When God shows up, what do we expect will happen? Today’s reading from Isaiah 64:1-9 is asking this kind of question. This section of Isaiah was probably recorded immediately after Israel’s captivity in Babylon ended. For almost 70 years, many of the people from Jerusalem lived in exile in Babylon. They built new homes and created new communities in the heart of the empire that defeated them. When the Persian empire destroy Babylon, the people of Jerusalem were invited to return home. Most decided to stay home in Babylon but some moved to Jerusalem, a city they never knew. The city was in rubble and God’s Temple was gone. Food was scarce. Conflict was everywhere. As the community started to rebuild, they lamented and prayed to God. They wanted to God to be God and cause the world to tremble.
I’ll admit that this image of God is a powerful one. Wouldn’t it be great to have this kind of experience of God? Imagine the heavens opening up and God landing in Northern New Jersey. The hills would quake and move. The Pascack Valley would rock and roll. God would show up and everyone would know God is here. A God who does this is a God who is easy to see, experience, and share with others. It’s a God who expresses strength and might. A God who shakes mountains is a God we want on our side because nothing on earth can compare.
And yet this is the first reading from scripture we hear this Advent season. We are in a period of waiting until Christmas, a story about God coming down, finally comes. But when God finally does come, the mountains do not quake like we expect. Instead, God enters the world as a baby named Jesus. The cries of this baby do not shake buildings. Instead, his cries bring his mother and father to his side. In Jesus, God chooses to live a human life, from birth to death and beyond, because that’s the awesome deed no one would reasonably expect.
As Christians, we are invited to lament like the prophet in Isaiah does here. God wants us to call God out, telling God to be a promise keeper. But we are also invited to open our eyes and see the ways God is already here. Sometimes the most powerful experience we need is a whisper of hope, a shoulder to cry on, a person who says they care about us, or a baby who spends his first night in a manger.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for First Sunday of Advent, 12/3/2017.