“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” So begins Isaiah 64, the Old Testament text for the 1st Sunday of Advent. This chapter is a prayer of lament—a communal lament. That’s not exactly how we think of Advent. That is, if we think of it at all!
Traditionally, the season of Advent is a time of penitence, much like the season of Lent. It is a time to reflect, to repent, to reevaluate how we are living life. It is a time to reconsider our life of faith in preparation for the coming of the Lord. (Advent means “coming.”) Certainly, those are concerns throughout the year, but in Advent, they are meant to especially come into focus.
Advent begins in late November or early December, smack dab in the midst of the holiday season! Can’t you hear the well-wishers and jingles from every nook and cranny? This is no time for sober self-examination. It’s time to party. (Please note: it is possible to have a genuine check-up and still be of good cheer! Trust me, I’m no fan of sourpusses.)
Of course, this year the celebrations are muted. A pandemic has a way of doing that. And so, perhaps we can relate to the communal lament of the Jewish people returning from exile in Babylon. (This part of the book deals with that time period.) The initial joy at the homecoming has gradually faded. Things aren’t working out as well as was expected. The prophet recognizes the sin that has worked to overturn, to infect, the hopes of the people.
So can we relate to this image of Advent? This isn’t the advent of gentle Jesus born in a barn. This is the advent of the grand and glorious power from on high. This is a desperate and disconsolate cry for deliverance. A sincere plea for release from prison can only come from a heart of faith. The prophet’s prayer acknowledges that “we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
Come to us, O Lord, feeble as we are. Come to us, this Advent.