This is my Advent practice: writing every day from one of these prompts. Join me?
Day 1: REND
Matthew 24:44: Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Isaiah 64: O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence
Isaiah 64, a classic Advent text, begins with the prophet begging God to rend the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake in God’s presence. Things had gone completely awry. “We have all become unclean,” he says, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” (That ‘filthy cloth,’ by the way? An ancient menstrual pad.) The holy cities had become wilderness and a desolation. The temple had been destroyed in fire, and “all our pleasant places have become ruins.” Everything, in other words, has gone to shit, and the only way Isaiah could imagine things getting better was for God to come, in might and power, tearing the heavens in two and bursting onto the scene with such inimitable control that the mountains themselves tremble when it happens.
Rend the heavens.
That’s the PG-13 version of this Advent devotional. The original compilation, created by two Lutheran priests (a tradition not unfamiliar with profanity) is called “Fuck This Shit.” I’m not squeamish about the visceral language. Neither is scripture (see: menstrual pads). I do, however, appreciate the possibilities of rending the heavens just a bit more than fucking the shit.
Rend the heavens.
I preached a mediocre sermon this morning about cosmic time and earthly time, the ways that the incarnation – Jesus, God in flesh, divine being with toenails and social anxieties – reminds us that our time is not God’s time, that the world as we experience it is not the final word in the reality game.
And there is comfort in cosmic time-telling. There is comfort in the apocalyptic advent texts that detail suffering, death and confusion, so familiar to our own. There is comfort in Isaiah’s SOS call to God. There is comfort in the possibility of another way, another truth, another time, another life.
But the comfort is not for all of us. The comfort is for those who find themselves on the underside of our worldly realities. The possibility of rent heavens is a comfort to the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the oppressed, the mistreated, the abused. It is a comfort to the ones who, by virtue of circumstance or skin color, sexual identity or country of origin have found themselves looking at the structures of our world from the outside.
For the rest of humanity, the ones who have somehow found themselves situated at the top of the heap by virtue of nothing more than those same circumstances or skin colors or sexual identities or countries of origin, these apocalyptic texts are…terrifying.
When the heavens get rent, when God shows up, the mountains tremble. The powerful get thrown down, the rich get cast out, the ones whose lives have been relatively free of pain and suffering find themselves spun right ’round into a world that no longer makes sense, no longer protects them, no longer eases their existence.
I am part of the rest of humanity. I am a rich, white, cisgendered, heterosexual, natural-born American citizen. Sure, yes, I am a woman, and that comes with some nasty glimpses of what it might possibly mean to live on the underside of power, but generally I am afforded every advantage in the world that I live in, the world that I assume to be the norm.
So, if the heavens get rent and God shows up and the world gets turned upside down;
If the rich are thrown out and the powerful are cast down and the temple is destroyed;
If the last become first and the first become last, if the meek inherit the earth and the poor are revealed to be God’s children…
Well, I am straight up out of luck.
This is the first year that Advent has actually felt apocalyptic to me.
That sentence is proof of my position at the top of the heap, proof of the precarious balancing act I do every day to avoid costly discipleship and retain my easy privilege.
The occurrences of these last months – a demagogue elected to leadership, black men and boys killed in spades by state-sponsored agencies, native americans barricaded and silenced and shot with freezing water as they protect the land we stole from them – these have surprised me. That this is true, that I have been surprised at the ongoing and longstanding injustices woven into the fabric of my own society: this is a luxury.
When I pray for God to rend the heavens and come quickly, when I sing the hymns of anticipation, waiting, watching and longing, when I light this candle and then the next one, I am praying for my own destruction. I am praying for my own dethroning. I am asking God to arrive here on this scene and knock me off the pedestal that was handed to me at birth and raise up all my sisters and brothers who got handed a manhole cover, instead.
The apocalyptic Advent texts are always unsettling. There’s talk of the sun going black and the temples being destroyed, the mountains trembling and the entire world order getting upended.
But this year, at this point in my own slow and much-too-dramatically-painful realization of my power and privilege, these texts and this season are searing. They are scalding. It feels, as Isaiah says, like fire kindling brushwood or a flame finally causing water to boil. There is fire, here, and I am getting burnt.
My prayer is that the fire is the refining kind. My prayer is that there is something of worth and value beneath all these layers of unexamined privilege and poorly-wielded power.
Because when the heavens are finally rent, I want to yell, with Isaiah: “Now, do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are ALL your people.”