Christians have the somewhat regrettable habit of pulling readings from Isaiah out for the lead up to and during the Christmas break. It’s similar to the way we dig the Christmas decorations out of the shed, cellar or attic to put up a month or so before Christmas. It appears from my experience that we read these passages from Isaiah as if he’s a fortune teller or a Nostradamus, making predictions about Jesus. But, maybe we should fight that tendency. I say this because the writers of Isaiah weren’t writing about Jesus, per se.
No, writers of Isaiah were passing on the messages that they received from God, which were intended to provide specific comfort to specific people during a specific crisis. These people are in exile. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The very home of God had been destroyed. The writers of Isaiah weren’t writing to predict the future. They were writing to give courage to the people of Israel, so they could endure. So that begs the question of how we hear these words from the Isaiah’s if exile is our reality? Imagine we are little Israel and we don’t have military might. We are now beginning to wonder if our God has also been defeated— where is God when he’s not in the temple?
These thoughts are quite challenging. I invite you this week to spend some time with the book of Isaiah. Listen to the words in their own context. Let them speak to you in your context. What is going on in your life such that heaven being torn apart and mountains quaking would be a sign of hope? Just imagine what is happening around our world politically with the rumblings of the USA against North Korea and other nations and the return rhetoric from those countries.
As Christians, we seem to have a hard time reading the book of Isaiah without immediately thinking of Jesus. Because while we are preparing for Jesus’ birth in four weeks, we know what happened two thousand years ago. God did tear open the heavens. And good, observant Jews, who had been hearing the book of Isaiah’s writings all of their lives, recognised a connection between Jesus and the words of the book of Isaiah. The Gospel accounts of Jesus were written down by people who often framed their understanding of who Jesus was through the lens of the book of Isaiah’s writing. “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
And God did come. God heard the cries of the people and changed the way we relate to the Divine. A baby was born in Bethlehem, in a manger, away from the halls of power and privilege. And the world was turned upside down by this man, fully human, fully divine. Once the Divine enters the world, even the heavens themselves will be shaken. By making reference to sun, moon, and stars, this weeks reading from Mark 13 is cluing us in to the truth that God’s reign is a cosmic reign, it isn’t just a change of administration like ion the political sphere of our worldly nations. It isn’t just new people taking over. It is an entirely new creation.
And so, we wait in patience, knowing that not every act of God resounds like a pounding sledgehammer. In the book of Isaiah’s metaphor, God does not always split open the heavens. Whereas even his closest disciples longed to call down fire from heaven and to brandish swords, Jesus compared his coming kingdom to tiny mustard seeds and to the imperceptible but certain fermentation of yeast.
As we enter Advent, we begin it with a revelation that a change is coming. And we are told to wait for it. To watch for it. In the coming weeks, as we light the candles and prepare for Christ’s return and for Christ’s birth, watch, wait, and keep awake. Or for others, as we put up the decorations and select the gifts we are still to watch and wait and keep awake. The Good News is at hand.