Hoping

30 November 2014
First Sunday of Advent
Advent 1B (RCL)
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

The First Sunday of Advent is always important for a parish named Church of the Advent. We always observe the day as our festal day, though the tone of the season is anticipatory rather than celebratory. Year B is always the most difficult year to celebrate this day as a feast: Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down. This is a cry of desperation, not a cry of celebration. “In those days, after that suffering” is not a text to encourage joy.

This part of Isaiah was probably written after the return from Exile. After the initial joy at being allowed to return, the small remnant faced the hard realities of rebuilding any kind of community in a destroyed city. After the dreams of returning to former glory, living in a city of ruins surrounded by indifferent if not hostile peoples led the people to wonder if God had not abandoned them after all. One hears in this passage that deuteronomistic theology that claims our troubles are the result of our own sins. The prophet is reflecting that the Exile itself was a result of God’s hiding Godself because of the people’s earlier sins. Now, the prophet is begging God to refashion the people: you are the potter, we are the clay.

Mark is writing in similar circumstances. Jerusalem has been destroyed again (or is about to be destroyed). The sun has been darkened, and the stars are falling from the sky. Any moment now, the Son of Man will return and gather his elect from the four winds. The situation is desperate enough that the only remedy Mark can imagine is the return of the Son of Man and the rescue of the elect from the world as it is. We are to keep awake and watch for that time.

At the very least, these lessons tell us that things as we see them do not constitute God’s intentions for the world. God desires better, and we are to watch for the appearance of God’s desired state of affairs. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we have been strengthened with God’s grace to live those intentions in the meantime, and to live faithfully until end.

In the midst of the circumstances we see in our city, it is easy to know that the current state of affairs is not God’s intention for our world. There are many who are crying, “Oh that you would tear open the sky and come down.” I suspect there are fewer who are ready to say, “You are the potter and we are the clay.” The question becomes, “How would God reshape us?” In the midst of our shattered city, we wait for and testify to a new Advent of Christ and begin to use the gifts given to live into it.

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