“You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. O that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for , such as they had not heard from of old. Nor ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen , any God but you doing such things for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold you are angry, and we are sinful, all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O Lord, you are our father we are the clay and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hands. (Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)
This coming Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent. It is the season in which we are called to remember the world’s longing for the coming of God’s Savior and to prepare our own hearts to receive him still, and today’s scripture is the perfect beginning for that vigil.
It is the prayer of Isaiah longing for God to come down and rescue his people from their exile and servitude in Babylon, an exile they had brought on themselves through their own sin and abandonment of God. Israel’s plight is captured succinctly in the powerful phrase, ”Behold you are angry, and we are sinful.” Nevertheless, Isaiah prays that God will come and save: “O that you might rend the heavens and come down!” resting his hope upon the most profound confidence: “Yet, O Lord, you are our father.” Their father may be angry, may have allowed them to experience the repercussions of their prodigal life, but he will never abandon them:
“You, Lord, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.”
Indeed the prayer of Isaiah was answered and God did come down, free the people from Babylon , return them to Jerusalem, and rebuild its walls and the Temple within. After all, He was their father. However, there is more to the story than this, for Isaiah’s prayer for Israel then was also a foreshadowing, the beginning of a foretelling, of an even deeper longing and of an even greater salvation.
Is it not the case that since Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, we have all lived as exiles in the desert East of Eden and in servitude to the sin and death we chose for ourselves? Have we not since then all known ourselves to be, as the old gospel hymn “Come, Ye Sinners”says, “poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore” and again “weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall”? Have we not thought ourselves abandoned? In Isaiah’s prayer we hear the universal cry for salvation, ”O that you might rend the heavens and come down”. And our confidence must be, “Yet, O Lord, you are our father.”
Isaiah’s prayer captures the longing, whether realized or not, of every human heart. And God’s answer, goes beyond all human imagining. For God did indeed rend the heavens and come down:
“For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.”
Speaking of the coming of Jesus St. Paul paraphrases the very words of Isaiah’s prayer to exclaim, “what no eye has seen, no ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9) He is the Savior and his a salvation beyond our wildest hopes and dreams. In Him is forgiveness and liberation from sin, reconciliation with God, and life abundant both now and forever!
The irony of Advent has always been, for me, the waiting and longing for someone who has already come. Why do we do it? Why not go straight to Christmas? I think that part of the reason is that we can’t receive a Savior who we don’t realize we need. The value of Advent is remembering just how much we need him, pondering our exile, realizing how we got there, and remembering how helpless we are to be our own deliverer. In Advent we remember that we are all addicts taking the first three steps in a twelve step program: facing our addiction to sin and the harm it has done to ourselves and others, admitting we are powerless over it, coming to believe that only Jesus can deliver us, and deciding again to turn our will and our lives over to the Savior.
Soon enough we will sing the glad songs of Christmas, “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. For now, let us sing the songs that make those worth singing, the one’s that remind us of our exile and yet still promise his sure deliverance:
O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serve as an author and speaker.
Image Source: Catholiclane.com