First Sunday of Advent (Year B)

When my son, Christopher, was a boy, I took him to Toys-R-Us, and he got detached from me.

stars falling on hillside
"The stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken." - Mark 13:25 Image credit: Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

November 29, 2020

First Reading
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Commentary on Isaiah 64:1-9

When my son, Christopher, was a boy, I took him to Toys-R-Us, and he got detached from me.

Christopher being my first child, my fatherly instincts caused me to panic. Yet, because I could see the doors, I knew that he had not exited the building. I paced up one corridor and down another… around a corridor… around another aisle… peeping… looking to find him amidst a crowd of people in the Christmas rush – but I could not find my son. I found a security guard and asked him, “Do you have surveillance in the store?” He said, “Yes.” I then asked, “Do you have a monitor?” “Yes.” “Can I look at the monitor?” “Yes.” “Can you scan the floor?” “Yes.”

The guard began to scan up and down the aisles, and there I saw my son, surrounded by toys, yet crying.  He was clearly in a state of panic. My son was all by himself among people he did not know. My son was feeling lost and alone, and I did not know what to do. I asked the guard, “Do you have an intercom?” He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Keep the camera on him.” Then I got on the intercom and said, “Christopher.” My son looked around because he recognized my voice. I continued, “Stay where you are.” He started looking around. “It’s Daddy,” I said. “Don’t move. I see you although you can’t see me. Stay where you are. I’m coming.”

In those moments, when you think that God cannot see you or that you cannot see God, always remember that God sees you. The invisible hand of God is active and is looking after your life.

In Isaiah 64, the children of Israel were much like my son in Toys-R-Us; they cried out for help from someone they could not see, nor could they be sure that they were seen. And while an intercom was sufficient to announce my arrival to my son, the prophet asks for something far more dramatic. He prays and asks for an announcement of God’s presence in ways that would garner respect and recognition from both the children of Israel and God’s enemies, who they viewed as their own enemies. They cried out for quaking mountains, burning brushwood, and boiling water.

Now, we should not think this request is unusual given the fact that God has been performing awesome deeds on behalf of Israel for quite some time. The plagues on Egypt that forced Pharaoh to let Israel go, the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the flattened walls of Jericho and David’s victory over the giant Goliath all readily come to mind as we consider God’s consistency in intervention. However, this text presents a caveat that we do not find in the other examples of divine intervention. In verse 4, there is a qualifier placed on God’s involvement: “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.” In other words, God moves on behalf of those who wait.

Over and over in the Hebrew bible, God’s people are admonished to wait: 

  • “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14); 
  • “For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth” (Psalm 37:9); 
  • “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

Now, the idea of waiting has several implications. The first is that the Lord is worth waiting for.  No matter how long it takes, no matter what you have to go through, when you get to the place that God has purposed, planned, and provided, or you receive what God has promised, prepared, and produced, you will gladly testify that it was worth the wait.

Another implication of waiting is the reality that God reserves the right to keep us waiting; time was made for humans, not for God. Thus, God is not in a hurry. Another implication of waiting, which is probably the least popular yet the most applicable to the text, is the reality that while God is great, God can also be gradual. When it comes to God’s moves, God’s methods, and God’s miracles, God can be slow.

May I suggest that sometimes God uses slow because we are not ready for what God wants to give to us? Sometimes God uses slow because the ultimate end is not our gain but God’s glory.  We would do well to remember that God is not human, thus does not lie and has no need to repent. In other words, God is gonna do what God said. What we go through cannot cancel what God told us. Because God’s Word is more powerful than any struggle we go through along our way. If God said it, I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care what we have to go through. I don’t care what comes at us. None of it is strong enough to revoke, rescind, retract, reverse or repeal God’s promises. God promised to be the God of Israel, and they were to be God’s people. Thus, slow is never to be confused with no.

This passage closes with an impassioned appeal for God to look favorably on the people of Israel, forget their sins against God, and to remember that they are God’s people. I am inclined to believe that the wait had far less to do with God remembering than it did with the people remembering; remembering that God is our caring and concerned parent.

God might be disappointed with our behavior. God might have allowed us to engage in self-destructive behavior. God might have allowed us to shrivel up and blow away, like a leaf in winter.

But God’s purpose has never been our destruction. God’s hope is the hope of a Parent, who always hopes against hope that the children will see the error of their ways and return home.

“Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people” (64:9).