The Church takes its Advent first readings from Isaiah, a prophetic book in which voices speak from three different periods in Israel’s history. First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) served in the temple and preached peace in the late 700s B.C. Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55) comforts the Israelites in exile and urges them to return home when the Persians defeat the Babyonians, 540 B.C. In chapters 56-66 a Third Isaiah speaks, now to those who have returned and work to rebuild their temple, city, and religious identity.
Third Isaiah speaks this Sunday, pleading with God “to tear open the heavens and come down” (63.19). The people feel desolate — God has delivered them to their guilt and hidden from them. They confess their sins. Their good works are like menstrual rags! The people have withered like leaves.
Third Isaiah sees no way to bridge the distance between God and the people except by God’s coming. God must remove the barriers and appear so that “the nations might tremble at your presence.”
The prophet appeals to God as father and trusts this relationship of intimate belonging and care.
Tear open the heavens, come.
You, O God, are our father,
our redeemer is your name
from of old.
Why do you let us wander, O God,
from your ways
and harden our hearts
so that we fear you not?
Turn back for the sake of your
servants, for the sake of the
tribes that are your heritage.
We have long been like those
whom you do not rule, like those
not called by your name.
Oh, that you would tear open
the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains
would quake before you.
You did awesome deeds
that we did not expect.
No ear has heard, no eye seen
any God but you who works
for those who wait.
You meet those who do right,
who remember you in your ways.
You were angry; we sinned.
We have become like one unclean. Our good deeds
are like filthy rags;
We have all withered like leaves;
our iniquities blow us away
like the wind.
No one calls on your name
or clings to you.
You have hidden your face from us and delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, Holy One, you are our father.
We are the clay; you, the potter.
We are all the work of your hands.
Isaiah 63.16-17,19; 64.2-7
- What feelings in this reading do you share?
- When have you called on God with this intensity?
- What appeals to you about the image of God as father and potter?