In God We Hope
Have you ever looked at the state of the world - at all the violence and corruption, the greed and misinformation - and wondered where God is in all this mess?
Have you ever wondered how God can be so very present to you and seem so very absent from the lives of others?
Or perhaps you’ve wondered the opposite: how God can be so very present to others when God seems so completely absent to you?
Have you ever wished that God would get Their act together once and for all, come on down here to earth and clean house? Do something big. I’m talking like Red Sea big, you know, like God used to do way back then, in the Bible?
Well, here’s the weird thing… so do people in the Bible.
I’ve been reading over this passage from Isaiah all week and I’ve got to say that this first line really resonates with me.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”
Pull this car over once and for all and do something.
Come on down and fix all of this.
You ever feel that way toward God? ‘Cause I know I do. And apparently, Isaiah did as well:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2as 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!
‘Cause man, O God, if you would… if you would just get down here such that the mountains would quake and the nations tremble…well… I bet we’d have peace in the Middle East right then and there.
If you would but make your name known, I bet we’d have zero trouble convincing Hamas to release the rest of the hostages and Israel to allow the Palestinians to go free. I have no doubt that the bombings would cease and a true, lasting, and just peace would cease to be a pipe dream and finally take hold.
Who knows? If You appeared, O God, we might even see Russia back down and Ukraine go free. But hey, if you’re coming back, why stop there. If you’re going to come down, please come here too, because we need you just as much here in America as they do over seas.
I mean, seriously God, if you would be so kind as to make an appearance right here in the good Ol’ U. S. of A, and, you know, maybe even kick a little butt and take a few names, I bet you could put an end to the vast income inequality that’s taken hold around here and is slowly but surely leaving 99% of us behind. You might even convince us to redirect some of that money into affordable housing and universal health care.
O Lord, if you would just tear open the heavens and come down, maybe Christians here in America could unite to welcome immigrants rather than punish them, unite to preserve democracy rather than destroy it, maybe even beat all the guns we to own around here into plowshares.
Christmas might even be a little less commercial this year and a whole lot more meaningful. If you came down this year I bet people would rush to channel the $936.3 billion dollars we feel obligated to spend on more stuff into providing clean water and healthy livestock and schools and vaccines for millions of children all around the world.
Don’t you see, O Lord? If you would but tear open the heavens and come down there might really be peace on earth this year and goodwill amongst people once and for all, and we could use some of that around here. In fact we could use a lot of that around here…and in here (our hearts).
O that you would tear open the heavens… and force us do what is right….
But God just doesn’t seem to work that way. God can seem so absent from the world, so absent from our lives, so absent amidst all the chaos and commercialism of life in general, but most especially during the chaos and commercialism that is the “Holiday Season.”
And it hurts.
And it’s hard.
And I often wish it were otherwise.
But maybe… maybe… that’s just God being God.
Which is to say that God hasn’t parted any seas, red or otherwise, for a while now. In fact, the last time God tore open the heavens and came down, - at least as we understand it within Christianity, God barely made a sound.
For when God came down, it was not as some Zeus like figure hurling lighting bolts and causing the earth to quake with his every step, but as a tiny, little baby, born to poor folk, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
The heavens were indeed torn apart the last time God came down, but not by a heavenly host armed to the teeth. No. The heavenly host didn’t strike. They sang… a song of peace to poor shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.
If the mountains shook at all, they shook with joy. If the sea boiled, I think it was more of a burble, reflecting the light of a star that bore witness, not to God’s wrath, but to God’s love for all the earth.
For when God comes, my friends, God tends to come quietly; sneaking up on us like a thief in the night or a master returned from a long journey. God comes softly, gently, unexpectedly, unobtrusively, but most telling of all, when God comes….God comes peacefully, determined - in the words of Scott Bayder Saye - “ to relate to the world through the vulnerable path of non-coercive love … rather than through domination and force.”
Because, you see, God’s ways are simply not our ways, and as much as I’d like to see Jesus take the wheel right about now, maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, when people want something done, if we have the power, then by golly we get it done. “My way or the highway,” we say. But thankfully God doesn’t work that way, because if God did there would be nothing left of us with which to work.
God down’t work by force, but by invitation: an approach that may leave us wanting, waiting, wishing for more, but does not leave us without hope.
Scott Bayder Saye continues:
“God’s refusal to replicate a Red Sea-type deliverance does not mean that God has abandoned… (Isaiah, Israel, the church, or even us)… Our hope does not rely on God’s acting today in the same ways God acted in the ancient stories, but it does rely in God being the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow – a God who hears our cries, a God who does not abandon us, a God who will finally redeem all that is lost in a new heaven and a new earth” (Isa 65:17).
Only friends, that new heaven and that new earth that we long for is not something God has ever intended to build for us, but something God has always longed to build with us and through us. God invites us – US! - to become co-creators, co-conspirators, co-workers in building a heavenly kingdom right here upon the earth.
Which is why, when Jesus did come, that he didn’t appear as some divine foreman or the General of God’s army or the CEO of God’s great corporation, but more as an architect, a visionary, a prophet of a future he hoped we would join him in working for out of love for God rather than fear, guilt, or compulsion.
Jesus came down amongst us powerless and poor, with “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” that we might have the freedom to choose God, the freedom to choose life, the freedom to choose for ourselves who we truly want to be (Isaiah 53).
And so I wonder if perhaps the reason God can seem so absent out there is because God is already so very present in here, quietly waiting for us to allow the divine in us to come to the fore and shape our actions, our desires, our lives, and, by extension, shape the world in much the same way a loving parent shapes the character of their children, or a skilled potter brings order and shape to her beloved clay.
If that is the case, then perhaps the emptiness and frustration we feel, especially at this time of year, our longing for a better world, our longing for God to come, to act, to make all things new, is not something to be feared or avoided, but a divine longing… a longing within us to be honored; an emptiness within us we should treasure. One might even call it a gift - the gift of Advent- the gift of awareness that this world is not as it should be, not as it could be. But that together, with God, we can make something of it yet.
And so I say to you today, hold on to that emptiness, even when it’s hard.
Treasure that longing, even if it hurts.
Don’t rush to fill your longing with things or drown out the silence with song. Let it be. Tune out all the voices clamoring for you to fill the emptiness inside you with stuff, with sugar, with sound, and hold that place apart, hold that place as sacred, hold that place as holy.
Make room in that space for God to come be God in God’s own quiet way.
Make room this Advent for God to come and be born in you. Amen.