Traditionally in Advent, we begin with the prophets and then reflect on the message of John the Baptist before ending Advent thinking about Mary, called by God to be the mother of God’s Son.
The reading for the first Sunday this year is from Isaiah – chapter 64
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.
Isaiah looks at the world and longs for God’s intervention. He knows God is a holy God, and he knows that he too is part of the sinful world – we are all part of a fallen world; if we call on God as judge then we too must acknowledge our failings.
Advent is a time when we look back to remember the coming of God in Jesus – as a baby, as human – not the tearing open of the heavens that Isaiah imagined but an even more profound tearing open- as the eternal becomes one of us, heaven is opened and God comes down.
“how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given”
We look back and we remember that Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us, that Jesus means “God saves”. The holy God, despite our sin, took it upon himself to bring a rescue.
And Advent is a time when we look forward to a time when God will come again in Jesus, in glory, as King, when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
Isaiah sees what is wrong in the world and it propels him to pray – to call on God, while also acknowledging his own state. But he trusts in God as Father, he trusts in God as the potter who will work the clay, he trusts that we are the work of God’s hand.
This Advent may we deepen our longing for the coming of God in justice and righteousness; may we deepen our understanding of the coming of God in Jesus as Saviour into our troubled world to be with us, and may we deepen our resolve to live for God, to live in his ways, as we look for his return and the fulfilment of his wonderful promises.
O come, O come Emmanuel
Rev’d Peter Reiss: 29th Nov 2020