First Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2017
1O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4From 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.
5You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
6We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. – Isaiah 64:1-9
[Jesus said:] 24“In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”- Mark 13:24-37
I have a prediction for you. One I am willing to bet money on. Are you ready? … Tomorrow the sun will rise. Now it might be cloudy or hazy or otherwise obscured, but the sun will rise tomorrow. The earth will continue spinning on its axis. The moon will continue its cycle every 29.5 days. The daylight hours will shorten until December 21st and then we will get gradually more daylight even though the worst of winter weather will still be ahead of us. Even though I couldn’t tell you much about the constellations and where and when they will appear in the sky, I know that they will continue in a predictable pattern. I don’t think much about these things but I take for granted that they are so.
I have some more predictions for you. Just as surely as the sun will rise, tomorrow someone somewhere will commit an act of violence against another. Someone will dishonor their parents, lie, cheat, steal, commit sexual assault, and covet everything from candy bars to human beings. There will continue to be an inhumane disparity between the richest and poorest in the world. In the next months if not sooner, somewhere in the world, there will be another mass shooting and another terrorist attack, more refugees fleeing their homes, wars that continue without end. In the next years we will continue contributing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than is sustainable for life on earth as we know it. You and I will continue to do the things we know are wrong for us and for others. You and I will continue to fail and continue to get sick and injured. These things I do think about often, and I have come to expect them with the same regularity with which I expect the rising of the sun and change of the seasons.
This is the world as we know it. With each day, each season, each year, we continue to experience a world that isn’t as we want even as we act in ways that contribute to the problems at hand. To be sure, there is also a lot of good out there in the world, a lot of good right here in this room, but not enough to save us from ourselves, much less the whole world. So it is that we enter Advent with talk of rending open the heavens and stars falling from the sky. We turn over the new church year to find texts with imagery that, if taken seriously, frightens us. In the words of Isaiah: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—“ and in the words of Jesus: “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
In Advent we are calling for God to upend the whole order of the earth and the heavens. To so radically alter all we take for granted that the stars fall from the sky. But as we plaster peace, joy, and love across our seasonal decorations and greeting cards, I don’t think very many of expect the kind of rending of the fabric of reality for those kinds of things to actually happen. Maybe because it’s just too hard to hold out hope, at least the kind of gritty, desperately waiting kind of hope, in the words of pastor Ryan Marsh the kind of “hope [that] ignites the painter’s imagination when staring at a blank canvass, [that] burns in the activist’s bones until they tell the truth to powers that be, [that] pushes the laboring pregnant woman past the pain to a child in her arms, [that] drives the vigilant parent to wait up all night when a teenager breaks curfew.” We can only sustain that level of longing for brief periods of time.
Or perhaps it is out of ambivalence that we have ceased to believe in the kind of heaven-rending power of God to change what is. Ambivalence because of what it means about the things we must let go of in order for God’s reign to burst into reality. Ambivalent because the hope has left us with an emptiness we have learned to fill in other ways. Ambivalent about the reign of God because we have become comfortable with our way of life – a way of life in which most of us one way or another depend on an ever-growing economy of ever more chances to fill the longing we experience with more and more stuff. Ambivalent because the predictability of the world, even in its utter brokenness, at least leaves us knowing what to expect.
Into this the regular cycle, the voices of angels and prophets proclaim the day that we both want and don’t want at the same time. We need them to startle us out of our daily realities, to help us keep awake when the routines of our lives and the complacency with which we respond to the world lull us to sleep. We need them to kindle and rekindle hope deep in our being, to remind us that in Christ something different is possible.
I don’t have a prediction about when things will be made right or how God will do it. But I do expect God will show up for us this advent. God will walk with us in the wilderness, cry out for justice, blaze a trail through the desert, come with bold and mysterious angelic announcements, all the while rekindling our hope in the long dark night of waiting. It will be a hope based on a tiny infant born to an unwed mother among the animals in an out-of-the-way town. It will be a hope that trusts in a God who becomes the epitome of vulnerability.
And while I cannot explain when or how what began 2000 years ago with an angelic announcement to Mary and the birth of a baby in a stable will bring the world to this new reality, I am just crazy enough to believe that God taking human flesh is the kind of earth-altering disruption that shakes our daily existence into a new reality. When the Creator becomes Creature it seems to me it’s as unnatural as the stars falling from the heavens. It’s enough to set in motion the kind of world-altering revolution that will strip us of our false hopes and all the ways we have filled the void left by our deepest longings, and welcome us into a new reality, one that is filled with the peace, joy, and love we have only begun to understand.
-Pastor Steven Wilco