By Rev. Jeff Lackie On Dec 29 2019
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2 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!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 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.
That is quite a statement.
In all the history of all the people who have turned their minds towards the mysterious divine, only this God is proactive. Doing what is not expected - announcing holy things to those with no sense of awe; no investment in this divine project.
This God - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - is different...strange, even.
The people acted in the expected ways; worship, sacrifice, deference , prayer and so on; the laws were established (and adapted to the changing times) but still the magic was missing. The imagined favouritism is not easily evident. The triumph that they imagined was their due (thanks to God) was no where to be seen.
They were captive - subservient - the king deposed and their society embarrassed in their exile. Nothing was going according to plan, and the prophets try to guide the people through their uncertainty.
Some of these holy men (some more willing at the task than others) do their best to remind the people of the unsearchable majesty of God; others focus on the divine right to act impulsively. Isaiah offers a plea on behalf of a broken, but still hopeful people:
8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity for ever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
Isaiah is concerned with the relationship between God and God’s people.
It is different - strange, even - this relationship that Isaiah describes; not at all imperial; there is a sense of mutual responsibility; a shared need. This feeling is most apparent in Isaiah - that is why the vast majority of our Old Testament readings through Advent come from Isaiah. This fixation on relationship helps make sense out of what might otherwise seem like nonsense - a man of God brings the wisdom of the kingdom to a people shrouded in the darkness of Roman rule. His teaching and miracles draw huge, excited crowds - surely this is the sign God intended. These crowds are a worrying symptom of liberation, so the authorities do what they’re best at; an after-hours arrest and a quick trial is followed by a public execution.
But the end of Jesus life is not the end of the story, and that leads his friends and followers to think about how to best tell his story…and they find the clues in places like the book of the prophet Isaiah - the one who wrote about “God-with-us”;
the one who remembered the unexpectedness and the urge to be connected that were the most intriguing aspects of God’s character.
Jesus story may be told front to back - birth to death to resurrection - but it was first described and understood from back to front. Standing at the empty tomb, wondering what manner of man was this.
We are told (and we claim as a matter of faith) that the risen Jesus is in our midst. The complicated calculus of the Trinity, which calls each one separate yet unified - is our defence of this claim. But we are emotionally convinced by the arguments made by John’s gospel and Isaiah’s eloquent arguments - each of which declares that God wants to be among us - that God’s desire is for unity and communion with us…and so God becomes a child who grows to be a man.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God.
3All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being 4in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Christmas is about presence (not presents - though those are nice too)
Christmas is a celebration of the God who does things differently; who yearns to be among us; who takes flesh and laughs and cries and eats and talks and teaches and heals and breaks rules and brings joy. This is the season that Isaiah hoped for - the season of “God-with-us”.
May we realize the potential of that promise - may we encounter the gift of God’s presence - may our lives celebrate the hope and wonder represented by Jesus.