Our text for Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, is from Isaiah. It's part of a long poem in the form of a community lament. (The entire poem is Isaiah 63:7-64:12, in case you want to read the entire thing!) Our specific text is Isaiah 64:1-9.
Written during the time of the exile (after Israel had been defeated and many people carried off to be servants/slaves in Babylon) the passage expresses the anguish of the people at their sense of distance and alienation from God. "Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down." They longed for God to come and rescue them, save them, restore them to close communion with God who had been their help so many times in the past. Laments often included the phrase, "How long, O Lord?" How long must we suffer and wait for you to act?
Isaiah tells us that one of the ways to prepare for the Lord's coming begins with remembering how very far from "okay" we are. It's the opposite portrait from our Facebook lives, the public profiles where everything is wonderful. We usually prepare for Christmas by trying to make everything beautiful -- but Isaiah that instead of adding decorations, that we open our hearts to consider how unprepared we are for a Savior.
When we cry out, "How long, O Lord?" we aren't asking how long it is until Christmas, although we long for that time to come. But how long until the wrongs that we see on Earth are made right? How long until God's kingdom of love, mercy and justice is truly visible among us? How long until peace reigns on the Earth? How long until the presence of God really takes up residence in our hearts.
We need the presence of God among us -- to "come down home." We long for it this Advent.