Waiting for God-With-Us : Advent 1

By Matthew W. Humphrey, Director of Theological Education

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake 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… 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… 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

I don’t know about you, but this is a strange year to be entering Advent.  If you are new to this liturgical season, recall that it is Advent which begins the new Christian year, not Christmas.  We don’t begin the Church calendar with a celebratory feast but rather in the darkness of waiting, of longing, of great and heavy anticipation.   You see, the liturgical calendar helps us enter more deeply into the life of Jesus year after year.  Advent is an important time to do so through longing and this has implications for our life in Creation.

Consider this week’s reading from Isaiah 64.  “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down” the prophet declares.  That longing takes on a fresh meaning this year, doesn’t it, as we have been waiting for things to get back to some kind of normal!  Where I live, in Victoria, BC, our provincial health authority has just reinstated a period of strict prohibitions on social gathering – right when we were beginning to anticipate the Christmas season and time to finally gather together with family, friends, or loved ones!

But the focus of this Advent season is not waiting for Covid to end, nor for Santa Claus to come with a pile of gifts.  Rather, we wait for God to come down – entering into Creation as Emmanuel, God-With-Us.

Throughout Isaiah, the prophet envisions the time of God coming down – and this has implications not just for the people but for the land and all Creation!   In Isaiah 35, for instance, we read of the desert and dry land bursting forth in bloom as the waters and signs of abundant life return.  Just as the lame are healed and the blind restored to sight, so when God comes among us, shall the land be restored and its abundance shared.

How do we live in light of that promise?  Well, Advent begins in the dark.  In longing.  In learning to plead along with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?”

My friend Jonathan Wilson, in his book, God’s Good World, suggests this is one of the key prayers for all who love Creation and long for its healing. The psalmist asks, ‘How Long?’ “as the prayer of lament that reminds us that we live in the midst of a fallen world.  It forces us to direct our doubts, struggles, anxieties, frenzy and failure to God… when we pray, ‘How long?’ our lament is properly centered on God, who alone brings life in the midst of death, who alone brings evil to account without doing evil, who alone changes the world not just for the better but for the new Creation in Christ.”

As you look at Creation all around you, there are plenty of signs of a fallen world – and we each bear in our bodies more than a bit of doubt, anxiety and frenzy, don’t we?  In my experience, it is more common for us to bear these away and let them fester rather than cry out to God in lament.  This is perhaps an essential spiritual practice for us to engage this Advent season.

Advent begins in the dark.  In lament.  In longing.  In allowing ourselves to join in Isaiah’s pleading: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

How do you experience this longing for God to come and make things right?  What do you lament in this beautiful broken Creation this year?  How can you set aside time this week and throughout Advent to express all of that to God in prayer?

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