Do you remember getting separated from your mom or dad in a department store? I remember being pretty little—under 7—and going to K-Mart with my mom. She was doing some shopping for herself, which of course did not include spending copious amounts of time in the toy aisle like I had specifically requested. Instead we meandered through the women's section, a complete bore-fest to any semi-normal child. To entertain my semi-normal self I was ducking in and out of the circular clothes racks, attempting to see how long it would take before Mom would forget about me. For a while Mom tried to pay attention to me, asking me to stop, to stay close by. But eventually I hid in a clothes rack for a little too long, she got a little too distracted by some article of clothing, and we were separated.
What's funny about that experience is that I remember being the angry one. I had refused to stick close to my parent, I had literally hid myself from her, and yet I was angry that she would just leave me, abandon me to my fate in K-Mart of all God-forsaken places. I did the things that a lost child does---look around frantically, cry, look around some more, and eventually get asked by some employee if I was lost. In a moment lived-out by hundreds of families, we were joyfully reunited at the customer service desk after a call for "the mother of Anthony" rang out over the PA system.
Isaiah 64, the first Scripture of the first week of Advent, has Israel in much the same position as a lost child---but with the stakes much higher. Israel's countryside has been burnt, it's cities torn down, it's civilization in ruins. And despite recognizing that they have sinned, that they have transgressed, that they have ran away from God, they still want to blame God for what has happened to them: "You have hidden your face from us" (64:7).
But the most forceful message of Isaiah 64 is the recognition that things are completely messed up, the world is totally screwed---but if God would "tear open the heavens and come down," if God would make the earth shake in His presence, if God would baptize the world with fire and release His flames upon Israel's adversaries, then all would be made right once more.
But we should pause before we join in too eagerly with these cries for vengeance. Because God did answer Israel's prayer. God did come down, He did act decisively in Israel's favor...but in a way totally unexpected, in a way absent of flame and earthquake and fear. God and His people were indeed reunited, brought into each other's presence again, by way of God-in-the-flesh, the Divine-Made-Incarnate, Son of God and Son of Man: Jesus.
This Advent, we are right to cry out to God for Him to make things right in the world. We are right to recognize how lost we are without Him and how desperate things are without His presence. But let's be slow to blame God for humanity's mistakes. And let's be slow to ask for God's vengeance and anger and punishment. Rather let us anticipate together the presence of God made real in the unexpected: not in the earthquake or fire or storm, but in the still and in the quiet and in the recognition that God is with us, even when we're hiding in the clothes racks.