Hope and Staying Woke (1st Advent, B)

December 5, 2017

 

 

Isaiah 64:1-9

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--

to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter; 
we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever. 
Now consider, we are all your people.

 

Mark 13:24-37

Jesus said, “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.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 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.

“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. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 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. 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, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

 

"Staying Woke" (Advent 1B)

By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda

 

Advent is a season of hope. In it we confront all the things in life that are so challenging that we need hope in something greater to carry on. All the texts for Advent 1B are written to God’s people in crisis.

  • Isaiah 64:1-9 prophesies to those whose lives have been wrecked by foreign armies and post-war exile. (“you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity”)

  • Psalm 80 is a prayer for restoration and salvation in the midst of suffering (“you have fed [us] with the bread of tears; you have given [us] bowls of tears to drink”)

  • In Mark, Jesus speaks to disciples who are about to have their Messiah murdered before their eyes, and Mark writes to a church community that has witnessed Jerusalem being demolished by Roman police after the uprising in year 70 AD. (“after the suffering”)

 

The Bible is always aware that this life is difficult. Almost every part of it assumes that its hearers are people who suffer. While there is much joy in life and much to be thankful for, life is painful (and more often than we usually like to admit). The Bible will not sugarcoat the present state of affairs. Because even though we are centuries removed from the original authors and audiences of the texts that make up our Scripture, the world’s condition has not really changed.

 

  • The myth of moral progress (but people aren't any better than we were in the past)

  • The myth of moral decline - awareness of disasters, crimes, political scandals, racism, sexual misconduct (but we aren't worse than we were in the past)

 

The Bible will not allow us to lie to ourselves about life being any better than it really is. While some think things are much worse today than they have ever been, and others think they are much better, the Bible tells us the truth about humanity: we are sinners.

 

We hurt one another and we hurt ourselves. And no matter how you organize the system of government or society, our sin will not go away. We are unable to stop the cycles of pain and violence and death. The Bible and the Church will never promise us that any human effort can eliminate sin. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

 

Instead, this Advent, we hear true, if haunting, words from the Lord. The only being who can bring justice and make things right is GOD. Left to our own devices, we will continue to harm one another and be harmed by the damaged created order. But for those at the bottom rung of society, for those who have been oppressed and harassed by creatures drunk with power, God promises to intervene.

 

“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--to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.” (Isaiah 64:1-3)

 

These Advent prayers are prayers for a change to the way things are. They are not complacent. They are not satisfied. In them, we look honestly at the broken nature of the whole universe, and we lament. We cry. We pray for mercy and deliverance. God is powerful enough to repair our brokenness, to heal and forgive our sin, and to restore the world to how it ought to be.

 

Isaiah and the Psalm represent our prayers to God in the midst of our suffering. These are our earnest pleas for help, recognizing that only God can repair what is wrong with our world. The temptation when we enter Advent and hear these prayers is to think that our hope is simply for escape from the world. As the saying goes, “pie in the sky when you die.” But the Kingdom of God is much bigger, and much more majestic than that.

 

Thankfully, God hears our prayers. In the Gospels, God speaks back to us, through the person of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. In Mark 13, Jesus tells us again about the signs of the suffering to come. As we wait for those signs, Jesus does not tell us to do nothing. We are not simply to sit on our hands as we wait for God’s deliverance. We may not be able to fix the world ourselves, but God does have a job for the Church here and now: “Keep awake!” (Mark 13:37)

 

Stay woke. Pay attention to the world we live in. Keep your eyes wide open to the suffering and cries of the world around us. Minister to those in need. Do good to those whom we can help. Be willing to be helped when we are in need. Do not despair. Keep awake!

 

Our calling in this time of waiting is to live as Jesus would live. We cannot make everything right. Only God can do that. But we can be vigilant. We can love fiercely and tenaciously. We can hope in God’s saving power to make all things new. And we can be conduits for the grace of God to bring healing and love to the world right now.


 

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