Tear Open the Heavens and Come Down
Trinitarian Congregational Church First Sunday of Advent
Anthony S. Kill December 3, 2017
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
Advent is a season of mixed emotions, almost a season of ambivalence.
On the one hand, the readings of the next few weeks will call us to hope, to eager, joyous expectation and anticipation of a promise about to be fulfilled.
But on the other hand, readings like today’s remind us that we are in for some hard times, some painful and fearful times, in a world that is not yet redeemed.
In the time of Isaiah, the people of Israel had found that their promised land was not invulnerable; Jerusalem had fallen, and its people were taken captive.
But now that the exile was over and they had returned they thought that now at least God would make good on the promise of a great kingdom; But their lives were still in shambles, and in some ways they were worse off than they’d been in Babylon!
Therefore, the verses just before and just after the 9 verses Sarah read from Isaiah, are filled with hard questions for God: ‘Why are things so bad? Where are you, God? Why is it that those who are your enemies are prospering? How can you allow this? Are we really in no relationship with you? What difference does having a God like you make anyhow?’
So Advent isn’t just a season for optimists, for those who face each new day with an eager smile, and see Christmas around every corner, anticipating all the wonderful persons and events that they can encounter today, and all the good things that are in store for them in the future.
Advent is also the season for pessimists, for those who keep finding their best hopes shattered,and their worst expectations fulfilled. This is a season for those among us who almost never “have a nice day”
For some, the hope that we try desperately to hang on to is the hope for health – for the restoration of the strength and vigor that we once had, or for the renewed use of a broken limb, or for the remission of pain. And we wait impatiently, searching desperately for the right doctor, the miracle drug, the perfect cure perhaps pushing ourselves too far too fast, at times; perhaps at times almost despairing and giving up trying or hoping altogether.
For others, the hope we try to cling to is the hope for a truly just and fair world; for the restoration of a society where every person really has equal respect and equal opportunity; where people can dare to trust their neighbors again, and the divisions of financial means or ethnic heritage or religious affiliation no longer funtion to wall us apart.
And we try to wait with fidelity, though we almost despair each time we open the morning paper, or turn on the evening news and see once again how the strong and the violent prey on the weak and defenseless, and how the rich and the powerful always get to dictate the writing of the laws and the enforcing of the rules, while the poor have their meager supports eroded away. day by day, rule by rule.
At other times, what we find ourselves desperately waiting for might be some inner, spiritual healing —
The cure of some personal failure or weakness, some addiction or bad habit or destructive resentment within us.
We throw ourselves on God’s mercy, but we know that the next day or week or month we’re likely to face the same problem all over again, and it’s never really lifted from our hearts.
In any of these situations, and in many others in our lives, we can readily find ourselves in the “Advent” mood: crying out, with Israel, “Where are you God?” “How did things get so bad?” “Why are we suffering and not your enemies?” “Do you really care for us at all?” And the most frightening part of all is that we don’t necessarily know whether our prayers will be answered.
We may find we have nothing to do but wait and hope someday we can make sense of this chaos.
We look on the horizon for new messiahs, but they all prove themselves false prophets.
So why bother to wait? What is the virtue in waiting at all? Shouldn’t we then just give up and walk away?
Well, waiting is an important part of hope and faith, with an openness to possibilities yet unseen, with a refusal to accept the status quo as our final prison, with an unwillingness to close every avenue for rescue or restoration.
And here is the good news: It is only through our brokenness that we can find repair and redemption.
S. Lewis once said, “The Christian faith is a thing of unspeakable joy. But it does not begin with joy, but rather with despair. And it is no good trying to reach the joy without first going through the despair.”
It is only through our brokenness that the Messiah can come into our world.
Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, put it this way “Our brokenness is the wound through which the full power of God can penetrate our being and transfigure us in God. “Loneliness is not something from which we must flee, but the place from where we can cry out to God, where God will find us and we can find God.
Yes, through our wounds the power of God can penetrate us and become like rivers of living water to irrigate the arid earth within us. Thus we may irrigate the arid earth of others, so that hope and love are reborn.”
The poet Leonard Cohen says it succinctly: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
There is a fountain, a light, a healing power at the threshold of our world, at the threshold of our hearts, who is willing and able to save us.
No matter how bleak the daily news, no matter how fearful the prospects of tomorrow, there is a Gracious power waiting “at the very gates” waiting to come into our lives, willing to guard us and guide us and gather us and shape us in the days to come.
The language of hope was stronger, clearer in Israel in the depths of their despair, than it ever was in the height of their prosperity.
When the people of Israel were tired of waiting, sick and tired of the injustice of it all, fearful and sick and tired of their own failures they named what they were waiting for in no uncertain terms: – God’s own presence among them – ‘Get down here, Messiah!’
“Tear open the heavens and come down.
Shake the mountains; burn like a brush fire; boil like water; Break through the barriers between us and come!
That’s what we are waiting for. That’s the kind of waiting that Advent is about. The bursting in of the power of God.
Now, Israel knew that their God could possibly do that for them in their current plight, because God had already delivered them, in the great Exodus event, when they were brought from slavery in Egypt to the land of promise.
Their God did tear open the heavens and come down, and shake the mountains where Moses met with God, and burn as a brush fire at the burning bush,and boil the water when the Red Sea parted.
And we Christians know that our God can possibly do that for us in our current plights, not only because we too share the Exodus heritage, but because we know that God did literally break through the heavens and come down and become flesh and dwell among us.
God did shake the mountains and every mountain and hill was brought low and every valley filled. God did burn like a brush fire through the crowd gathered at Pentecost filling them with God’s holy spirit, a light shattering through the darkness. God did boil through the waters of baptism cleansing us and embracing us and forgiving us for all the ways we brought ourselves and others low.
The barrier between heaven and earth has been shattered by the coming of the Christ child in our world.
These are the truths that we remind ourselves of in this Advent season, so that we can gain the strength and the hope, the courage and the vigilance, to wait again for a miracle to touch this earth and touch our hearts, and restore us to the great promise.
In each of the next weeks, we will sound the various themes of Advent — of waiting and preparation for the coming of God — in our worship services, through word and music and symbol and story.
We will light the progressive candles, and re-tell the story of the incarnation of God in Christ, and encourage each other to look for ways our God still comes to us today.
And together we pray, “O that you would once again tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence”
“O come, O come Emmanuel; and ransom captive Israel!”