Advent Week One
Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season. It’s a time of expectation and looking forward to the joy that is to come. At a time when the world is rushing towards the busyness of Christmas the church starts its new year inviting you to prepare your heart for God’s joy made incarnate. Now we know that on Dec. 25th Christmas will arrive and all our anticipation and excitement will come to a head.
But, waiting for Christ requires us to prepare our hearts, and not just our homes, for when he arrives. We don’t know when that day will be. We can’t pencil it in on our calendar. But we know what to expect. We will have to wait. And as we wait, we are to prepare our hearts by living out each day in faithfulness to God’s will.
Advent is not the only time God has made us wait. The Bible is filled with stories of God’s people waiting for rescue, deliverance, and salvation. Waiting is a pervasive theme throughout Isaiah which was written sometime after the Babylonian conquest of Israel.
Their country was in ruin. The Temple reduced to dust and ash. God’s people where in tears, suffering in exile. They shouted out to God, like their ancestors had but only to find silence. They wondered had God abandoned them to suffer alone.
They wonder, like we often do today, where God is or why God let this happen to them. In that time between our suffering and salvation, we wait for God to act. And thus, Isaiah reminds us to remain faithful; to wait patiently and with purpose. God is up to something, but what?
Read: Isaiah 64-1:9
Is it strange that Advent begins with a prayer of lament and a plea for help? Or that God’s people cry out for a savior and God makes them wait?
If anything good has come from 2020, it’s that it has made us better at waiting. We’ve waited during lockdowns and quarantines. Waited for test results, and toilet paper to be restocked. We’ve waited on our orders from Amazon, Instacart, and Postmates to be delivered.
Sadly, some have had to wait for hospital beds and respirators. Or outside nursing homes to wave to a loved one. We’ve waited for election results, unemployment checks, for school’s to open and work to resume, and of course we’re all waiting for a vaccine. If we’ve mastered anything this year it’s waiting.
In this particular passage, Isaiah reminds us that the same God who makes mountains quake and nations tremble is also a God who makes us wait. It hardly seems fair, especially when we feel all alone and scared.
What does this say about the character of God who hides from us in our time of need? It doesn’t feel very kind or loving does it? What could be the reason for God to want to leave us to our pain and suffering? I doubt it’s too be cruel.
Writing on this passage, Scott Bader-Saye argues two points on this strange characteristic of our Divine Creator. And I think they are worth pondering. First, he believes God hides from Israel to remind them that God is not exclusively theirs. Think about that for a moment because this problem still persists today.
Not just within Judaism, but within the different sides of Christianity and Islam and other religions. Each is guilty of claiming ownership of God. But here’s the thing, there’s no box big enough to contain, muchless control, God. The pot does not create the potter. It merely showcases her talent and creativity. No one owns God. Instead, God owns us. All of us.
Black, brown, or white; straight, gay, or indifferent, we are God’s beloved children. Or as the psalmist wrote, we are the sheep of his pasture. we can’t ever lose sight of that. Until we stop dividing ourselves over politics, gender, nationality, or religious doctrine the fullness of God’s power and glory will remain hidden from us.
The second point Bader-Saye explores is this idea that sometimes God hides on purpose. And that purpose is to awaken us of our wrongdoing. For example, God might hide to help us deconstruct a distorted set of beliefs and practices that cause us to make God in our image. I think there’s some truth to this.
In seminary, the professors were tasked with deconstructing any preconceived notions of God that we might have brought with us. This was a long process that truly tested the strength of one’s faith. Between shedding the old and the building up the new, there is a long period of waiting in the emptiness of one’s self.
It was an active waiting, where I was preparing my heart to receive God and to see my calling through God’s eyes and not my own. In his time of waiting for God, Isaiah is able to see and understand the difference between the God of Israel and the other gods in the cultures of his time.
He remembers God greatness recalling, “When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.” He is stunned and shocked to discover that this God works for the people, and the people for whom God works are the people who wait for God. Advent is a time of waiting for God who is working for us in ways that are yet to be revealed.
John Pavlovitz reminds us, “If we cultivate a bit of faith, that in-between time can be a hopeful space for us, a place where we can welcome transformation. Rather than wanting the time to pass quickly, we can actually enjoy it because we know we are being renovated.”
At the end of our reading today, Isaiah gives us two more insights into God’s character. One as a parent. And the other as a potter. Both of these images reveal an intimate connection that God has with us. To paraphrase Richard Rohr, God is always being drawn to the image of God in us.
Ours is a God who has not abandoned us in our wait, but one whose hand is upon us; shaping us over time like a parent shapes the character of a child, as a potter lovingly molds her clay. “Just as it is with the child in Mary’s womb, there is always change taking place, always new life about to spring forth.”
And so we wait for God to do what God does. To mold our hearts to love as God loves us and to shape our hands to give as God has given to all.
As you busy yourself preparing for Christmas, I hope you will remember this: You are God’s malleable work of art, being carefully shaped into the vessel of God’s incarnation to bring forth the presence of Christ to the world. You are a masterwork whether you know it or not. And a masterwork takes time.
As we enter a time of waiting for the incarnation, we do so knowing God is shaping us to be like him.
Thus in his first letter, John writes, “All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready – with the glistening purity of Jesus' life as a model for our own” (1 John 3:2-3). By this we will not only be prepared to live in the promised realm of God when it comes, but we also get to experience what life in that realm is like today.
And so, we pray, and stick together, and love one another, and see to it that people are cared for and life is shared and peace prevails as we wait upon the Lord who is revealed to us in the incarnation of all that we do.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting On The Word, Year B Vol 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.
Pavlovitz, John. Low: An Honest Advent Devotional. Chalice Press, 2019.
Rice, Whitney. "Waiting Upon the Lord." 23 12 2020. episcopalchurch.org (accessed on 28 12 2020).
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