Advent usually begins with a word from the biblical prophets. They have a tendency to use dramatic imagery to get their points across. They speak in these terms to catch our attention. They do this so that we can’t help but pay attention. One of my favorite passages of Scripture illustrates this point:
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…”
Those words open Isaiah 64. If you don’t feel the urgency of that prayer, you aren’t paying attention. Keep reading to discover that Isaiah also asked God for an earthquake and some wildfires. All this so that the people would know God was right there. There is power in those words. I don’t think we can read them without understanding what the people of Israel were waiting for. It tells us how important it was that they experienced the presence of God. We see and feel the depth of their need for something new, something different – for the Messiah.
Isaiah was praying for God to show up in a way that was recognizable – undeniable, even. The request was for them to experience God’s presence the same way their ancestors had. They wanted the cloud-covered mountain like when Moses received the Ten Commandments. Or, the wind, earthquake, and fire like when Elijah asked to see God (even though God appeared in the silence). But they forgot the fact that God was already there. They wanted signs that were easier to understand.
We, too, face this same need. We want God to show up in undeniable ways. It’s too hard to pay attention to the voice speaking in the silence. We don’t like silence all that much, so we fill our lives with noise and distractions of all sorts. Waiting in that silence is hard. Especially waiting for God.
Because waiting is hard, Isaiah tries to pass the blame back to God. He blames our human sinfulness on God: “But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.” I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. That’s more noise filling our lives. Deflecting. Scapegoating. Passing the buck. Call it what you will, we all do it. And it doesn’t make life any better.
As we enter into this time of Advent, preparing us for the season of Christmas, we need a reminder of how to wait and watch. The dramatic signs didn’t help then, and won’t help now. We don’t need God to show up in some dramatic way that we can’t miss. We don’t need that because Advent tells us that God is already here. Emmanuel. Jesus. That newborn baby we find in a manger.
So, while the world around us is rushing from one thing to the next, driven by schedules and obligations. While the world around us is overcome with distraction, we need to pay attention. The endless quest to find the right gift, the right card, or the right wrapping paper won’t save us. An endless pursuit for the perfect picture to showcase our life is only another coverup.
All the noise, the distractions, the chaos draw our attention away from the wait. And it is so tempting. But don’t. Don’t fall into that trap of distraction and false narratives, because you are too afraid to look at life as it is. Christmas reminds us that life is better than we know, because God is with us.
At some point, we all feel the need to pray for God to tear open the sky so that we pay attention. I’ve done it. But the Good News is that God is waiting on us. As we sit here waiting for God to show up, God is already here, waiting for us. When we want God to tear open the heavens and come down amid an earthquake and wildfire, God is here waiting on us to see. God is standing there, even calling out to us. God is already here – and we are the ones that need to show up.
From the moment of creation until now – God is with us. That’s what God wants to discover this Christmas. Sky-torn-open or voice-in-the silence, God speaks to us this day that hope is here. Love is born. Emmanuel – God is with us – has already come to earth and is waiting on us to catch up. God is searching for us, inviting us to come join the best celebration that ever was. A celebration announced by angels. A party with shepherds, magi, an unmarried couple, and a bunch of animals all huddled in a stable to celebrate the birth of a child.
Come learn more about the importance of Advent and the joy that Christmas brings – Sundays at 10:30 am.