Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! . . . come down and make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?” . . . Your sacred cities have become a wasteland; even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins. (Isa. 64:1-5, 10-11)
Isaiah made this plea after God revealed to the prophet what would happen decades later when the King of Babylon would destroy Jerusalem and force the people of Judah into exile. This was a bad-news story, and Isaiah wished he could re-write it so that God would rend the heavens and come down, making the nations quake in fear before Him. Given the people’s enduring propensity to disobey God, without His direct intervention Isaiah saw no way for his people to be saved.
He was right. It would take one of those “awesome things we did not expect” to bring salvation not only to the children of Israel, but to the whole world. It would take God coming down as a baby born to insignificant parents in an unsanitary setting. When the announcement of His birth was made, it wasn’t to the rich and influential. Instead it was shepherds, the lowest of the working man’s pecking order, who were the spectators at a heavenly light and music extravaganza.
The coming was not timed to prevent the fall of Jerusalem. There were other factors that had to be in place for the story of Jesus to unfold. But Isaiah was right on when he said that God acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.
Waiting is hard. Sometimes it’s excruciating. It feels so much better to do something — anything. I think that’s because we like to feel that we can have some impact on a situation, that maybe we can fix things ourselves.
When I worked as a newspaper reporter, I found it frustrating to wait for people to get back to me for an interview, or to give me information or their side of a dispute so I could finish and file my story. I didn’t like leaving a lot of loose ends hanging that I was powerless to tidy up on my own schedule.
It may be that we’d all like to write our own stories to meet our own goals and timetables. People often come up with ideas about how God should think and act so their lives or the world wouldn’t be in its current state. They’re baffled about why He isn’t taking their advice.
We like predictability — unless it’s predictably negative. If we could write our own life stories, I’m pretty sure they’d all have happy endings. It’s the problem of how my story and your story and all the other stories would fit together and what they’d accomplish that I’m not so sure about.
If I had been given the assignment to write the story of the coming of God’s Messiah, I can tell you right now I wouldn’t have Him being born in a stable, suffering repeated insults, rejection and threats, and ending up with a torturous death on a cross. The version I would have envisaged would be a birth in the finest palace, with the best doctors in attendance. Then the child would grow and plainly exhibit such obviously divine traits and wisdom that everyone would recognize Him for who He was, and listen attentively to every word that fell from His lips. After he grew up and all the world was at His door and were following Him without hesitation, He would ascend back to heaven before the awe-struck eyes of the world.
But God is the author of the story and the master of the unexpected: unexpected love, unexpected mercy, unexpected outcomes. His stories have a habit of featuring people who are considered insignificant or weak — you know, people like you and me — who because they are willing to follow His lead, accomplish things for His kingdom.
God has already read all of our life stories and wants the happiest of endings for each one of us. But like the choose-your-own-ending books that were popular for a time, we do in fact choose our own. We don’t choose how we get to the end, but we do choose our own eternal destination. It’s really the one thing over which we have complete control. For everything else along the way, the best choice is to wait for God to lead or to act, and to know that He will write His glory into our story.