"Why don't you tear apart the heavens and come down?"
I heard that question for the first time this year in a composition by the same name by John Bell. He adapted the first reading of the Advent season this year, Isaiah 64:1-9, to a hauntingly compelling anthem for the season.
"Why don't you tear apart the heavens and come down?" If ever there was a year in my lifetime that question seems pertinent, it is now. As I write this, in the United States has more than 88,000 of its citizens hospitalized for COVID-19. Our case numbers soar to records toward the 200,000 new cases per day threshold. The virus isn't isolated, it is in every state. In Pennsylvania, where IHS is located, we are running out of ICU beds. There is so much grief, suffering, and pain.
But grief, suffering, and pain are not new. Though this year has hit everyone in a new way, we're not new to the hardships of living in a world with sickness and death, and a world broken by sin. Those of us who live in the United States are new to rampant disease in this way, but sadly many around the world are not. There are many places on Earth where daily violence, unchecked disease, and extreme hunger from poverty are the norm.
So why will God not tear apart the heavens and come down?
I find it interesting that that question is in some ways easier than what the prophet of Isaiah 64 actually says, which is not "why" but "O." It is a cry for God, a longing. It is the same kind of plea as when we cry out "Come, Lord Jesus!" It is a cry that is appropriate when we also keep at heart Jesus' words to us in the coming Gospel reading "Keep awake!"
"Keep awake!" Jesus responds. Do we see him?
God is not absent from us. God is not hidden from us. God is with us, even now, even in the suffering and pain. If we look at the face of the hungry child, at the person struggling to breathe in the ICU, at the family hoping for a Thanksgiving meal, do we see Jesus there?
The Christian God is not disconnected or apathetic to our struggles. The Christian God tore apart the heavens and came down to us, in the face of a crying infant. In the teaching of a grown man in Galilee who taught his friends and followers through parables, fed the hungry, healed the sick, and gave sight to the blind. He taught that God loved us more than we could ever imagine.
He tore apart the heavens and came all the way down to his knees to wash the feet of his disciples.
He showed us the power of God that burns oceans and breaks mountains when he submitted himself to suffering and death on the cross at the hands of the Romans and religious leaders. He came all the way down into death itself.
And Jesus gave us the victory of God when he defeated suffering, sickness, sin, and even mortality itself in his Resurrection.
The Resurrected Life of Jesus is available to all of us now. When Jesus ascended, he didn't abandon us. He gave us his Spirit and his authority to do his work in the world in his absence. That is what it means to keep awake. Are we awake to what he's calling us to do and who he's calling us to serve?