O That Thou Wouldst Rend The Heavens…

And Come Down …    Isaiah 64:1.  (This morning’s text from Hebrew Scriptures.)

For weeks now in the daily lectionary we’ve been listening to, absorbing, and discussing the apocalyptic texts:  the end of the world, judgment, horror, fire, floods, darkness.   Today, I Advent, the church has us contemplate apocalypse still, even though the new year has come.  We begin with darkness, destruction.

 (Please see my website http://www.edgeofenclosure.org for more on I Advent.)  

Last night we sang First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent.  Rather than impending apocalypse we sang themes of hope: “It shall come to pass in the last day, that the mountain of God’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted about the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”  We sang, “Drop down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation.”  The antiphon on the Magnificat was, “Behold, the Name of our God, cometh from afar: and the glory filleth all the earth.”

Finally, we chanted tropes of longing in the incense filled chapel, the first advent candle lit, the winter darkness deeper outside than it has been since a year ago at this time.  And at Lauds this morning we sang, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”  Not doom.  Not the end.  But salvation.


Last week I went to Holy Cross monastery for a few days to work on the Advent retreat.  In the bookstore I found a card from a painting by Beate Heinen:  O Heiland, Reisse Die Himmel Auf. (O Savior, tear the skies apart – or, O that you would rend the heavens and come down).  A crowd of faceless men, women and children move together in muted shadows.  Among these people a man with oversized hands, partly in the shadow protects a woman and a child moving with crowd.  A fissure of light, a rending of Reality opens earth colors and detail: the sleeping infant on the mother’s shoulder, and the mother herself looking at us.  She knows we are watching her, and she lets us know she knows. 

I look with longing to the skys.  O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down!  But, in fact, Emmanuel, God with us, has already broken through.

Here’s a link to this Beate Heinen’s work for further meditation.


On that sight is a picture of Joseph dreaming, the events before and after the Nativity around him, and a startling angel connecting all the events over his sleeping form.

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