Pleadingly, the prophet Isaiah writes: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down . . .” (64:1). If writing today, he might put it this way: we desperately need you to show up, O God! This reading from the Hebrew Bible for the First Sunday of Advent begins with lament over the sin of the people and the seeming absence of God. Written during the time after the destruction of Jerusalem and prior to any rebuilding of the temple, this text offers frank acknowledgment that the relationship of covenant between God and the returning exilic people is gravely threatened. If only God would perform mighty acts as in the past at Sinai, then the people would be able to believe anew and turn from iniquity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a similar struggle as he reflected on God’s lack of intervention during the Holocaust. God had delivered Israel from Egypt; why would God not come to the aid of six million Jews? He concluded that God desires that Christians must mature and offer themselves in God’s place, for in Christ God has been “pushed out of the world and onto the cross.” And yet, when he faced death himself, he did so with radical trust in the faithfulness of God. Like the prophet, he believed that God “works for those who wait” (Isaiah 64:4b).
Waiting in hope is an active spiritual practice. It requires a fundamental trust in God’s faithfulness and the humility to allow the mystery of God’s work to unfold over time. Trying to force the Holy One to function now as in prior days displays a desire to control God; it also displays an unwillingness to perceive God in the surprising ways God may choose to reveal divine intention.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a most unusual experience as I joined treasured friends on their ranch. Deer, bobcats, and armadillos enjoy the spacious Texas plains-- and usually keep to themselves. Just after dusk one evening, a small doe came to the lawn just in front of the house. By being very still and quiet and waiting, the children enticed the deer with goldfish crackers and pretzels, and soon she was eating out of their hands and allowing them to pet her. She even allowed me to feed her and stroke her head and back. (There is photographic documentation!) After spending about ten minutes with us, she loped gently toward the river, presumably thirsty after her snacks.
Surely God comes in the awesome deeds that make the mountains quake (64:3); God also comes in the beauty of creation and, most personally, as the child. So, we wait in hope that the hidden God will demonstrate holy presence in our midst once again.
Molly T. Marshall
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