Read Isaiah 64:1-3
It was the worst night of my life. I had just gotten home after holding a student from our group while he gasped his last breath, and I felt like I was breathing mine. I was disoriented, angry, in shock, and hopeless. It was the deepest and darkest valley I had ever experienced. And then there was a knock at my door. Two of my friends showed up – uninvited and out of the blue. They came over and sat down with me, cried with me, and entered my pain. They didn’t say anything significant, but what spoke was the significance of their action. There was nothing to say. There were no words that could have helped in that moment. The only thing that could help was what they gave: presence. And, ironically, it changed things. It jump-started a healing process. Just knowing people were there and that they cared was part of God’s redemptive work.
It’s that same type of presence that Isaiah longed for as he sat in exile. He and his countrymen were far from home and far from hope. They had been carried off by the Babylonians, and the life they had built was fading into the rearview mirror. They had experienced the pain of death and abuse and destruction – and they were crying out. But notice that Isaiah wasn’t asking for an explanation. He didn’t want to know why those terrible things happened; he was asking for presence. When we’re hurting, answers typically aren’t what we’re really searching for. To know why something happened doesn’t help alleviate the pain. What we need in the midst of despair is someone to sit with us, someone to listen to our lament, and someone to put their arm around us. We need presence.
During the Advent season, we embrace a posture of longing. We allow our hearts to echo Isaiah’s prayer: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1-2, ESV). Isaiah’s appeal is the for hope of all humanity: “God, show up!” We need God to show up in our desperate situations, in our unmet expectations, and in our cries of pain. We don’t so much need his explanation; we need his presence.
Reflection and Response
At Christmas, we remember “Emmanuel,” another name for Jesus that means “God with us.” Emmanuel, who is the very presence of God among us, is the answer to Isaiah’s prayer and ours. Truly, stated in the song “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “The cry of every longing heart is met in thee tonight.” Sit with this phrase today and let your soul long and relish in the answer to your prayer: his presence.
By Ryan Paulson