Advent One: Isaiah 64:1-9
Up there. In dusk’s dimming sky. What did the Isaiah poet see that long ago night? Stars wheeling out from their daytime hiding places? Cosmic spheres twirling across a vast celestial ballroom dance floor? Or did the poet see only a sky empty of light? What did that ancient wanderer wonder that stirred such heart-rending words: O that you would tear open the heavens…
Rip through the veils that shroud your light, O God.
Place your feet yet again upon our earth and tremble the mountains as you walk in our midst. Be here. Right here.
These texts for the first week in Advent—they are sublime, in an ethereal sort of way. And grim too. Not much warm Christmas nostalgia in Isaiah. Rip open. Quake. Boil. Tremble. These are words to begin our high holy season? Where is gentle Mary and her lullabying voice? What about the twinkling stars that lit the shepherds’ way to the manger? Where in these verses is our tasteful Advent aesthetic?
And yet, our ancient wondering wanderer offers up bittersweet Advent truth. Even if we had a substantive theology of lingering, even if we knew how to wait—we are tired of waiting. What we really want is for God to rip open the veil and let God’s cosmic light bear down on every place where injustice and its power brokers try to hide. We yearn for God—to boil, quake, tremble. Hopeful expectation and starry-eyed wakefulness don’t do it for us anymore. Not when justice has been delayed and denied. When streets are chaotic with violence. When hearts are shattered by endless, needless, pointless loss.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down. O that you would push through the membrane that separates us from you and each other.
So, we come yet again to the Advent season of waiting. Advent’s call to us is a call to hope in the midst of despair. Advent’s call to us is also a call for us to join God in God’s work of crumbling the life-limiting barbed-wire boundaries that we construct with our imaginations, hands, and actions.
This is the promise of the incarnation that we await: in the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, God cracked open the heavens and lit up the earth in the face of a beautiful, fragile, creature of the dust—just like us. And we—alongside God—are called to watch and wait in active hope, transgressing false boundaries wherever we find them to share God’s justice and grace.
Photo by Sheila Hunter.
About Jill Crainshaw
Jill Crainshaw is a PCUSA minister and Blackburn Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She is the author of several books on worship and ministry.