In-Sight: Don’t Hold Back

I am posting this a week early to connect with the Advent Season…

Whatever else Advent is, it is an annual season in the Christian Year that invites us to make a fresh start. All four readings contain the keynote of restoration in one way or another, especially the two Old Testament lessons. [1]

I doubt there is anything we want right now more than a deep rest that is restorative. We are tired and worn out due to a host of things, many of which have stalked our trail for months (or years), and some of which continue to do so. As someone I read recently put it, “2020 has been a hard decade.” I feel it too, even inside the bubble of privilege. So many others have faced (and still face) things far beyond anything I have had to endure. This one has gotten us all.

In the midst of everything, Advent plops into our lives as Christians. It comes to us with the promise of newness when we are still in a soul-draining oldness. It comes with an offer of life when so much of the world is coping with death. Honestly, I am not sure how to engage with the message of Advent in a way that’s renewing. I ‘m floundering.

But as I make this confession, it returns to me as a question, “When have you ever entered Advent with everything in good shape? Aren’t you always floundering in some way?” When I allow the question to soak in, I recognize that Advent 2020 is essentially the same as always, the opportunity for those of us who sit in darkness to see a great light (Isaiah 9:2).

Boy, do I need to do that this year! But in truth I need it every time the beginning of the Christian Year rolls around. The reading from Isaiah this year, offers us some guidance for making a fresh start in Advent. I sense it in the words, “Don’t hold back.” These words were used in Isaiah 63:15 to implore God to take decisive action. Isaiah 64 continues the sentiment, with a bent toward a comparable decisiveness on our part. We must not hold back when we ask God not to hold back. Today’s lesson guides us in not holding back.

First, we must not hold back in praying our desires. The text from Isaiah begins, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence (64:1). Eugene Peterson amplifies this desire in The Message, “Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend.” Yes, that’s it! God, let ‘er rip! We need a big dose of help–help strong enough to move the mountains of “stuff” inside us and around us—individually, nationally, globally.

This Advent we must sing, “Lord listen to your children praying….Send us love. Send us power. Send us grace.” And send it in truck loads!

Second, we must not hold back in confessing our sins. Isaiah put it this way, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you” (64:6-7).

Whatever else 2020 has revealed, it has shown in spades that we have made ourselves gods. We have followed false messiahs. We have worshipped at the altar of “No One Can Tell Me What I Can and Cannot Do.” We have made golden calves (sacred cows) and substituted them for God. We have sold our souls to the satans (deceivers) of partisanship and supremacy. “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy!”

This Advent we must pray, “Thy kingdom come” with a broken and contrite heart that says, “My kingdom go. You’re God; I’m not.” [2]

And third, we must not hold back in trusting God. Isaiah declared, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (64:8). Notice that this is not abstract trust, it is hands-on trust. We are the child. God is the parent. God is at work on us. The restoration we need comes by God’s action and our willingness to be acted upon.

This Advent we must sing, “Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”

The fresh start of Advent is summed up in one word: Emmanuel—”God with us.” We are not left to face our perils alone. God is acting. Aslan is on the move. God has heard our desire, received our confession, and accepted our trust. We enter Advent, Eugene Peterson says, “based on the certainty that God is coming.” [3] Oh, yes!

[1] Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:34-37.

[2] This is a prayer conjoining the sentiments of Father Richard Rohr and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.

[3] ‘The Message Devotional Bible,’ Peterson’s comment after Isaiah 64:8.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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