This Sunday we begin the season of Advent. The word Advent means “coming” and is the time of the year that Christians have readied themselves to celebrate Christmas by preparing their hearts and homes for the coming of Christ—both the baby Jesus in a manger long ago but also the return of Christ in the future. On this first Sunday of Advent, we will remember that in both cases, the coming of Christ required God’s people to wait. And while we often think of waiting as a sort of passive, lazy delay, the waiting we find in the Bible is an active, searching, working, praying sort of wait—what one scholar calls a “passionate patience.”
This Advent we will focus on the beautiful scriptures from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the gospels because his words of warning and hope were understood by the gospel writers to proclaim the coming of Jesus. Isaiah continues to speak to us today. The prophet not only reminds us of the prophecies that predicted the coming of our Savior, but as he speaks to a people in crisis waiting for deliverance, he continues to speak to those of us who live in between the coming of the Christ child and the return of Christ. He speaks to our anxiety about the future and to our hope in the God who acts on our behalf.
This week’s passage is part of the prophet’s prayer of lament. Prayers of lament generally consisted of four parts: remembering God’s acts in the past, a complaint about the current situation, a confession of sin along with a request that God help, and finally an affirmation of trust in God. Our passage jumps in the midst of the prayer that begins in chapter 63:7 and concludes at 64:12.
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! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From 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. 5You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:1-9 NRSV)
In his youth, Isaiah had experienced a dramatic encounter with God (see Isaiah 6), but now he is an old man and God is apparently speaking to him in a much more subtle manner.
o Have you ever had a dramatic experience of God’s power?
o Have you ever wished God would show himself in mighty acts today so that all might see his power?
Isaiah is pouring his heart out to God about the condition of his people, but also reminding them (and God) of God’s acts in the past and God’s ability to act in the future. In the midst of bad times, have you ever poured your heart out to God? How did God respond? Where did you find hope? What did you learn from the bad times?
Advent is a time to remember that as Christians we are called to a passionate patience.
o How good are you at waiting?
o What obstacles prevent you from being passionate or patient?
o How can you use the following four weeks to develop a healthier discipline of waiting?