O That You Would Come Down
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

November 30, 2014
First Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

The relationship between humanity and God in the Bible is rarely simple, even less often straightforward and unambiguous, and frequently contentious. In other words, like most of our relationships, it is messy.

As I said last week, the prophet speaks a word that the people need to hear, and often speaks with the voice of God. Passages begin with “Thus says the Lord God;” and frequently conclude with “For I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” The prophet does not simply speak for “a” god, but for the God of Israel, the God of covenant, the God of redemption, and rescue, and presence, and manna and water in the wilderness.

Our reading this morning comes from what we call Third Isaiah, the time of Persian rule of Israel, but after the people who want to return home have come back to Israel. But return from exile is not as good as they had hoped. The land that had flowed with milk and honey in their memory is now rife with competition for limited resources; outsiders controlling things, by force if necessary; people who had been family and friends and neighbors generations ago are now at odds over who worships the right way, who should be in charge, how things ought to be done.

In the midst of this Isaiah prays:

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!

For when God acted in the past, nobody could forget it, nobody could doubt, nobody could wonder whether or not it was God.

In midst of this prayer there is a call to God to remember God’s covenant. It is not a scolding of the people, but a reminder to God. We might expect it to be:

Lord you hid your face because we have forgotten you
and we have not called on your name or attempted to take hold of you.

Instead Isaiah says it the other way around:

But you [God] were angry, and we sinned;
because you [God] hid yourself we transgressed.

Isaiah places it back on God. This is not a good Sunday School answer where we know whatever the question is, we are supposed to say we were wrong and ask God to help us do better. This is old school Jewish scolding of God.

We have a lot of people who want God to rend the skies and come down. In Ferguson, Missouri right now, the protestors want God to tear open the skies and come down and restore justice to the land. The shop owners want God to tear open the skies and come and protect their life’s work, their livelihood. The police want God to swoop in and restore order and peace. And each of these in its own way is a valid cry and an urgent prayer. O God, come and fix this mess that is of our making, but seems too big for our fixing.

For many of us, we may not have much time to catch the news because we are too busy trying to hold our own lives together. It is the holidays, a season of stress and remembered grief. It is the time of family gatherings, and of course THAT never causes any stress, does it?

Isaiah’s genius is not in praying to God. Lots of people pray. Nor is it in saying people fall short. We all know our own failings, although it is more fun to talk about others’. Isaiah’s genius is that by turning it around, it is a prayer that is first and foremost about relationship, not sin.

It is a claim made on God, and so also on us, that this covenant is a two way street. It is a claim made on God, and so also on us, that God’s love is not a onetime deal, nor is it so weak as to be broken by our human difficulties and iniquities.

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.

What would happen if we sat next to those we disagreed with and prayed this passage of Isaiah, reminding God that we are ALL God’s people? Put it another way, if we start to love our enemy, do we still have an enemy?

Advent is a time of preparation for the answer to Isaiah’s cry that God would open the skies and come down. And even our Gospel passage tells us that the answer is not the one we expect. We want to be able to schedule when God will come down and make everything all right, because we are kinda busy, and if God could just get it done between our 10 am and 1 pm appointments, gee, that would be just swell.

In 1996 a group from the KKK held a rally in Ann Arbor. There were protestors there, and somebody noticed a man with a confederate flag t-shirt and SS tattoos among those protesting the KKK. The crowd turned ugly and started hitting him with their placards. When he fell down, they started kicking him.

An African American 18 year old woman named Keshia Thomas was a part of the crowd, but when it turned violent, she laid her body down on top of the man, shielding his body from the violence with her own. As one bystander said, she did for him what he probably would never have done for her. Afterwards, a young white man came up to Ms. Thomas and said “Thank you.” She asked why he was thanking her. He said, “Because he is my dad.”

But about that day or hour no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven,
nor the Son, but only the Father.
Beware, keep alert;
for you do not know when the time will come.

May we too be found ready when the moment for God to show up in unexpected ways comes. May we be alert and ready.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.

Thanks be to God.