Friday, November 28, 2014

Rend the Heavens

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!  Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!...Since ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.  You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.  But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry.  How then can we be saved?...Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord, do not remember our sins forever.  Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!

Does anyone else feel this way?  Like you are just beyond ready for God to rend – tear apart – the heavens, and come down?  Come down, Lord, and be with us.  Come down, Lord, and fix things.  Come down, Lord, and avenge our enemies.  Come down, Lord, and save us.  Come down, Lord, and forgive our sins, and theirs, and just make it…better…right…the way it’s supposed to be. 

All we have to do is flip on the evening news, or look at the morning newspaper, to see what a complete nightmare the world is.  Riots and destruction in Ferguson, Missouri.  Ebola still spreading like wildfire across Africa.  Teenagers who commit suicide.  Moms and dads who can’t get along, and kids who get caught in tangled web of divorce proceedings.  People without a home to live in or food to eat or blankets to keep warm.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!

Cold war games stirring up again in Russia and eastern Europe.  And full-fledged hot wars running throughout the Middle East.  ISIS chopping off heads with abandon, Palestine and Israel still duking it out…

Oh, that you would rend the heavens, and come down!

And that’s without Black Friday!  Grown women reduced to brawls over a Barbie doll.  Really?  Shoppers literally stealing items out of each other’s carts.  Policemen breaking up fights over televisions…as though there was anything good to watch on them in the first place!  Is it me, or is this ridiculous?

Oh, that you would rend the heavens, and come down!

Doctor’s appointments and medical charts that tell the sad news…cancer.  Stroke.  Alzheimer’s.  MS.  Miscarriage.  I’m sorry…you’re just getting old.  Downcast faces, and the words, “there’s nothing more we can do.”  Sudden, tragic, unexpected deaths.  Are they better or worse than long, painful, agonizing, drawn-out dying processes?  I don’t know…

Oh, that you would rend the heavens, and come down, because Thanksgiving is over and it’s supposed to be the Christmas season, and it sure doesn’t feel like Christmas, does it?

No, it doesn’t feel like Christmas.  It feels like Advent.     

Oh, that you would rend the heavens, and come down!  This is the cry, the theme of Advent.  We so often talk about Advent as a time of waiting, before Christmas, as though Advent was some sort of invention by the boring old party-pooper Church to keep you from getting too excited about Christmas…or perhaps it’s some sort of counter-cultural few weeks meant to teach us to slow down, and not be so darn materialistic about Christmas…we so often talk about the waiting of Advent as though the Church, during Advent, was your mother, standing over you, lecturing you about not shaking the boxes under the tree to try to figure out what your presents are before Christmas. 

But that’s not Advent.  Advent is not four long weeks of sitting in the doctor’s office waiting…waiting…waiting…what is going on, I have things to do today, can’t we just get on with it…and so you tap your toes and play on your phone and rummage through your coat pockets looking for a tic tac, while listening to the tacky “smooth jazz” renditions of 1980s Michael Bolton hits, which reminds you of the ex-girlfriend you took to the senior prom and maybe you should look her up on Facebook.  (No.  No, you shouldn’t.)

But anyway, that’s not Advent.  Advent is not so much the Church standing athwart the Christmas-Industrial Complex yelling, “Stop!” as it the Church praying, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.”  And whether that prayer comes with the fervor and enthusiasm of a Billy Graham style revivalist, or the last weak breaths of a dying woman, whether it comes in the simple bedtime prayers of a child, or the reverent notes of a congregation singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” again this year, just as they have every year, it is the words, the voice of a faithful people, calling on our God, living in faith, hope, and trust that God hears our cry – and that pleases God. 

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”   

And just as figs follow the green branches and budding leaves, Christmas follows Advent, as God’s answer to our prayer, as proof positive that God does hear us, He does see us poor miserable sinners, and He does indeed rend the heavens and come down to save us, for we are His people.

In the gospel lesson from Mark today, we hear Jesus discussing with His disciples about the time that He will return to them, about the final, ultimate time when God will rend the Heavens and come down.  He tells them that at that time, there will be great distress, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken, and then, into the middle of terror and torture, darkness and distress, we will see the Son of Man, coming on clouds with great power and glory, and send the angels to gather all the elect (that’s you), from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. 

Oh, that you would rend the heavens, and come down.  The disciples would have known this old Scripture, this old prayer from the prophet Isaiah and Jesus says to them, and to us today, “Oh indeed, I shall.” 

When that will be, we don’t know.  The Israelites, the whole world, really, who had been praying, hoping, watching, waiting for a Messiah since, gosh, the 3rd chapter of Genesis…who would have expected the way the birth of Jesus played out, the time of the first “rending of heaven,” and “God coming down”?  No one, of course…but they were not expected to, either.  God didn’t ask the faithful people of old to “predict” the birth of Jesus, the coming of the Messiah, any more than He asks us today
to “predict” when Christ will return. 

He simply asked them, and us, to be faithful in the interim.  To watch for His coming.  Not to try to read the tea leaves about wars and rumors of wars. Not to party like it’s going out of style because, well, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.  Simply to watch.  To watch and to wait, eagerly, clinging tightly to Him.  He is the one who will hold us firm, He is the one who make sure that we are blameless on the day of Jesus Christ, He is the one who hears us when we cry, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

May this be our Advent this year.  May the next three and a half weeks be filled with prayer and watching for the many ways in which God rends the heavens and comes down – in the words of Scripture and in His Holy Sacraments, in the forgiveness of our sins and the encouraging words of fellow Christians, and finally then at Christmas in the birth of His Son, Jesus. 

God has already rent the heavens and come down – and He promises to do so again – when the world, our world, your world is dark and despairing, shaken from its foundations, enslaved to sin and death.  God is faithful, and He has called us into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. As we look around ourselves this month – and always – and notice that it doesn’t always feel very much like Christmas, may we remember that it does feel like Advent, and so offer up our prayers to the God who hears, and always acts on behalf of His people, especially in our darkest moments, when the world is at its worst. 

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.  Amen.