Rend the Heavens and Come Down

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 64:1-9

Dear people of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Isaiah longed for God to come from heaven to earth to see the suffering and affliction of His people. He longed for God to have pity on them and rescue them from their enemies.

Their enemies had trampled down God’s sanctuary among His people (Is. 63:18). Isaiah prayed that God would come down and make their enemies tremble at His presence; that He would reveal Himself in terror to those who terrorized His people. Even creation’s most secure elements are insecure in God’s presence, as even the mountains quake when God comes down. The mighty man who is bold to fight and tyrannize other men, cowers and cries aloud in fear before God (cf. Zeph. 1:14).

Yet, it was God who gave His people into the hand of their enemies because they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit (Is. 63:10). Therefore God turned into their enemy, and Himself fought against them. God was angry with them and hid His face from them.

Isaiah confessed their sins to God. He said, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”

Why would Isaiah still pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down? What hope is there for sinners before God who tears the heavens open and makes the mountains and nations quake at His presence? What hope is there for sinners before God; sinners whose righteous deeds are filthy rags? If their righteous deeds are filthy rags, how much worse are their unrighteous deeds? If their good works deserve punishment, how much worse punishment do their sins and evil works deserve? Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

When God came down to Mount Sinai and gave His Law, His voice shook the earth. There was thunder and lightning and the sound of a trumpet and the mountain was smoking. The people were afraid and trembled and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Ex. 19:16-20:21; Heb. 12:18-29) Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

Isaiah tells us. He prays, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father… Behold, please look, we are all Your people.” Because God is their Father, Isaiah prays that He would answer the plea for compassion and salvation for His children. Because they are God’s people, Isaiah prays that God would not be so terribly angry or remember their iniquity forever.

This is the same plea that Moses had for God’s people when thy fell into sin and worshiped the golden calf. God threatened to destroy them all, but Moses pleaded with Him, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? … Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Ex. 32:9-18)

The plea is for God to rend the heavens and come to His people in mercy, despite our sinfulness. Remember the promises you made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Remember the promises you made to us in our Baptism when you put Your name on us and made us Your people.

God is merciful to us for His own name’s sake; for His own glory. His glory is to snatch us from the devil. God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature… and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die (SC III.3).

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Come rescue us from sin, death, and the devil. Not because we deserve it, but because we are Your people. Come rescue us from this evil world. Not because we merit such salvation, but because You are our dear Father and we are your dear children. Come rescue us from our own sins because we cannot save ourselves, and you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Church prays that God would rend the heavens and come down, and the Church waits. The Church at the time of Isaiah and Moses waited for the promised Saviour to come. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin and God promised them a Saviour, the Church waited for the Christ. He did come. He came and fulfilled the Law of God on our behalf, took the punishment our sins deserve, and suffered and died for us. Now the Church waits once again. We wait for Christ to return as He has promised.

Advent is about waiting. Yes, waiting for and looking forward to Christmas, but even more waiting for and looking forward to Christ’s return, when He will rend the heavens and come down. Yes, He will come in power and great might. The mountains will quake, and the nations will tremble in His presence. He will destroy His enemies.

To His people, however, He will give everlasting life. He will not be terribly angry with us; all of His anger was poured out on Jesus. He will not remember our iniquity, He has removed our sins from us. He will remember His promises to us and He will save us eternally as He has promised.

Thus, the Church prays, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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