The church year begins not with personal resolutions to do better but with a desperate cry for help. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence — as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil” (Isa. 64:1-2). God is the fire that sets the bush ablaze, though without consuming it. God is a rolling boil that makes the water pure, which, I imagine, when cooled, becomes a new font of everlasting life. God is a living flame of love (John of the Cross) before whose brightness and holiness humans appear “unclean” and their “righteousness as a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:6). Is this hard to hear? Yet, immediate recognition is impossible to ignore. We all fade like a leaf; the wind takes us away. Whatever virtues we have, for which we should be grateful and diligent in cultivating, are rooted not in natural goodness but the grace of God flashing from an open heaven.
Jesus tells a story about divine intervention. “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:24-27). Having earlier predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the sacrilege of its temple, an event which occurred in 70 A.D., Jesus went on to speak in cosmological images of a darkened sun and moon and falling stars. Speaking this way, Jesus was drawing upon well-known literature and stock images that announced the day of the Lord’s intervention. Indeed, Jesus said, “he is near, at the very gate” (Mark 13:29). The moment of God is near and now. The kingdom of God is at hand.
In a time of relative personal security and social stability, these foreboding signs may seem strange. In truth, however, a crisis of one kind or another is never far away, or at least the threat of it, and even times of happiness and comfort are haunted by an awareness that exist in in the time of our mortal flesh. Nothing mortal will last. Our only help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us” (Evening Prayer).
We are called, then, to be alert to the arrival of God from moment to moment. Jesus says, “Keep alert” and “keep awake” (Mark 13:32, 35). God has come in the creation of all things and their preservation through time. God has come in the calling of a people, in their journey to freedom and responsibility under the law and as a nation. In the fullness of time, God has sent his Son to redeem us from sin and death. And now, in this very moment, God sends the Spirit into us to make us sons and daughters of God.
In Christ, we are being enriched with speech and knowledge of every kind; we are being strengthened in our testimony to Jesus Christ. We have so much, and yet we have not arrived. “We wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 1:7). Wait! And let fire make you a living flame of love.
Look It Up: Read Revelation 3:8.
Think About It: Heaven is an open door. Come, Lord Jesus!