From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
Oh that thou would rend the heavens, that thou would come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, as when the melting fire burns, the fire causes the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!
When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou came down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waits for him.
Thou meet him that rejoices and works righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that call upon thy name, that stir up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.
But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.
“When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down.” (Isaiah 64:3) People have been praying for God’s self-revelation for millennia. The prophet Isaiah prayed earnestly that God would reveal God’s self in a mighty way, reminiscent of previous actions toward God’s beloved children. The ultimate form of barrenness is being left devoid of God because no life exists without God. But we encounter other forms of barrenness. Loneliness can be a form of barrenness because we were created for companionship. All of us, single or married, were made in the image of a Triune community of love. To desire community and companionship in various forms and to lack it can be bitterly painful. We are made to offer life to one another. In a similar sense, desiring and lacking a clear sense of vocation also can be a recognized form of barrenness. Our lives are meant to glorify God, to give life back to God by using our unique attributes, gifts, and talents.
The Incarnation is, of course, the prime example of God’s “coming down.” But every time God brings life into spaces we imagined were dead, with nothing left to offer, we experience another moment in which God comes down to inhabit us. Our barrenness also reminds us of our dependence on God. It reminds us that “we are the clay, and God is our potter; we are all the work of God’s hand,” (Isaiah 64:8).
So what now? How do we live in states of barrenness and still practice the devotion of Elizabeth? Amazingly, God works through many barren wombs in scripture. Sarah has Isaac. Hannah has Samuel. Ruth has Obadiah. Elizabeth has John. From the wombs the world calls cursed, forgotten, and barren, God brings forth life used to save, heal, guide, and prepare others for the kingdom. Our own lives testify to the painful fact that barrenness is not always transformed this side of Heaven. Sometimes the child is not born, the loneliness persists, the ache deepens. But we have stories that dare us to remember that God is able, that God is present, and that God is yet coming. We have the witness of scripture, but we also strain our ears to listen for similar stories within our own communities. Where is God breaking in now? Who among us has an unbelievable song to sing of God’s abundant provision? Who calls us to dare to hope? “When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down.” (Isaiah 64:3)
Redeeming God, there is always a story to tell of your goodness, a song to sing of your faithfulness, a moment to proclaim your miracles. Tune our voices and our ears to speak of and receive such testimonies where we least expect to find them. Amen.