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November 30, 2008

Heaven Cannot Wait

During Advent the voices of the prophets come through loud and clear. God calls out the big guns to get our attention during this time of preparation and waiting. This morning, just to start our holiday season off right we hear Isaiah's wake-up call proclaiming, "we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth."


Just what we want to hear on a Sunday morning. Just what we want to brighten up the holidays. What a nice prelude to Christmas.

The prophet Isaiah expresses the frustration of his people. They are in exile and they can't find God. God had acted to create the world. God had promised to make a great nation from Abraham and Sara. God led the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. God led them to the Promised Land. God had acted in fire and in water and in wind. God spoke in clouds and burning bushes. God had been powerful and present and real over and over again.

Now the Israelites are in exile in a foreign land, captive to a foreign people. They are losing their identity. They are losing their faith. They are losing their way and Isaiah speaks for them...Where are you God?

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!

If only God would come down and replace our despair with hope, change our fear to anticipation, move us from cynicism to faith. Come on God where are you? Could you come out of retirement please? Have you left the building? Have you left the world? Have you left us? Have you left me?

Surely, some of you must know what that feels like? Did you ever try to pray and feel nothing, see nothing, sense nothing? Have you ever really needed God to act in your life and felt no response? Ever searched desperately to feel God's presence and leading and found nothing?

Isaiah's lament sounds like the Bob Dylan song- "Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door." But no one is answering.

Instead of the heavens being torn open- our hearts are torn apart and God's promises seem to hover just out of reach. So we feel like Isaiah we beg God to tear open the heavens and come down;

God, just do something to end the hurt."
"Do something, God, to bring peace."
"Do something, God, to heal my family's brokenness."
"God, do something to let me keep my job."
"Do something to get my child out of Iraq."
"Do something to take away the anger that is consuming me."
"Do something to break the hold grief has on me."
"God, do something. Wake up. Come, come and help us!"

Whenever we discover that the world isn't what we or God imagined it would be,
when we recognize the hurt, we call out to God in the hope that God will do something to set things right. But it feels sometimes as if God responds to our cry with what is called Deus absconditus- hidden God, illusive presence, God has abandoned ship, ducked out the back. There is no burning bush, parting sea, or voice from heaven.

But let's be honest; do we truly want God to come right now, tearing open the heavens,
erupting with awesome and unexpected events and deeds? Wouldn't we prefer God to do safe and predictable deeds and leave the mountains and us alone? How many of us really want God's holy might stirred up? Wouldn't we prefer to slip by under the sacred radar screen, hoping tomorrow looks a lot like yesterday, except maybe a little more pleasant, a little more successful?

Do we honestly believe there is anything fundamentally wrong with our lives - anything that couldn't be fixed by a little more appreciation from our boss, or love from our spouse, or hard work from ourselves, or help from the economy?

We need to be careful what we ask for- Because we need to remember that Advent is not really about the coming of a sweet little Jesus boy, but about the second coming of Jesus Christ our King. It is not about the one laid in the manger but rather about the triumphant one who in the fullness of time will rip open the heavens again and redeem this world.

When we look for God to come again, to re-enter our lives, let's remember the first coming. God entered our world in a barn at the edge of town.

G.K. Chesterton-
"God came down and slipped in the back surprise us from behind, from the hidden and personal parts of our if we found something at the back of our own hearts that betrayed us into good."

Isaiah's cry- "Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down" is the cry of a people who realize they've made such a mess of the world only God can set it right.

Advent is about a God who breaks open the heavens and comes down
all the way
not part way
all the way
all the way to our sinfulness
all the way to Wall street
all the way to Main Street
all the way to Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Washington DC
All the way to Broad Ripple
all the way to a bed in a barn
all the way to the cross.

Advent is about a God who breaks open the heavens and comes down.
God comes down all the way to us. Because we belong to God.
Heart and soul, mind and body, we are God's.

While we may despair, we are not forsaken.

And that's why when our world crumbles, we call to God, because we're convinced that God can do something to set this world right.

God has. God is. God will.

Thanks be to God.