has much relevance or meaning. If true what good has it done for those who continue to suffer injustice, oppression, and death.
Isaiah, a few verses below the words above, wonders why God doesn’t act as in the time of Egypt , when God delivered Israel from the oppression of Pharaoh and Egypt, the empire and power of the day. But think with me on that story:
Did Israel’s freedom from enslavement and oppression at the hands of the state power and government come because Pharaoh gradually made reforms and improved the conditions of the Hebrews? Did the justice Isaiah recalls and longs for come from Pharaoh, or even with Pharaoh’s help and co-öperation? No, it was wrested from pharaoh by God.
But in that wresting from Pharaoh the freedom of the Hebrews, God remained apart from humanity and creation in that moment of liberation. God crushes the power of oppression, destroying its ability to exact its legal penalties, and it’s justice. It was fearsome and violent, and at Mount Sinai the Israelites weren’t so sure what to make of all this shaking.
Now, when we speak of God’s advent, we are no longer speaking of the shock and awe that Isaiah is longing for in the tearing open of the heavens and God coming down. Yet, even so the heavens have been torn open and God has come down.
Even so, none of this has brought a permanent end to injustice. The heavens have been torn open and God descends… and then what… disappears?
Christians, (perhaps even the Church), are, and have been as much a part of oppression and injustice as working for liberation and justice.
There are questions… is something awakening?
We wait in darkness with not much light. This is Advent and a place of deep longing.
For now lets sit with heavens torn open and God come down, but seemingly little shaken, and ask what is the source of justice and liberation? What are we looking for, and who are we looking towards to provide it?