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Advent 1, November 27, 2011

Advent 1 Year B RCL  November 27, 2011

Isaiah 64: 1-9
Psalm 80: 1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1: 3-9
Mark 13: 24-37

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” Isaiah prays to God. The people have come home to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. They had hoped and prayed for this time to come, but, now that they are in the holy city, they see the temple completely destroyed. People—we could call them squatters– from surrounding areas have come in and occupied even the most holy sites. The city wall has been so damaged that it is almost beyond repair.  The task seems insurmountable.

Isaiah is wishing something that we may have wished at times in our lives—that God would just come down and set things right. Isaiah recalls the things God has done for the people in the past. The image of the mountains quaking at God’s presence recalls the exodus from slavery in Egypt and Moses’ journeys up to the top of the mountain to meet God face to face. Then Isaiah recognizes that God calls us into right relationship with God and with each other. God has certain ethical and moral standards. And Isaiah confesses that the people had fallen away from God’s standards. Isaiah even sees the exile in Babylon as a consequence of the people’s straying from the law. Now that he has reminded himself of the covenant between the people and God, Isaiah reflects the truth that God is the Father; God is the potter and the people are the clay.  On behalf of the people, Isaiah offers to renew the covenant with God and Isaiah asks God not to be angry with the people.

We as Christians believe that God has indeed come to be among us in our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our epistle, Paul is writing to the Church at Corinth. This was a highly gifted congregation, but they had some problems, too. Scholars tell us that some of the more experienced, stronger members of the congregation were intimidating the newer members. The more experienced members were apparently claiming to be spiritually superior. This led the newer members to wonder if their faith was adequate. There were also questions about Jesus’ coming again.
These early followers of Jesus thought that he would come very soon after the ascension. They were wondering how they should conduct their lives. Paul does not directly address the problems in the congregation. He assures all the members of the community that they have received the grace  and peace of Christ, that they have received many good gifts, and that Jesus will give them the strength they need to be faithful to him until he comes again. For us, who live in the time between his first and second advents, these are encouraging words.

Our reading from Mark’s gospel has one major theme. We should not spend a great amount of time trying to figure out when our Lord will come. We should be awake and alert, prepared for his coming to complete the creation.

Advent is the Church’s New Year season. We change to a new lectionary year—Year B. We change from the green of ordinary time to the purple of Advent, denoting that our King is coming. Advent is a time to get ready, a time to put things in order. It is a great time to make or revise wills, do powers of attorney for health care, advanced directives. It’s a good time to reconcile any differences, if it is possible to do so, a time to make amends. It is a time to prepare for his coming to set all things right.

We look back to his first coming as a vulnerable little baby in a small middle East town. We look ahead to his coming as the King of creation. We are called to make room for him in our hearts and lives. We are called to allow him to come to birth in us in new and deeper ways.  And at the same time, we are called to take a deeper look at how we can help to bring in his kingdom, his shalom.

It isn’t easy to do all of this at this time of year. Or, to put it bluntly, it isn’t easy to be a Christian at this time of year.  To prepare for his coming, we need to take some added time for reflection and quiet, and, as we all know, the commercial season is already in high gear.

As we look around, we can identify with Isaiah and his people, who faced such a daunting task. Natural disasters such as Irene, plus the Great Recession, have really hurt people.  Many people are unemployed or underemployed. Many people are losing their homes. Many people are hungry. The gap between the very wealthy and the rest of us is growing at warp speed. Jesus and the prophets have made it very clear that that is not God’s vision for the world. There is much work to do.

So, what shall we do this Advent?  Let us take whatever time we can to be quiet and spend some time with God.   Let us continue to reach out and help our brothers and sisters who are hurting. We know God wants us to do that. Let us live each day as if it were the day he is coming.  Let us seek his will and try to do it. Let us make room for him in our hearts.  Let us prepare the way for him in our lives.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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