Sunday, November 26, 2023
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Isaiah 64:1-9

When I was little, it was a family tradition to watch “The Ten Commandments” every Easter. You know, the one with Charlton Heston as Moses. It was the dramatic telling of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery into freedom, with all the costumes and the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. We would sit there awe-struck at the end of this magnificent story, with all its grand imagery, and we’d wonder together: “Why doesn’t God do those sort of miracles anymore? Why doesn’t God act is such grand ways these days?”

The prophet Isaiah is asking a similar questions in today’s scripture. Isaiah knows that God has done great and wonderous things in the past; particularly this divine deliverance: freeing the Israelites from slavery, from Egypt to the promised land. But given God’s visible and spectacular action of past (the stories Isaiah has heard from his own community), Isaiah finds it all the more troubling that God is not so visibly or powerfully present all these years later. Where are you God? Why aren’t your miracles as big or bold or clear today, as they seem to have been in the stories we hear from our ancestors?

And so Isaiah asks that God show up in a big way. We hear him say,

“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!”

That’s pretty intense imagery and he’s not so much asking God, as telling or reminding God of what the expectation is: “You’ve done it before God, come and fix this mess. Show them what is good and right. Clear all of this up because, um, it’s not going very well and we could use your help.”

We know this type of longing – this lament – in our own time as well. Just like in Isaiah’s time, there are egregious wrongs that deserve to be righted. There are conflicts and wars and injustice across the globe that are more horrific than we can comprehend. It’s reasonable to ask why God would deliver the Israelites all those years ago, but not deliver people from modern day slavery or from war or genocide or from domestic violence? Why would God not deliver us from our pain? There are terrors and fears and anxieties that keep us up at night and God, that you would tear open the heavens and come down and make it better by any means necessary. Please.

Sometimes we want the mountains to shake and the nations to tremble at God’s presence. It would be so much easier if God’s would turn this all around! But we look around in vain for such visible signs of God’s involvement in the world today.

According to Isaiah, God remains hidden and while it might be easy to assume this hiddenness is judgement or abandonment on the part of God, I wonder if it isn’t actually a lesson about the ways that God has chosen to relate to the world. This hidden God of Isaiah has a couple things to teach us:

  1. God hiding from the people in this story simply reminds us that we don’t own or control God. That no one person or one group (yes, even Lutherans!) have the corner of God’s story or God’s truth. Theologians have wondered if, in this text, God being hidden helps the Israelites deconstruct a disordered set of beliefs and practices. They may have gotten a little to close to the “we’re the chosen people” sun, and had some reckoning to do with God. Being God’s chosen people doesn’t mean oppressing others; it means always extending God’s love outward. God’s love and being chosen by God doesn’t mean building a higher wall, but a longer table. God was possibly attempting to open them up to receive again (anew!) their calling to be God’s people.
  2. But mostly, for our Advent season, if this text teaches us anything, it’s that the hidden God of Isaiah is a God who refuses to act powerfully, dramatically, or violently to rescue the Israelites from their distress.

But then, where does that leave us?

God refusing to act in a specifically dramatic way doesn’t mean that God isn’t with us, but rather, it’s a call toward a faith in God on the cross, whose power is suffering, whose glory is vulnerability. God’s refusal to show up with Red-Sea deliverance type-of-might does not mean that God has abandoned Isaiah or us. God isn’t hiding God’s awesomeness or power, but has reordered our understanding of power in Jesus. In Jesus, God doesn’t relate to the world with domination or force, but through a counter-cultural, unimaginably humble type of love. The ultimate in vulnerability, as we wait for God to come to us this Advent, in the fragile, human, frailty of a newborn baby.

So we wait; and this waiting is admittedly hard. As we move though the Advent and Christmas season, I hope that you experience joy and rest and renewal, but if you don’t, you’re not alone. The reality is that, for so many, this season can mean quite the opposite. You might be exhausted or concerned about money or feeling the pressure to keep up with something you’ve always done. You might be lonely or grieving or worried. For some of us, this might be the first holiday without a person we love and we feel that empty chair at the table. The first season without a tradition that had anchored us our whole lives. Or barely holding onto sobriety amidst all the expectations and pressures of the holiday seasons.

Whatever it is you experience this Advent, as nostalgia hangs in the air all around us, the good news is that God is the same as God has ever been. That means that the might of God may not look like the parting of a sea, but is known in our actual, lived, mundane, everyday lives, right now.

God comes to dwell with us in the form of the Christ child. God, who comes through Jesus not to bring about an apocalypse or cleansing or to shake the mountains, but to reveal the power of the powerless, to raise the lowly, to touch and tend to and love the very thing that stings this most. God – not hidden from us, but right in our very midst.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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