What is Advent all about? It’s about what we see and what we do while we wait for the One who will surely come.
First Sunday of Advent (Year B) – Sunday, November 30, 2014 – Isaiah 64:1-9
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“While We Wait” – Pastor Evan Davis
They were home, but home wasn’t the same anymore. God’s people Israel were free to go home – why? Because the Persians conquered the Babylonians and the Persian emperor Cyrus said, sure, go home. And you Jews still in Judah, your life’s about to get a little bit better. Things are looking up! But not all is well. The Temple doesn’t rebuild itself. A lot of loved ones are still gone from the fighting, the exile, and a hard life under Babylonian masters. The future will still be difficult as they must rebuild an entire society from the ashes and compete with rising powers near and far. Even though things are getting better, it’s not like it’s all finished. God still must come to save them with deeds of power as of old.1
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!,” they cried out together. A striking feature of this text is that the phrase “all of us” is repeated in Hebrew almost rhythmically. A better translation of several verses here would sound like this:
We are like one unclean – all of us (v. 6a).
We drooped like a leaf – all of us (v. 6b).
We are the work of your hand – all of us (v. 8).
Consider, we are your people – all of us (v. 9).2
The people of Israel were in this together – all of them. Together they cried out to God for God to tear open the heavens and come down to save them with deeds of power once again – to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple and restore the fortunes of God’s people.
We’re in this together too – all of us…whether we realize it, whether we like it or not. And our situation isn’t much different from that of Israel, 2500 years ago. Overall, in the last century, life has gotten better for most of us, and most people all around the world. You might disagree with me there, but think about it. My grandfather served in a war (WWII) that took as many as 85 million lives. Just for comparison, there were about 25,000 total deaths in the Iraq War. Abject poverty worldwide has fallen from about 43% in 1990 to just 21% in 2010.3 Sounds good…
But there is so much more to be done! There’s so much more pain and suffering in the world that springs up just as quickly as things get better. That poverty line is about $1.50 per day. If you count at $2.50 per day, half of humanity is still absolutely poor.4 But YOU know what’s wrong in what you see every day in ways that numbers could never explain. You see young mothers abandoned by fathers, struggling to juggle work, school, and motherhood. You hear about people being killed by Ebola in Africa, about heads being chopped off in Iraq, about people struggling to get by here and around the world. You see and feel our nation divided about how best to love our neighbors who have come here from other countries; divided also over understanding how race still colors our decisions and perceptions and actions in unthinking ways, especially our justice system, and what we should do about it, all while Michael Brown’s family mourns in Ferguson.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down! This is what it is to plead for God to intervene in our lives. It’s what Advent is about….
But Advent is not just about pleading for God, crying out for God as if we had no hope! Because we have a sure hope in the coming of Jesus Christ. I hear hope a couple places in Isaiah’s words:
Did you catch when he said, “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.” We may believe there are many powers that have an equal shot at victory. We may believe in the power of hatred, or fear, or violence, or disease, because we see it every day, but there is only one God – the God who has saved Israel with deeds of power, the God who has come to earth in humility as a human child and saved us with deeds of powerful love. Wherever we see the power of love overcoming the love of power, we are seeing God…the only God there is to see.
Jesus reminds us, as Mark records, that we cannot know when he will finally return to finish what he started. Maybe it will be in 10,000 years. Maybe it will be tomorrow. But the good news is that Christ will return as surely as Mary rocked him in her arms.
Advent is the time when we sit in the darkness, in truth, and see the world as it is, even as we wait for what it will become. So now we can celebrate that the Light of Christ shines in the darkness! Because we know God’s kingdom will come just as God came to us in Christ, we can joyfully practice the life of the kingdom now. Everything will one day be as God desires, and so we can live into God’s preferred future now. We can live in the Way of Jesus now, the Way that can actually shine light into the world’s darkness.
So keep awake, because Christ is coming to us all the time. Keep awake and aware of the ways God is intervening in the world now, through us and our neighbors near and far. Keep awake to all the ways you can be the Advent candles shining in this dark world…. Keep awake to all the ways you can be the change you wish to see in the world.
This week I’m/we’re suggesting some ways you can “keep awake” this Advent to the needs of our neighbors, to the presence of God in them and in us and all around us, as we wait for Christ who is surely coming: use an Advent devotional and start a habit of daily personal or family prayer. Get an ELCA Good Gifts catalog and consider alternative giving this Christmas. Learn about immigration, or race and justice in this country, or poverty here or abroad, and talk with me or each other about how best to love our neighbors in the face of these complex problems. Read a good book about faith. Read the Bible every day. I’m going to fast, to focus myself and be more aware of what it feels like to be hungry, to be closer to God and my hungry neighbors. You should do what makes the most sense for you and your life. Why don’t you make a list of the ways you will “keep awake” and keep a holy Advent this year. You can do it right now, or jot a few down after you take communion, or when you go home today.
These are all ways GOD is working in us while we wait! It’s not about doing anything perfectly, it’s about using this gift of time to live into the Way of Jesus while we wait. It’s true that all our lives we’ll be living Advent…waiting for God, having ample reason to cry out together “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” but it’s also true that the Son of Man will come in his glory. So until that day, we’re a work in progress – all of us. Luther put it like this:
“This life is not righteous, but growth in righteousness; it is not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise; we are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished, but it is going on; this is not the end, but it is the road; all does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”5
Join me on the road, learning to walk the Way of Jesus, keeping awake, while we wait this Advent. Amen.
1Kristin J. Wendland, Commentary on Isaiah 64:1-9, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2253 (accessed November 28, 2014).
2Ibid. This whole lexical-stylistic insight is Wendland’s.
3“How did the global poverty rate halve in 20 years?,” The Economist (online), http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/06/economist-explains-0 (accessed November 29, 2014).
4“Poverty Facts and Stats,” http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats (accessed November 29, 2014).
5Martin Luther, from “Defense and Explanation of All the Articles,” Luther’s Works, vol. 32, George Forell and Helmut Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958), 24 as quoted in Robert Benne, Ordinary Saints: An Introduction to Christian Life (Fortress Press, 2003).