Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend, make the mountains shudder at your presence—The prophet speaks for people of all times when he voices the desire for God to show up -- right now! -- to defend his holiness and his people. Preachers and politicians still call on God to stand up for the righteousness of their cause. The problem, as Isaiah goes on to say, is that none of us meet the standards of that God:
As when a forest catches fire,
as when fire makes a pot to boil—
To shock your enemies into facing you,
make the nations shake in their boots!
Is there any hope for us? Can we be saved?Advent is a season when we want to hold these realities in tension. We want our desire for God's presence with us to boil over, not to highlight other's defects but to make friends with our own "grease-stained rags."
We're all sin-infected, sin-contaminated.
Our best efforts are grease-stained rags.
We dry up like autumn leaves—
sin-dried, we're blown off by the wind.
This is the good news: Our God, who could descend from the severed heavens and send chills down the spines of the powerful, instead chooses to come quietly as a vulnerable child in a filthy stable, revealed to animals and shepherds instead of priests and princes. The Christ is humble, to teach us to surrender our pride. He is vulnerable, to teach us that we can soften and risk for the sake of love. He "empties himself" (in St. Paul's phrase) to show us how to let go of our illusions of control. He is poor, to remind us where our true wealth lies.
Still, God, you are our Father.
We're the clay and you're our potter:
All of us are what you made us.