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! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 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. Now consider, we are all your people. – Isaiah 64:1-9
I hope all of you have enjoyed a wonderful time of preparation for Christmas. In the church we call this time Advent. Advent is the beginning of our church year and it occurs when the days are becoming shorter. December 21st, the shortest day of the year is just a few days before Christmas. The fact that Advent begins in a time of increasing darkness is a reminder to all believers that the world often looks darker before the light comes.
In our scripture reading, Isaiah is praying fervently for God to come down to earth. He is begging God, maybe even raging at God to come and help his people. This is an important witness to us. We too are encouraged to share our deepest longings with God. God relishes this kind of sharing. God is not put off by intense feelings, but rather longs for an open, honest communication similar to what Isaiah is offering.
Isaiah is interceding on behalf of the people of Israel who are exiles and captives. The people had lost their close connection with God. They had become “unclean” filled with greed and idolatry. As Isaiah put it, even their “righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth . . . There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you.”
Isaiah sees the great impossibility of the situation, the place where no human answer can apply. His people need the presence of the Holy God, the powerful God, the giver of the law, but the people are unclean, filthy. The law teaches that nothing holy can come near anything unclean. The unclean are under righteous judgment. His guilty people are unworthy but in great need. They are poor, mourning, and broken. What will happen?
But the prayer of Isaiah is not over . . . Like a small candle lit in the midst of total darkness, Isaiah uses a small three letter word: “Yet!”
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay. You are the potter. We are all the work of your hand. We are all your people. You love us. You made us. You claim us. We belong to you. Like clay in your hand, you infuse us with the warmth of your life. You form us with an identity of value and worth. You mold us to be filled with your presence and meaning. You strengthen us with the removal of our impurities. Father, we are all the work of your hands!
God did hear the prayer of Isaiah to come down. He came down to a little rural town called Bethlehem and into our midst in the little clay lump of a stable and was born as a baby into our hands. God refuses to give up on us. May we also not give up on God. Let us give all that we have and all that we are back to God as we prepare for Christ to be born anew in us and our world. Joy!