Acting As We Wait
By Jane Ulring, field education intern at The Vine NYC
1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 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!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 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.
5 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?
6 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 thewind our sins sweep us away.
7 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[b] our sins.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 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.
This passage from Isa 64 depicts a people who are weary, waiting, and wishing for God’s intervention in their suffering. This community is struggling through a present where God is hidden from them- God seems to have abandoned them and they’re angry with God.The people of this passage are lost in their suffering without God’s guidance. So they call out to God with a desperate plea for God to come down from the heavens and the people demand for God to remember the importance of their relationship, “Lord, you are like a parent to us,” they say, “you are the potter, we are your clay.” The people conclude by asking God to consider, “we are all your people,” as if to say, “God, you cannot hide your face from us.”
Advent is a season of waiting. It is a time when days are short and nights are long. This season of waiting is a time when, much like the people in our passage from Isa, we embrace the profound dissonance between the beauty of God’s promised kingdom and the grotesque injustices of our world. As such, advent fluctuates between what is sorrowful and what is hopeful. We gather, we reflect, we grieve, we muster our courage, faithfully open our hearts and invite God to enter our lives, and then we painstakingly await God’s in-breaking.
I think this season of waiting is a gift to our communities. I think it’s important to pause sometimes and to squirm in the dissonance of our human lives with God. Just like the people from Isa, as we grapple with injustice and suffering we cannot always find our way. Sometimes the nights are longer than the days, and sometimes God seems hidden from us.
This season invites us to hope in spite of it all- advent asks us to defy reason and embrace the promise of God’s kingdom despite any fear or doubt or anger. Advent challenges us to deepen our faith by gathering together and waiting amidst it all- this is a peculiar blessing/lesson. One I am grateful for.
However, I think that as we embrace this time of “waiting,” we run the risk of forgetting that advent is also a time of thanksgiving and a time to remember what this life with God calls us towards.
This is a time where we remember God’s desire to be near to us - as near as clay to the hands of a potter. We are reminded that our God is a God who, so moved by the wish to be with us, became flesh, and entered our world as a vulnerable baby boy. This God, this human God, this God with bones and skin and eyes and hands. This God who tore open the heavens to come down and join us on earth. Advent is a time to remember, and give thanks for this God.
So, how is it that we give proper thanks to a God who moves the heavens and earth to be embodied among us? Advent reminds us that our life with God calls us to action. Our relationship to God binds us to God’s love for this world. We are charged with honoring and keeping God’s promise. Jesus reminds us this promise, God’s promise, is honored by friendship and kindness. This promise is fulfilled through seeking justice and the love of our neighbor. We give thanks for our life in God when we work to build just communities that advocate fairness and equality. Advent is a reminder of the work our life in God requires of us. We are called in our relationship to God to act and move in the world in certain ways. In fact we called to act and move like God does, justly, joyfully, creatively, lovingly.
These reminders, these callings, are blessings/lessons of advent we sometimes forget when we get preoccupied by the waiting. But this call to action is important because it adds to the robustness of our faith and the wholeness of our relationship to God.
In this season, we remember that a life with God entails that as we wait, we must also act. Advent teaches that our waiting is not idle waiting. Our waiting takes the form of seeking, creating, struggling, building, trying, fighting for and with God. We act as we wait. Yet another peculiar blessing/lesson of the season.
And I am grateful to discover, to know, that God’s justice doesn’t rest, even as we wait.