Things were not going as they hoped. This was not what they expected.When the Judeans returned from exile, it felt like the new Exodus. God was bringing them out of oppression with a mighty hand and bringing them back to a good land of milk and honey. They were God’s chosen people, destined to be a light to all nations. They would go back to the land, and be prosperous, and worship God and all nations would be drawn to God’s presence among them.
It didn’t work out that way. Instead, life was hard – this was not the glorious return predicted by the prophets. There were disputes over land claims, harvests were not good, houses had to be rebuilt. The people who had been living in the land during the exile were not happy to see the Judeans return - there were fighting and attacks and delegations to the King of Persia trying to get the Judeans off the land. Those sins which got them exiled in the first place - idol worship and injustice toward the poor, widows and orphans – enticed them. And they were still a people under occupation by the Persians, without a king in the line of David on the throne.The people cried out “Where are God’s mighty acts? Why does God hide from us? From where does our hope come?”
“O God – o that you would tear open the heavens and come down! Come to us in our need, forgive us of our greed. Show us your face so we can worship you and follow your teachings. Make the nations tremble at how zealously you care for you people. Tear open the heavens and come!”
Things were not going as they hoped. This was not what they expected.500 odd years later, Judea is still an occupied land. Since they were into exile by the Babylonians and returned to the land yet remaining under Persian rule, they’ve been occupied by the Greeks, then the Romans. Attempts to overthrow the occupiers are unsuccessful. They groan under Roman oppression and long for the promise of a king in the line of David.
The king they do have, Herod, is not of David’s line – is only marginally a Jew at all. He’s in power because he has lobbied for favor with the Romans. In fact, everyone in power has lobbied for Roman favor – the high priest is not from the correct priestly line, but in power through Roman support. The ruling class is deeply divided – the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Scribes squabble over doctrine and politics. Zealots band together to plot violent overthrow of the Romans and anyone cooperating with them.The rich ruling class is well off, but the poor are even poorer. The peasant class is prevailed upon to provide food and goods for the cities – fishermen provide fish for the city dwellers, farmers plant wheat for bread on city tables, shepherds send their flocks off to be main course at city banquets, tradesmen are working to build the cities and furnish city homes. The pittance they are paid for their efforts barely supports their families.
Isaiah’s words sounded like their own hopes.The people cried out “Where are God’s mighty acts? Why does God hide from us? From where does our hope come?”
“O God – o that you would tear open the heavens and come down! Come to us in our need, forgive us of our greed. Remove our oppressors and bring our Messiah, the promised king in the line of David. Make the nations tremble at how zealously you care for you people. Tear open the heavens and come!”
Things were not going as hoped. This was not expected.Just two days ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a conquering king. Just yesterday, he turned over the money changers tables and drove the merchants from the temple. Today, he challenged the priests, rebuked the Pharisees, denounced the Scribes, made the chilling prophecy about the destruction of the temple. He talks about the day he will come in his glory – about judgment. He tells his disciples to be awake, and aware – like servants who do not know if the master will return at evening or midnight or rooster crow or morning, but constantly ready for his return.
Surely this was the time; Jesus was coming into his power. But it didn’t work out that way.The master didn’t return in the evening – he was in the upper room having a last meal with his friends, the bread and the wine standing in for his body and blood.
The master didn’t return at midnight – he was in the garden praying, agonizing, while his friends slept.The master didn’t return at the early morning rooster crow – he was standing accused before the chief priest and the one friend who promised to stand by him no matter what was firmly denying he even knew him.
The master didn’t return in the morning – he stood before Pilate as Pilate condemned him to the cross.It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
Then the sun darkened, and the earth trembled, and the temple curtain was ripped opened as the heavens tore apart and the Son of Man who came to us as a baby in a manger and not a prince in a place revealed the almighty power of God even as he took his dying breath on the cross.God came down and tore open the heavens! Came to us in human flesh, loved us, healed us, suffered with us, suffered for us, one of us. All creation tremble at how zealously you care for you people. Tore the heavens apart and came to deliver us!”
This was not what we hoped for; it was not what we expected.It looked hopeless, but hope burst from an empty tomb;
It looked powerless but God revealed God’s mighty hand;
God tore open the heavens and came down!
This was more than we hoped for; it was beyond all our expectations.
And yet, we understand that cry of Isaiah. We hear our own hopes echo across the centuries.For we live in a world where although we can hear the promise of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching, children still go to bed hungry, the homeless shiver in the cold, the sick suffer from their illnesses, violence roams our streets, nations war against nations, and economies collapse.
We cry out “Where are God’s mighty acts? Why does God hide from us? From where does our hope come?” knowing that our hope comes from God opening the heavens and coming to us again and again.We live in the in-between times, where we proclaim God’s victory and wait for the final act. We struggle to be awake to the presence of God in the world around us, to be alert for those times we see God in the face of our neighbor, and to be aware of the many ways God comes to us.
And so each Advent we start by looking at the end, by looking at what it will be like when we see the “Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” – that time when the powers of evil will be bound and only God will reign. We remember with longing the promise of the coming kingdom of God.This first Sunday in Advent, we wait with the world in fear and in confident hope, knowing that God has come to us and God will come again.
“O God – o that you would tear open the heavens and come down! Come to us in our need, forgive us of our greed. Restore your creation, bring peace to your children, let your kingdom come in full, let your will be done! Make the nations tremble at how zealously you care for you people. Tear open the heavens and come!”
O God, tear open the heavens and come!