Based on Isaiah 64: 1-9 and Mark 13: 24-37
Prayer: Holy One, we are here, trying to wait. Open our hearts to hear your words of presence and challenge as we enter into a time of readying ourselves for you. Amen.
A call we often hear during Advent is “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” But, do we really mean that? Exploring these texts, I started thinking what we really mean to say is “Come, Lord Jesus, come. No wait! I’m not ready!”
I hate to break it to you, but Advent begins with despair.
The Isaiah passage informs us that we humans have tried to figure this life thing out all on our own and our natural failings of ignorance, greed, scheming and small mindedness have led us to make a big mess; have led us farther away from God. The people of Isaiah are asking God to return. Some of them have just returned themselves. King Cyrus has defeated the Babylonians and established a decree so the exiles can return.
Well, they return all right, but now their mixing with those who stayed and everyone does things just a little bit differently so great threats and divisions break out and there are power struggles and attempts at oppression.
On a smaller scale it’s like any time two churches want to do something together … there are different ways of doing things and each church has their own way that they’re comfortable with. It’s hard to blend: even though the essence of each is the same. So, imagine multiple populations – whose essence is the same – coming back together, each wanting to keep their own ways.
The passage begins with a request – God, please! Tear open the heavens and come down and make your name known to our adversaries! Please! Get here! We’re desperate.
Their desperation is in the present tense: we’ve sinned, we’ve become unclean, and our inequities take us away. And, their trust is in the future tense: you are our potter, and we are the work of your hand.
The people can call as loud as they like; but God’s response is not evident. And, this is what both passages today try to help us explore – God has power over what will happen and the time in which it will happen. We can do whatever we want – make big plans, build big towers, conquer whole lands – but God will do something unexpected when we least expect it. And, part of our faith and preparation during Advent, is to live into the Hope and trust that what God does whenever God decides to do it will be better – for us and for the world – than we could ever have imagined or planned.
People call the Mark passage read today the little apocalypse. We are living in the already and the not yet. We need to pay attention and be ready; because when the Christ returns it’s not going to be pretty – the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from heaven. Yikes. I’m kind of scared. I’m actually thinking … please, don’t show up, Jesus. That sounds like way too much; out of my control; not what I’m used to; too much change; and something I won’t be able to handle.
Yeah, right, Come, Lord Jesus, come. There’s no way I’m ready.
Not the most hopeful way to start a church season, eh? But, don’t worry, it gets better … in God’s time.
Advent is the time of WAITING. But, it’s a big time … it’s a pregnant waiting. Our job isn’t just to sit at home sipping eggnog until the day arrives – 22 days from now – when we open presents, eat turkey, watch Christmas specials, and wear pajamas all day. No, our job in this pregnant pause of the year is to ready ourselves.
Think of this time as a mini-Lent … a time to clear the cobwebs from our hearts, the staleness from our spirits, the inaction from our bodies, and the sentimentality from our minds.
Jesus says in Mark “Beware. Keep alert. You do not know when the time will come … keep awake.” Will the time be in the evening? At midnight? At dawn? A week from now? 8,000 years from now? Right now?
Are we ready for that? Are we ready for all our shame and grudges and doubt and apathy and insecurity and pessimism and guilt to come into the light, out of their dark hiding places where we’ve tucked them away so successfully?
Because that’s what’s going to happen when Mary releases the light into the world. We won’t be able to hide. So, let’s take the time now, as best we can, to repent for and reconcile all the unresolved pieces we so desperately want to keep hidden; and ignore; and conceal from others and ourselves.
Let’s admit to God that we can’t do it all on our own, we are not the makers of our own success. We’ve tried and we have come up short. We’ve tried to be independent, we’ve tried to look the part, we’ve tried to control every part of our lives, and we just can’t do it. We need God’s help focusing our eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven here and now … on changing the focus of what’s important to us.
We want to show with our lives that making sure everyone is fed is more important to us than a 30 pound turkey. We want to show with our hearts that tending to the abandoned is more important to us than the perfect guest list. We want to show with our hands that helping build a home for all is more important to us than our own square footage.
Come Lord Jesus Come! No. Wait. I’m so obviously not ready.
When we start to see just how big this waiting period is – all the work there is to do in this short amount of time … it’s hard to hold onto hope, isn’t it?
It’s been a couple of thousand years since Jesus was “live” with the disciples and the crowds. But, even less than 100 years after he was with them, his followers who wrote these gospels were starting to wonder … so, when is he coming back? I thought he’d be here by now? How much longer do we have to wait?
It’s fair for us to say “really?” “Really, you’re trying to tell me something big is going to happen? I’m supposed to continue living in hope and being ready for Jesus to return? I don’t know. It’s a bit far-fetched.” And, when we live in that mindset we sink into routine and sentimentality and the only big thing we expect of waiting through this period is the presents we asked for. We don’t believe anymore that the world is going to turn. That the heavens are going to open. That stars are going to fall from heaven. I mean, come on, it’s just a story right? Kids stuff.
But, if we think about it … doesn’t the Spirit breaking into our lives and the planet happen a lot? Surely we can find moments in the world news and in your own life where God has broken in and surprised us?
Can you not think of moments when you were bowled over by the presence of God? When all hope was conceivably lost, you thought you’d never get out of your stuck place, you thought you’d never have some money saved, a safe home, a job, people in your life who loved you. And, then, moments, strung together, beyond your control and out of your hands, form and happen and land in your life, that you did not orchestrate or control. Moments, that put a curve in your path. Moments that shone just enough light to get you into the next day, the next hour. Moments that moved you into a place of hope again. God’s power was revealed in your life: unexpectedly, and beyond your understanding.
Maybe you can’t name it; maybe you can only remember that things changed at some point. That’s okay. Acknowledge and be grateful that it was God at work; the Holy breaking into your life once more.
One catchy phrase I read “We live today in the light of God’s tomorrow.” If there’s one thing we’ve learned over these last two thousand years, it’s that we have to see and take the moments when we get them, because they keep us believing and moving us forward. So far, the in-breaking hasn’t happened all at once.
Praying with the Advent peace box is not going to all of a sudden end the conflict in Palestine and Israel; donating to First United isn’t going to immediately remove all beloved human beings from the street; giving to the CBC Food bank drive isn’t going to create full cupboards for all people by the end of the year; adopting one rescue animal isn’t going to instantly free all the captives. But … it is going to keep our hope alive for the time to come when all the world will know peace and justice. It is going to remind us that God’s way is more than enough for all. It is going to give us glimpses of the kingdom of heaven right here and right now.
The road is long and paved with the actions we choose to make today.
Come, Lord Jesus, come. I might just be ready.
Theodore Parker was a Unitarian minister who wrote a collection of sermons in 1853. In one of them he said this: “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
Come , Lord Jesus, come. I want to be ready.
In this waiting time of Advent, let’s invite God as the potter to re-mold us; to re-turn us, to re-member us so that our journey through this life is not only lit by The Light but offers that Light to others.
Asking ourselves to believe that this is the moment when the Christ will come down and break open the heavens drains our hope, because we’ve done that before, and yet, here we still are.
Preparing ourselves for the coming of the Christ – keeping alert, staying awake, getting ready – that fills us with hope.
We’re here because we are a people of hope. We live in Hope that the world will turn. We live in Hope that Christ will shine in our lives. We live in Hope that we will be energized to do the work to be ready ... in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn. … Or, now.
Come Lord Jesus, come. We are ready!