LONGING, HOPING AND WAITING
In Celebration of the 1st Sunday of Advent
Ben S. Malayang III, President
TEXT: Isaiah 64: 1-9
(1) I wish you would open up your heavens and come down to us! I wish the mountains would tremble when you show your power!
(2) Be like a fire that causes twigs to burn, it also makes water boil. So come down and make yourself known to your enemies. Cause the nations to shake with fear when they see your power!
(3) Long ago you did some wonderful things we didn’t expect. You came down, and the mountains trembled when you showed your power.
(4) No one’s ears have ever heard of a God like you. No one’s eyes have ever seen a God who is greater than you. No God but you acts for the good of those who trust in him.
(5) You come to help those who enjoy doing what is right. You help those who thank for teaching them how to live. But when we continued to disobey you, you became angry with us. So how can we be saved?
(6) All of us have become like someone who is “unclean.” All of the good things we do are like polluted rags to you. All of us are like leaves that have dried up. Our sins sweep us away like the wind.
(7) No one prays to you. No one asks you for help. You have turned your face away from us. You have let us waste away because we have sinned so much.
(8) Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay. You are the potter. Your hands made all of us.
(9) Don’t be so angry with us, Lord. Don’t remember our sins anymore. Please show us your favor. All of us belong to you.
Let us pray. As we enter the season of Advent, Lord, a time when we celebrate and commemorate your having come down to us from heaven to be among our humanity, we pray that despite our imperfections, you give us your perfect Word today. Humble our hearts and minds that we receive what you have to say, and not twist and tarnish it with what we would rather want to hear. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.
Our scripture today tells of a time when the Jewish people were in so much pain and distress, in so much unmitigated suffering, and for too long struggling to free and emancipate themselves from the tyranny of poverty and occupation. They were seeing themselves entirely and utterly helpless and hopeless, that they see no other way out of their suffering but for God himself to come down from heaven and save them. They felt so helpless, so down, so powerless that Isaiah would now say in verse 1: “I wish you would open up your heavens and come down to us! I wish the mountains would tremble when you show your power!”
Nothing much had changed apparently since Isaiah’s time. Today, our people, and the people of God, is in deep trouble. We are despairing over so many among us who are poor and powerless. While a few can afford to stay in 50,000 pesos a day hospitals, so many more are unable to buy even only a pain reliever. While a few can afford and insist on seeing doctors in many countries to relieve them of their ailments, millions among us are unable to see a doctor in even their lifetime and are already grateful that they have barangay health workers to attend to their needs. Some insist of their right to travel anywhere in the world, but unwilling to explain how they had deprived so many others of their right to live. Pity is easy to extend to any person in distress, but what distresses our nation today is the blatant injustice of our realm.
And we face other troubles: our climates are changing; we can’t anymore anticipate when to plant our crops or when to go far out to sea to fish without fearing sudden storms. A friend listed some of other woes: the stock markets are behaving erratically; real estate values are plummeting in many places but skyrocketing in places where people are hardly able to put a roof over their heads; many are desperate to find money to tie them up for the next meal; incomes are dwindling in relation to prices increasing; many are getting sick and hospital costs are beyond the reach of most; many are lonely, with small children and spouses left behind by parents and loved ones leaving the country to find economic relief elsewhere; there is growing scarcity of love among us and a growing scarcity of the ability to care for others; sincere relationships are disappearing; there is hopelessness and widespread distrust of institutions and government; and our future is in question.
And so, as in Isaiah’s time, we cry: Lord, come down from your heaven, and with great power that makes mountains shake, come be with us and repair our broken humanity! We have been shattered by wanton injustice, and despairing over the deprivations and depravations in our world! Lord, be with us because we can’t seem to do anything anymore about the tyranny of our poverty of soul and spirit, and about the oppression of our incompetence, our corrupted conscience, and our moral cowardice to do what is right!
We cry to the Lord, to ask the Lord to come down from his heaven to be with us, because we see ourselves so deeply mired in trouble. We long, deeply and sincerely, for the presence of our God. We long for God to come down from heaven and be with us in our troubled and troubling world. We long for God to be, as Isaiah says in verse 2, “like a fire that causes twigs to burn and make water boil,” to come down from the holy place of heaven to make himself known to our enemies – including ourselves as our own enemies – to cause our unholy nations to shake with fear when they see his power!
And as we long, we hope. We hope for his deliverance because we know that he delivers. Isaiah recalls that long ago God did come down to a broken world and the mountains trembled when God showed his great power. Isaiah says in verse 3: “Long ago you did some wonderful things we didn’t expect. You came down, and the mountains trembled when you showed your power.” And so, because he had done so in the past, even opened the seas and made water to flow from rocks, we could hope because we have an awesome God. Says Isaiah in verse 4: “No one’s ears have ever heard of a God like you. No one’s eyes have ever seen a God who is greater than you. No God but you acts for the good of those who trust in him.”
This is a God that we long to be with us. This is a God that we can hope with the highest and smallest of faith that he will indeed come to be with us. This is a God who will surely come because as Isaiah says so in verse 5, he relishes helping those who enjoy doing what is right.
We long and we hope because our God is a God of justice, and yet also of love. We are “unclean” says Isaiah in verse 6 so that even the good and the best things we do are like “polluted rags” to God. Here, Isaiah refers to the rags used in those days by menstruating women. We are never pure and clean in God’s eyes even if we insist we are. Yet, in love, the same God that sees our filth promises to come down from his heaven to seek us and to be with us to save us. “All of us are like leaves that have dried up,” says Isaiah. “Our sins sweep us away like the wind,” he adds. “We have sinned so much,” says the prophet in verse 7. But we can long and hope because even if God’s justice condemns us for our uncleanness, God’s love redeems us with the power of his presence in a child to be born in a manger.
Now, we wait in expectation. We long, we hope, and we can expect that in the reeking quagmires of our circumstances, in the face of our troubles, even as we struggle to live and preserve our dignity in our world that routinely robs us of these, we have a God, a Parent to us, who will surely mold our future and fortunes, and shape our salvation. In verse 8, Isaiah says: “Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay. You are the potter. Your hands made all of us.” Yes, indeed, our God made us and he will continue to make us. This, we long for; this, we hope for; and this, with faith, we can expect. For truly, at this eve of Advent, we are a people walking in darkness, but now seeing a great light; our sins and sinfulness have been defeated and the power of death has been destroyed; let us long, and hope, and expect that soon our God will be with us.
Let us long for God to come down from heaven, to show us his power that makes mountains tremble, to save us from the deep oceans of trouble and inequity that drown our dignity and humanity. Let us hope and with the confidence of faith, let us expect that, as Isaiah puts it in verse 9, our God, in love, will not be “angry with us” and not “remember our sins anymore.” Let long, hope for, and expect a God that will “show us [his] favor” because “all of us belong to [him]”.
Let us long, hope and expect, for surely God – in the fullness of his justice and love, and with power – will come down to be with us in a gentle child to be born in a powerless manger bed. We have a God unlike any other God, a God who will be among us, an Immanuel, King of kings and Lord of lords, but coming to us as a quietly sleeping child in a very silent and star-filled night.
Dread no more, and like the night of his birth, let us quiet our souls. For in the midst of the troubles in our world today, in the din and noise of our trepidations, surely our God will be with us soon, very soon.