Advent Blog Post 1 - by Annalise Kontras
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled 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?
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. 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.
My hunch is that few of us have called for the kind of intervention Isaiah does in the passage, asking God to rip open the heavens, shake the earth, and terrify enemies.
Instead, some of us will recall acute experiences of fervently calling out to God from the miry pit of tragedy and trial, petitioning him for the interventions of healing or reconciliation or provision. Others may reflect on their prayers for God’s intervention over the past nine months during the pandemic, political tensions, racial injustice, strained relationships, economic hardships, or enduring loneliness.
Other cries for God’s help arise from everyday circumstances in which we are confronted with our sin, or the monotony of ordinary existence, or our own inadequacies. That is how it usually goes for me.
My oldest child was a difficult newborn. For months, my days consisted entirely of soothing her to sleep while she wailed, holding her so she’d stay asleep, and feeding her. Though I attempted to hold it together and tell myself this new mom thing was a joy, the truth was that moment by moment, I felt like a failure. One lonely winter day, during what felt like the hundredth hour of cradling her while bouncing on an exercise ball (in the dark bathroom with the fan on for white noise, of course), I broke. “I need your help, God. I don’t like this, and I don’t know what to do. Please help her fall asleep. I need to rest. I can’t do this. Please, help me!”
In this real, very human moment, I called for God to intervene on my behalf and for my cause. I wonder how often my requests for God’s help are to this end: to accomplish my purposes and fulfill my desires.
I don’t think such requests are sinful; in fact, examples of God’s people calling out for help in human situations abound in Scripture. We are told to cast our cares on Him, for he cares for us.
Yet, the request for intervention in Isaiah 64 is situated in a broader context beyond our immediate needs and desires. To paraphrase: God is Lord! We, in contrast, are shriveled leaves swept away on the winds of our sins. How can we be saved?! Because despite our brokenness, we are clay, being molded in the merciful hands of our Father.
This context causes me to consider that God’s intervention is often internal. Through a fussy, dependent newborn in my arms, God was intervening powerfully. He was molding, shaping, and forming me to be a mother who is more and more like Christ. He was refining me through peeling away the layers of self-centeredness and perfectionism and comfort-seeking that had calcified on my heart.
What an incredible thought, that even if the external intervention we hope for isn’t realized, God is working so intimately and compassionately within us! That through the valleys and shadows, God intervenes at the heart-level for His good and loving purposes.
During Advent, we wait and hope for The Intervention--the Emmanuel, the “God with us” who will make all things new. We long for His intervention on the individual, communal, and societal levels.
As one who also longed for the coming of the Christ, Isaiah writes, “For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down...” Indeed, the intervening Messiah who came down was not what the prophets and religious leaders and Hebrews expected. He was a lowly, poor carpenter from Nazareth, for starters. And his interventions completely missed the mark: while they expected a king who would establish a prosperous earthly kingdom, this Messiah described an upside-down Kingdom and sought to intervene in their hearts.
The unexpected, amazing Intervention of God is tangible mercy and steadfast love, packaged in the unlikeliest of wrappings: the meagerly clothed, dependent body of a newborn baby, born amidst filth and stink.
That our hearts prepare Him room this Advent means that we--like the sinners and outcasts who readily believed--see our need for Christ’s intervention deep within us, that we invite him into the broken places that we strive to cover up or mend ourselves. It means that we surrender, contrite and willing as clay.
Questions for Reflection: