“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for...”
These words from the Prophet Isaiah are from what is called “Third Isaiah.” The prophet Isaiah lived before the time of the cataclysmic destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. He prophesied about the need to return to the practice of being faithful to the commandments of the Lord, the God of Israel, lest disaster come upon the people. They were not faithful; and disaster did come upon them; Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were taken off into exile in Babylon.
“Second Isaiah” was either another prophet who belonged to the spirit and tradition of First Isaiah, or it was the very same Isaiah who lived a very long life. Here the Israelites are in exile and bemoaning their predicament; and Second Isaiah prophesies to give them hope, starting in Chapter 40, assuring them that God will indeed act on their behalf and bring them back to the Promised Land. Second Isaiah is also called the Book of Consolation, because it is replete with reasons for hope.
70 years after the Israelites were conquered and carried off into exile, their redemption did in fact happen. The Babylonian empire was conquered by the new Emperor, Cyrus of Persia. He allowed the enemies of Babylon, who had been brought to Babylon to be slaves, to return to the homelands. It was a very effective move in that it won for Persia many friends.
Israel’s return to the Promised Land is when “Third Isaiah” is written. Now either the original Isaiah is extremely old, or this is another prophet from the same school of thinking as the original Isaiah.
At this time, the Israelites had miraculously been returned to their homeland, something that they had yearned for, hope against hope, for 70 years. But when they returned home, each one was looking out for himself, rebuilding his own ancestral home and not caring about the welfare of the whole people of God. In other words, it was turning out to be much more difficult than they expected. The community was not drawing together, not doing for each other, and not remembering to live by the laws of their ancestors, their covenant with the only God.
So, Isaiah cries out to heaven: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for...”
“Would that you might meet us doing right,” Third Isaiah says, “that we were mindful of you in our ways! . . . [But] There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.”
Ah, but the Potter, who molds the clay of those whom He calls if they are open to His grace, know that He has indeed rent the heavens and come down, and does so again at every Mass. Yes, we are His people, and He is our God.
But there is another generation coming along who finds it very difficult to grasp this mystery, “which no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but You, doing such deeds for those who wait for Him.”
Why is it that the younger generation has a very difficult time committing not just to our Church, but to any church? It seems that everyone has this or that opinion for the cause of this, but some serious research was done and published in a book, "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church ... and Rethinking Faith," (Baker Books), by David Kinnaman, and Aly Hawkins.
One of the elements that their analysis of a wide range of statistical data shows is this: The younger generation does not think like the older generation; and it’s not caused by youthful enthusiasm to be different. The way they have received data during their development is greatly influenced by technology, especially the egalitarian aspect. They have had access to all kinds of information through the internet, which they grew up on. In their world there is not some authority showing them that this is wrong and this is right. It all comes in on an equal basis. This would be fine if we were teaching philosophy and helping people learn how to think and reason and learn the art of logic. But we're not teaching people to think.
Complicate this by society’s questioning every utterance of what used to be an authoritatively defined answer to life’s questions, and you have one generation unable to relate with another.
Isn’t this like the return of the Israelites after exile, feeling lost and unable to help each other cope with fulfilling the promises of the Lord? So, with Isaiah, we say: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” And He does come down, upon this altar. And He will see us through. On our part, we must stay awake, be faithful and trust in God. As crazy as it all seemed to the disillusioned Israelites in those days of returning from exile, yet they were the very ones from whom the Savior of the World was to come. So, in our time, and during this season of Advent, let us put more confidence in hoping that God will act to save His people, in every generation.