“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” (Isaiah 64:1a) I have had this refrain running through my head for the last week. Usually if I can’t shake something, it’s because the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me something. This refrain ran through my mind as I watched coverage of the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri this past week. It ran through my mind as I read updates from my friend, Rick, who is a pastor in Ferguson. He opened the church as a safe place and a sanctuary for those who were protesting. He slept in a pew for three nights in a row. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
This refrain ran through my head as I saw the inevitable news stories of shelters and various organizations host a Thanksgiving meal for those who cannot afford to do so for themselves. The same refrain ran through my head as my brother, who spent his first holiday in his new home of Burlington, Vermont, stumbled upon one of these gatherings, not knowing any different and any better. Before he could excuse himself (“I don’t belong here, he said and thought”) he had a full plate of food and was surrounded by a new group of friends. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
I thought this as Chris and I drove home after our Thanksgiving meal and passed the Target in Clinton where people were already lined up around 3:00pm. Instead of scolding those waiting in line, I prayed that the deals they were hoping to find would help them. I wondered if those waiting in line love the black Friday deals because it enables them to give Christmas to their children despite a minimum wage job. For some people in our community, black Friday deals are the only way to provide a Christmas that feels “normal.” “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
It occurred to me that if this really did happen, if Christ really did tear open the heavens and come down, I wondered if I would recognize him. I wonder if I would be grateful and full of awe to be in his presence or would I just brush him off as some nut job that “claims” to be the risen Christ. And even though I long for Christ’s return, do I really know what to expect when I pray “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”? Our Gospel text today from Mark tells us three times that we should “beware, keep alert” and “keep awake.” Advent is a time of waiting, of great anticipation. So it made me wonder, for what are we waiting?
Sure, it would be obvious to say “we’re waiting for the arrival of the baby Jesus” and while that is the climax of our Advent anticipations, I think we wait for so much more. We wait for peace and for justice. Not just in Ferguson, Missouri, but all over these United States. I long for the day when being a person of color does not mean an automatic disadvantage. I pray I will see the day when my daughter will earn as much in a job as her male counterparts. I wait for the day when being nutritionally deficient is an issue no child knows. I wait for the announcement that there are no longer people living under a viaduct near the river. I will celebrate the day when Information Referral Services tells me that they no longer are serving up to 3 homeless people a day. I am anxious for the day when the disturbing fact that up to 30 families from Eagle Heights elementary school (in Clinton) live out of their vehicles is no longer true. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”
And I wait. I wait for the threat of terrorism to no longer be a reality. I wait for the fighting over Holy land to cease and for a two state solution to be the ushering of peace between Israel and Palestine. I long for the day when people feel safe in their homes and in their schools. I wait for the arrival health care that treats mental health issues like any other health issues. I will jump for joy when the day arrives that hitting, beating, or berating someone seems like a logical response to correcting behavior. I will be relieved when I no longer have to worry about what I wear, where I park, or what I say that may be misconstrued just because I am a woman. It seems like I am waiting for a lot, doesn’t it? “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
What is your list of things that you’re waiting for? Do you long for peace, if only in your home? Do you long for justice, maybe for someone you love or care for? Are you anxious for medicine to finally cure you of whatever ails you have? I think the question is, though, even though our Gospel tells us today to be prepared, to watch, keep awake, be alert, are we? What if Christ were to return today? What if instead of white flowing robes and some kind of glowing halo, he looked more like some of the guys that live at the Victory Center? Or what if, instead of having the same coloring as you or I, he looked more like what the news calls “undocumented?” I’m going to push you one step further because I haven’t challenged you enough yet today. What if, when Jesus returns, instead of speaking to us in clear, plain English, as we might expect, Jesus speaks in a language we’re not familiar with; or if we are familiar with it, we sure don’t speak it. Now what? What if, instead of looking like a clean-cut Brad Pitt kind of guy, Jesus returns and looks more like Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin? Now what?
Friends, I don’t challenge you with these thoughts because I think my vision of Jesus is right and yours is wrong. I want to challenge us because when Christ does return (and yes, we should be ready) we really have no idea when, or where, or what he will look like. I want to challenge you because I am tired of the media telling us we should be scared of everything! I am tired of society telling us we need a scapegoat instead of a savior. I am tired of people using the Bible as a weapon to justify everything from abuse to racism to homophobia to sexism. I am tired of people using the label of “Christian” when they are anything but. And most of all, I am tired of being one of these type of people that I described above. “O that you would open the heavens and come down.”
What are we to do with all of this? What are we to do with this unrest, with this uncertainty, with this waiting, watching, being awake and being aware? In the midst of the chaos of everything that goes on around us, how can we push it all aside, dwell in the silence, and wait? What does it mean that the one we claim as Savior will be born into a world where he is destined for death on a cross? What does it mean for us to see an empty manger and it be filled with the same one who will leave an empty tomb? Beware, keep alert, keep awake. There is more to this story and we will hear more of it next week. “O that you would open the heavens and come down.”