O REND THE HEAVENS! A Christmas Reflection
O rend the heav’ns, come quickly down, and make
a thousand hearts your own. –William Cowper, 1769
In November, after two weeks of ministry in Indonesia, we had an unforgettable vacation with our daughter who teaches there. We visited Borobudur—a breathtaking 9th c. World Heritage Site, covered with thousands of carved relief panels and over 500 Buddha statues. It’s a compelling symbol of the Buddhist worldview, climbing up through nine stacked platforms rising to a central dome.
NINE LEVELS TO CLIMB
You live in bondage to your bad karma, but by wisdom, right conduct, and discipline, and through endless cycles of birth and reincarnation, you perhaps will reach Nirvana—release from suffering, from all desire, and even from individual self. And no God in the way. (1)
Hmm. Well, to begin with, if that’s the best they have to offer, I think I prefer the tangible joys of the New Creation, with its Creator who loves me at the very center of it. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth….Be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create….I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people….(2)
Christian hope shines over the drudgery of every Borobudur in history, every religious worldview that relies on self-salvation. They all do—except for one. Every other system is a DO religion. Biblical faith is first of all a DONE religion. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. / The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
A SNAPSHOT OF INDONESIA:
At an ancient Hindu temple, a few miles from an ancient Buddhist temple, in a Muslim-majority country, with a thriving Christian minority
Isaiah agonized over the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its people to Babylon. God will judge the nation for its rebellion. Yet the prophet held onto Yahweh’s covenant love. You, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. Then Isaiah pleads to the Lord on the ground of his might and mercy: 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! He pictures the heavens concealing God as a vast curtain he will rip apart when he comes down to earth. In blazing judgment he will rescue Israel from her enemies. (3)
Isaiah’s urgent prayer funnels into his bold questions—let’s call them “complaints”—right to the Lord’s face. Where are your zeal and your might?... Will you restrain yourself at these things, O LORD? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly? How long will God keep silent? When will the Lord answer Isaiah’s pleas? His questions echoed through the cosmos for seven centuries until at last Yahweh acted.
As shepherds watched their flocks in Bethlehem’s fields, an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. Imagine their terror when, not one, but legion upon legion of heavenly warriors suddenly blazed over Bethlehem’s skies. Almighty God has torn open the curtain of heaven. Here he comes, in holy judgment to set the world ablaze as fire kindles brushwood! Of course the shepherds are terrified! Who can stand on the day of God’s wrath?
But the heavenly host returned to heaven without scorching the earth. The shepherds’ terror turned to wonder as they reflected on the angelic message. Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. The Lord indeed has come down—not first as Judge, but as our Redeemer from of old. Isaiah truly understood that this divine-human Servant-Redeemer would be despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief….wounded for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities. Before the Lord can bring the judgment, he must bear the judgment.
And just as Isaiah prophesied, the nations tremble at the Lord’s coming—not in terror, but in reverent awe. The wise men from the East saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. What a joy to witness the Gospel poured out on all nations, tribes, and tongues in Indonesia this fall, as Andy taught at Universitas Pelita Harapan (University of Light and Hope), Sekolah Pelita Harapan (School of Light and Hope, K-12), and the Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia.
Reformed Millennium Center, Jakarta
Carved in stone on the front:
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Picture taken from "Nirvana": The active volcano Mt. Merapi (left) at sunrise (right)
Back to Borobudur. There is no doubt about its splendor as an emblem of human achievement. Yet our most enduring image came from the heavens—a spectacular sunrise through clouds and volcanic steam. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. The Lord spoke to us: “Behold this smoking volcano, and my fearsome power which none but I can wield. See the sun of my mercy; I have provided the world another day of life. I am your God.”
Dear friend, will you look up and worship the Lord of power and mercy? And will you look down at the humble manger. There God supremely revealed his mercy and power by sending his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Many blessings to you this holiday season and in the coming new year.
MERRY CHRISTMAS! from Andrew & Dawna Selle
(1) Some have described Buddhism as an “atheistic religion” since miracles have little importance, and Buddha himself is a mere man who has reached enlightenment. Human personality and desire are illusions: “…The mind, set on the attainment of nirvana, has attained the extinction of desires” –Siddharta Gautama (Buddha) in Dhammapuda.
(2) Isaiah 65:17-19 (cf. 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1); other Scriptures cited, English Standard Version unless otherwise noted, are Isaiah 52:10; Psalm 19:1; 118:22-23 (New International Version); Isaiah 63:16; 64:1-2; 63:15 & 64:12; Luke 2:8-15; Isaiah 53:3-5; Matthew 2:11. Scripture is in italics.
(3) Does Isaiah’s prophesy have a proximate fulfillment in the return to the Land under Ezra and Nehemiah? Perhaps, but the extravagance of Isaiah’s prophesies demands much more, and the NT tells us what that “much more” is all about.