Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence—To make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence! (Isaiah 64:1-2 NASB).
Advent is a word that speaks to the arrival, or appearing, of a notable person/event. Advent denotes hope, expectation, joy, and even fear. Christians celebrate a season of Advent as a time in between. The first Sunday of Advent is both historical and eschatological, that is, it remembers God’s appearances in history, and it anticipates the culmination of God’s kingdom in the future.
The absence of God makes us keenly aware of the need of God’s presence! We know that God is omnipresent, that it is impossible for God to be absent anywhere and anytime. We also know that there are moments in history that God seems distant, even absent. In these moments we are tempted to believe that chaos, darkness, and death govern the cosmos. It is in one of those moments that Isaiah cried out, “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down!” Isaiah knew that the coming down of God has cosmic consequences. The foundations of the earth are shaken, mountains tremble, and the nations of the earth quake with fear. Humans who have deified themselves are reminded of their impotence and mortality. When God comes down into human history, God does awesome and unexpected things. Yahweh came down to judge the Egyptians, and redeem a nation of slaves (Exodus 2:23ff). The Spirit of Yahweh overshadowed a Jewish virgin and she conceived. In her womb God and humanity were united and Mary gave birth to Jesus – the divine-human One who will save humanity from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The Advent of the Son is accomplished through the Advent of the Spirit. Christmas anticipates Pentecost.
The presence of God makes us painfully aware of our sinfulness. “Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; and shall we be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5). The continued sinfulness of the people of Israel resulted in the exile – they were removed from the Promised Land and the glory of God was removed from their presence. Isaiah saw the Lord, and in seeing the holiness of God he also saw his sinfulness, and the sins of his people. He lamented, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Jesus began his ministry with a call to repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). This call to repentance is an awesome and unexpected act. In calling for repentance God is extending manifold grace. There can be no saving encounter of God’s grace without a faithful response to God’s call to repentance.
The presence of God makes all things new! Isaiah saw beyond the exile. He knew that God would act to redeem and renew the people and all of creation. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind ” (Isaiah 65:17). In God’s presence darkness vanishes before the light, death is overcome by life, and chaos is rebuked by order. In Christ, Isaiah’s words of hope and expectation are fulfilled. Paul declared, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV). As we anticipate New Creation, we still live in this present age of darkness, death, and chaos. Even so, Paul wrote, “. . . that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). By celebrating Advent we are lifted by the Spirit into New Creation, we receive a foretaste of the New Heavens and New Earth. On the first Sunday of Advent, through Spirit-anointed eyes we see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26).