Ps. 80:1-7; Isa. 64:1-9; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 11:1-10
Tear, Oh, that you would tear the heavens and come down—mountains would quake from your presence … doing awesome things we did not expect… (vv. 1, 3a).
Northern Israel was decimated by the Assyrians; Judah and Jerusalem were crushed in Babylon’s conquest. Isaiah’s prophetic lamentation on behalf of Israel approaches despair and accusation against God for seeming lack of concern; yet given God’s history of doing “awesome things” in unexpected ways, Isaiah’s lament still clung to God’s demonstrated character for gracious restoration.
From time to time, all of us find ourselves in despair in a sinful world, believing more in God’s real absence than gracious presence in our life: “Why is this happening to me?” and “God, how can you permit me to suffer this dark circumstance?” Our lamentations, like Isaiah’s nonetheless are prayers of faith that hold to hope God will act for those who wait on his coming (Isa. 64:4b).
Clarity may lack at the start of Advent as the church initially posits Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, to “Hosanna’s” (Ps. 118:25, 26) undergirded by Zechariah’s prophesy, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation” (Zech. 9:9b). One wonders, how Jesus’ “triumphal entry”, prepares us for his birth?
Shakespeare, succinctly put it; “past is prologue”, i.e., the beginning is known by its end. To comprehend the Nativity, we step-out of miasma’s lament, “Oh, that You would tear the heavens and come down”. If we properly celebrate the Lord’s birth, we must know his end.
Once again (cf. Ex. 19:18, 19) God responds to his subjugated people’s despair; this time by Jesus’ Nativity for our salvation in a Child, born to “trouble” and rule (cf. Mt. 2:3).
In today’s Gospel, before ascending Mt. Olivet from Jericho, Jesus encountered Bartimaeus awaiting him, crying-out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk. 10:47, 48).
With the blind man’s proclamation, the stage was set for revelation of Jesus’ dual descents; his tearing-out of heaven through Mary’s flesh, and his descent down Olivet into Jerusalem’s temple; by these we know “his end for his beginning”.
Bartimaeus identified Jesus, en-route to his capitol, “David’s son and king” of whom God promised, “I will raise up your descendant after you who will come from your own body. I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name, and I will secure the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father and he will be my Son” (2 Sam. 7:12b-14a).
At Jesus’ prerogative, the old temple, successively constructed at the hands of Solomon, Cyrus, and Herod, would be replaced. Jesus, cast outside the Holy City to be crucified by the old religious divines; henceforth God would lift and raise up his new Temple, to rule from, “a house built without hands” (Acts 7:48).
Before establishing God’s new worship in Supper and crucified-resurrected flesh; Jesus denounced, cursed, and disenfranchised Israel’s fruitless old temple worship (Mk. 11:12-18).
In Advent we begin to apprehend the Nativity’s end with Bartimaeus, formerly blind to God’s hidden ways, but now a follower of Jesus in faith for restoration of sight to spiritual things.
God’s new creation comes by the Word of his Crucified-King. Jesus’ Nativity “in these last days” is, as the first creation, prologue to behold heaven open to earth.
By cross and resurrection heaven and new earth are united in Christ; time ceases its interminable cycle from sin to sin. Heaven and earth are together part and parcel in eternity; the old epoch is ended, the new begun on Christmas Day.
The Spirit’s gift of baptismal faith provides us with heaven’s perspective, knowing the only true God and his kingdom in his Son’s crucified and risen body. The face of God, veiled to Israel in Moses’ speech and hidden from the world, in Christ is fully revealed, nowhere else than in the sacrifice of God’s only Son for love of men. This gospel releases man’s lamentation on account of sin, separating us from God.
If you ask after the Babe of Christmas; perspective initially comes at the cross from where we look: to Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem; to his coming in judgment on Jerusalem and temple (14:62); to his Resurrection word and Sacrament coming; to his Parousia coming and final separation; these are God’s unexpected “acts” from out of heaven for our long-awaited atonement.
We begin to prepare for Christmas celebration, by comprehending its end; that Jesus tore heaven’ veil, to overturn Israel’s former worship for worship in Spirit and in Truth.
Looking down the articulating slopes of Mt. Olivet with Bartimaeus, we see the cross for what it is: either self-destructive rejection of the Man Jesus, or Baptism’s mercy in Christ; from this placr we clap eyes on the coming Infant out of Mary.
Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, and resurrection are the beginning of God’s new creation that will come to fruition the Last Day. Until then, mountains quake at his presence; then the sun darkens. Finally Jesus will come on clouds amid earthquakes; and angelic powers will tremble (Mt. 26:64, 27:45-54).
In the new creation coming into being, the cross and Jerusalem’s destruction forty years later are of a piece in the melding of time and eternity; even as Supper and cross are the same distributive event for judgment or grace. Amen.