Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence– 2 as 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! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 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. 5 You 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. 6 We 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. 7 There 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. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:1-9, NRSV)
13:24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then 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. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven 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. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It 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. 35 Therefore, 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, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:24–37, NRSV)
Let us pray: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Do you remember “the wait,” as a child? The wait for the JcPenny, the Sears and the Service Merchandise catalogues to arrive in the mail. It was old school because we didn’t have the internet or online shopping to help us make our Christmas wish list. Waiting for the postman to deliver those magical books to your mailbox and then those magical moments would ensue going through the catalogue for the first time. Getting a pristine first look at the stuff that dreams are made of. Seeing those items you didn’t even know existed. Being the oldest I was entitled to look at them first so I got to use a pen and circle exactly what I wanted Santa to bring, while my brothers had to wait even longer and they got to pick through the leftovers. After, going through the catalogues and making our choices, then we wrote them down on paper. Now, these were great lists that contained everything from Lincoln Logs, Lego’s, Matchbox cars, bicycles, footballs and baseball gloves. Then we folded them up and sealed them in envelopes and mailed to the North Pole. Then we waited. It was in reality only a few weeks but it seemed an eternity, because we counted down each week, each day until Christmas. It just seemed like forever. Every child can relate to that long wait.
Why is waiting so difficult? Sometimes it is the uncertainty; we want to know what is coming and the longer we have to wonder and wait, the higher our level of anxiety becomes. Or it could be that when we know what is coming, we get even more impatient. Or is it that we live in an instant world where everything happens so fast – microwave meals, instant coffee, 24 hour news, and you know the rest…After all we all know that Christmas is December 25th and it is coming and we still get impatient.
Our text for today deals with the concept of waiting. It is more serious waiting than waiting for Santa to come or for catalogues to be delivered. It is waiting for the world to change and for Christ to return.
No matter how we try each year as Advent begins, and Christmas barrels down on us, we all begin to search for that thing, those gifts that we must have. We fall into that trap like my daughter Elliott, when she grabs the toy catalogue or the glossy Toys-R-Us insert from the newspaper and points to every item on each and every page and she shouts I want that Mama, I want that Daddy. But we have to remind her that Santa does not bring everything she wants and that she must pick just two or three things that she really wants more than all the others. Especially this year, with a whole lot of belt tightening going on it is a perfect opportunity for all of us to realize that the stuff and the things are not so important and that we don’t really buy our children’s or families love by getting them everything they want. Besides, you can’t fill every void in life with the perfect Christmas gift.
The prophet Isaiah has something to say about dealing with voids in life as he tells of the void in the lives of the Israelites in our Old Testament text. The void Isaiah is praying about is more than what do you want for Christmas this year. It is the deepest and most significant void of life. The Israelites have really messed things up, and they don’t know where to go or what to do next.
Isaiah 64 is written, it seems, in the midst of the worst of times as the prophet Isaiah’s cries to God to tear open heaven and come down and fill the void in their messed up lives. Isaiah goes on to lament that God seems hidden and silent. Isaiah confesses that the Israelites have sinned. By the end of the text Isaiah changes, a little three letter word that carries an incredible amount of power,
“YET, O’ Lord, you are our Father; you are the potter and we are the clay; we are the work of your hand.” It is like Isaiah has to take a deep breath, walk around a bit and remind himself who God is.
We are yours
You created us
You are our God
You molded us
and You, our God, are the one that fills the void.
We begin our annual practice of lighting the Advent candles today, and we begin a four-week season of hope-filled waiting that this year might be different. We give voice to our longing to have the void of our lives filled, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” and pray “Dear God, help me,” because somewhere deep in our hearts we know that God answers prayer, and we live in faith that God will answer that prayer. Somewhere deep in our souls there is not just longing but faith that in the birth of a child in Bethlehem long ago, God did come down; that during a baptism one day in the Jordan River, God did tear open the heavens; and that in a brief moment in time as God walked the dusty roads of Galilee, God healed the sick, God welcomed the outcasts and God restored the unclean. God taught that it is better to give than to receive and that the highest and best any of us can ever do is give our love and our lives away, and that as God died in humble obedience on the cross at Calvary, God, in fact, did tear open the heavens and come down; and that on the third day, when death could not contain him, then at that very moment the very love and power of God defeated the powers of sin, death, and Satan. That the powers of sin, suffering, brokenness and hopelessness were defeated. When that baby born in a manger, now a man, rose up and walked into the light of the first Easter morning, God did come down and God definitively, once and for all, answered Isaiah’s prayer and our prayer, “Help me.”
In our Gospel reading, Jesus warns his disciples that they are likely to fail to see God because they were looking in the wrong places and expecting the wrong things and expecting the wrong heavenly Savior. As we know from the Christmas story, no one really noticed the birth of Jesus. The prophets spoke, the teachers taught, the angels proclaimed, the people were informed, but they still looked in the wrong place. They looked in the royal palace, instead of a lowly stable. They expected the birth to happen in the royal family, not from an unmarried immigrant couple in a stable. These well-intentioned, properly prepared people of God missed it. Not all of them, thank God, but most of them missed the most important birth in the history of the world, so the warning continues for us today— KEEP AWAKE, because we too might miss God tearing open heaven and coming down. This warning from Jesus takes us back to the prayer of the prophet Isaiah as he echoes the theme of the void in the lives of the Israelites.
Here we are headed straight toward Christmas, that wonderful and yet crazy time of the year when we all make lists and wonder how we can find that one thing to fill that void of what’s missing from our lives, those gifts we want, those presents we desire and that stuff we want of think we need to complete us – the Holy Scriptures offer us an alternative to that – the bible tells us, we already have what we need: we have Jesus, his presence, his grace, his love and his mercy. And as we await his return we can know the truth that is so easily forgotten that God remains faithful and constant and God is the support for all of life. Keep awake for God, for God is tearing open heaven and coming down.
Let us pray: Lord, we are thankful that we are alive, that food is delicious, that the ground is firm beneath our feet, that we can rest and rejuvenate from our work, that the Earth is beautiful and all of us and all your children so richly blessed, your name be praised. We thank you for friends who care, for doors that open when it seems that every door is shut, for the reality of forgiveness — both human and divine. We thank you for yourself — the source of all that is good — and especially for your love that no heart can resist and no hatred can diminish, and no need is to great to overcome – your Son our Lord. Amen.