O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence —
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil —
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
In the approach to Christmas this year, I’ve been rolling these words from Isaiah 64 (verses 1 & 2) around in my head. Because they shed so much light on what God was up to that first Christmas.
Speaking out of the depths of Israel’s disappointment and painful — though richly-deserved — judgement, Isaiah puts into words what must have been a common longing. The longing for God to intervene in their plight. Personally and dramatically.
What’s fascinating is that this longing for an expectation-shattering apocalyptic intervention of God is actually a longing for God to do his characteristic thing (verse 3):
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
Of course, Isaiah knows that Israel’s plight is self-inflicted. It’s the holy and true God’s response to their unholiness and failure to worship him.
And yet, Isaiah also knows that God is Israel’s Father(!). And this stokes his almost outrageous confidence to plead with God to reverse their situation. To relent. For the sake of his people, his holy city and temple, and — underwriting all this — his own name and reputation (verses 8-11):
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity for ever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
Your holy cities have become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful house,
where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned by fire,
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
Ultimately, Isaiah even seems to be convinced that God won’t be able to help himself. He won’t be able to do anything but — stunningly and surprisingly — bring salvation through the disaster of judgement overshadowing their current experience:
After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord?
Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?
This is what God was doing that first Christmas. Fulfilling Isaiah’s desperate plea for him to turn up in person to save!