GOD HIDDEN AND REVEALED
First Sunday of Advent
Analysis by Martin Lohrmann
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
6We 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. 7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
DIAGNOSIS: GOING, GOING… GONE
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) : Precious Pious Memories
For a while, the mere memory of faith can be enough to sustain God’s people. The glory days weren’t so long ago, the afterglow of an easy and vibrant faith can still be felt, and the pious memories of good times are quickly recalled. If the question comes as to why it seems that God did more for us in the past than we see God doing now, then the simple answer is probably that it is someone else’s fault. Back then we really had faith; nowadays, folks just aren’t as faithful as before. What’s wrong with them?
Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) : Rude Awakening
But wait! Maybe we’re not as great as we thought we were. Maybe our favorite well-worn robe of righteousness has become a bunch of rags and filthy clothes. When was the last time we truly called upon God for life, love and forgiveness? When was the last time the Word spoke to us in power and in truth? God’s kingdom comes whether or not we ask for it (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, second petition), but when was the last time we humbly asked to be part of God’s reign rather than simply assuming that it was God who worked for us? We have been asleep in the afterglow of pious but inaccurate memories for far too long. When did things get so bad?!
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) : The Absence of God
The reality of the situation sets in. Like panicked children, we cry out: God, where are you?! Did you leave us alone? Did we chase you away? Why have you hidden yourself from us? Whatever the reason, we are alone and far from you, with only our failures and shortcomings close at hand to keep us company. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” but that seems too much to ask for and too much to expect. We are entirely on our own, just like we deserve.
PROGNOSIS: THE ONE WHO WAS, AND IS, AND IS TO COME
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) : We Are Yours
Stripped bare of illusion and identity, it becomes clear that the only lasting identity we ever had is the one that came from God. Who are we when those identities and value systems–including the warm fuzzy memories of days gone by–that we turned to for life are taken from us? The answer: “We are your people.” That was our identity when God called us into life in the beginning. It was our identity whenever things felt right in earlier times. It remains our only true identity today, even in the face of our own unworthiness. We are who we are, because the one whose name is I AM declared it to be so. We are the clay, the Lord is our eternally good potter.
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (External Solution) : Like One Unclean
We broken pots and vessels of wrath have deserved rejection and isolation. And yet… we look to the cross and discover that we are not alone. While we were yet sinners Christ came and became “like one unclean” so that we might be reconciled through his mercy. What a happy exchange for us! What a costly exchange from Christ! The God who seemed so absent was truly hidden from us. But he was hidden, not because he was absent but because he was on a cross, revealed where we in our blindness would never have thought to look for him.
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) : Share the Good News!
Out of pure love, we who once were far off have been brought near. We have a loving parent who knows us, shapes us and loves us. Out of pure love, Christ has called us his brothers and sisters, laying down his own life so that we might live. Instead of wishing that the Lord would come back and make things like they were in the old days, we ourselves will go out and share this good news today, because we just can’t help ourselves. We were lost and have been found. God’s glory has indeed been revealed and our savior is at hand. We are all his people.