Advent 2022 #5: Rent

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…

The opening phrase of Isaiah 64. It’s a call for God to come down to earth and dwell with his people. It’s a cry for intervention and Emmanuel. It’s a request for Christmas.

It may be that my current fatigue is impacting my interpretation of this chapter, but that opening line sounds like a cry of fatigue as well to me.

Isaiah 64 seems to come from a contrite place. The voice is of one who has worked hard for the Lord but seen little to no goodness as a result. In fact, instead, they feel God has hidden his face from them and is looking upon them with anger. In their attempt to live righteously they feel barred from God. They have been disconnected and cast aside.

Yet this is also someone who has worked hard but knows with humility that in reality, their ‘good works’ are just filth. They look upon the people of God and see a lack of sincerity, a false piety and meaningless sacrifice.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf,  and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins.

When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem after the exile, there was about a 500 year wait before Isaiah 64’s prophetic statement was fulfilled.

Christ came down at Christmas time. He came to the help of those who gladly do right. But what if I haven’t done right? How then can we be saved?

Well, on our own, no one can. As Isaiah writes, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. The people who he says ‘gladly do right’ and are helped by God, are not doing right because of any special attribute of theirs. They are doing right, because they want to please God.

Even then, they know their ‘righteous’ works are still filthy rags. On this point, at Christmas time, it is best to recall the words of the angel to the shepherds in the fields (i.e. no one special):

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Some years back I made an angel of the Lord wall hanging with this message. I should probably get it out again this year. The message given truly is heavenly.

Good news for all people. God rent the heavens and came down.

A Saviour has been born to you, and you means all the people.

In Isaiah 64 the chapter ends with the persona having almost given up. God is still silent. All they feel is punishment. The wait is long.

But 500 years later, God did deliver. He never puts his work on his calendar where we’d expect it.

Perhaps we think we know how his calendar works because we’ve added his son’s birthday to ours.

It’s easy to get confused.

Yours in looking for the angel of the Lord,

Alison

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