Tear open the heavens – Isaiah 64: 1-9

Published 12:14 pm Saturday, December 9, 2017

by Charles Qualls

Advent is underway!

The season of our hope, the time of our yearning for God to come near, has arrived. The Christ Child is the object of our focus, and the One whose coming we await. I love this time of year. With very few exceptions, I have still maintained the ability to find some magic in the Christmas season.

We had a Christmas Eve ritual at our house when my brother and I were little. Jim had a tiny Christmas tree in his room. It was always some poor little pine sapling that we had found in the woods or in the pasture. We would pull it up by its roots or chop it down with a hatchet. Then, we would put it in a tree stand and get it all propped up to go on a dresser in his room. We would “borrow” a strand of lights, some decorations and tinsel. Then, we would outright steal most of the blue lights off of the main family tree. We both liked “BLUE!”

Our parents would make us spend Christmas Eve night in his room, because they knew there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of sleeping going on. We were too excited. We would listen for Santa’s footsteps, and some years we HEARD them.

Still to this day, Elizabeth and I have our traditions. We find new things each year that make it fresh and fun. We love the season at our house.

Somewhere in our zealotry, I wonder though if we Christians have squashed the magic and fun of Christmas. Trying to protect God (who rarely needs to be protected,) we may have created a disconnect with the very world at large with which we should want so badly to connect. In a retail world truly run amuck with commercialism, we’ve somehow thrown the pageantry of Christmas in there with our push-back — and vilified the whole deal.

To be clear, when we believers arrive for worship we come to observe Advent. The anticipation of the Christ-child. For me, Isaiah 64 represents some of the earliest cries for God’s Advent mercy.

How do you cry out to God? What is the boldest plea you can remember making directly to the Lord of your creation? Up until these words in Isaiah, many similar cries to God simply asked God to look down or to look upon humanity. To take notice and then to do something.

But here the writer of Isaiah 64 asks God in childlike simplicity, “God, tear open the Heavens and come down!” Be here with us. Show yourself so that we and those who oppose us will see your might and your presence.

On the surface, it was a call for a theophany; a manifestation or appearance by God. More importantly, it was a call for intervention.

In his commentary on the book of Isaiah, Henry Sloane Coffin draws from an old writing that he believes pertains especially here. In his book, “Life of Johnson,” James Boswell is told by the subject of the biography, Dr. Samuel Johnson, about some spiritual advice he had once gotten from his friend Dr. Taylor. Taylor said, “Never lie in your prayers; never confess more than you really believe; never promise more than you mean to perform.” Coffin supposes that Taylor might have also added, “If you feel critical of God, tell God so.”

This appeal to God in Isaiah 64 carries the zip of a sharp call. Coffin uses the word “vehement” to describe the appeal. This writer seems to be crying out through frustrated tears. One can only read this chapter of Isaiah with a series of exclamation-points!

Peace, the hope of better days ahead, is at the heart of Advent. We’ll have to do what the writer does here in Isaiah — practice repentance and forgiveness. Or as Patricia de Jong said, “At Advent, God’s people summon the courage and the spiritual strength to remember that the holy breaks into the daily.”

In small ways, we can watch for the very God who seems hidden. A God who can seem resigned to leaving us on our own. But instead is working for healing and comfort, presence and quiet guidance, in our lives every day if we will allow.

CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.