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Advent 1B RCL December 3, 2017

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

Advent is here. This is the New Year’s season of the Church. We change from Lectionary A to B. For Morning and Evening Prayer, we change from Lectionary 1 to 2. From the green of the Pentecost season and the white for Christ the King this past Sunday, we move to purple, symbolizing penitence and also the royalty of Christ our King.

Advent is that paradoxical time of penitence, preparation, and joy. We look back to the first coming of our Lord as a baby, and at the same time we look forward to his coming again to complete the work of creation and bring in his kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness.

His kingdom has begun but it is not yet complete. As we look around our world, we can see clear evidence of that sad fact. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Contrary to the manner in which it is often celebrated in the churches, Advent begins not on a note of joy, but of despair. Humankind has reached the end of its rope. All our schemes for self-improvement, for extricating ourselves from the traps we have set for ourselves, have come to nothing. We have now realized at the deepest level of our being that we cannot save ourselves and that, apart from the intervention of God, we are totally and irretrievably lost.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 1.)

Our opening reading from Isaiah sounds that note of despair. How often do we wish that God would come down from the heavens and help us set things right, clean up the messes we make. Scholars tell us that this passage was probably written when Isaiah and the other exiles returned from Babylon. They had prayed for the coming of this day. Yet, when they arrived home and found the temple completely destroyed and so much work to do, they began to lose hope.

At this low point, Isaiah wishes that God would tear open the heavens and come down to earth. Isaiah praises God for all the ways in which God has guided and helped the people. Then he confesses that he and all God’s people have sinned. They felt God was hiding from them when the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem, and they drifted farther and farther away from God. In fact, some of the people felt that the military conquest by Babylon was a punishment for their lack of faith.

It is important to note that many of the people kept the faith during the Exile. They studied the scriptures; they increased their sense of worship and community. Isaiah is one of those people, and he is addressing God as a member of that community of the faithful.

Following the confession, Isaiah prays to God as the father of the people. He says that we humans are the clay and God is the potter. He asks God to have mercy on the people. Following this process of acknowledging God’s care for the people, then confessing his and their sinfulness, Isaiah is able to realize that God still cares and that God is a God of mercy.

Most of us have had low points like this in life. There just seem to be too many challenges. We feel as though God is far away. But we know that we really need God’s help. As we look around our world and see all the brokenness, the wholeness of God’s shalom seems impossibly far away. This makes us doubly aware that we need to turn to God.

As someone once said, when we fall far away from God, we need to ask, who moved? Not God. God has been right here all the time. Back in the time of Isaiah, the people realized that God was faithful, God had never left them. They began the mammoth task of rebuilding, but they also focused on rebuilding their sense of community and deepening their faith.

In our epistle for today, Paul thanks God for the life of the congregation in Corinth. God has given them many gifts, and they will be exercising those gifts as they wait for Christ to come again.

In our gospel, Jesus is describing the day of judgment as it is pictured by some of the prophets. But his main message is, “Stay awake. Be ready.”

Walter Brueggemann’s comments strike a wonderful Advent note. As we proceed with self-examination, we come to a screeching halt and realize that indeed, as he puts it, “all our schemes for self improvement… have come to nothing.” Without the intervention of God, all is lost.

Isaiah wanted God to “open the heavens and come down.” As Christians we know that God has done exactly that. God has come to be with us. After his baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus began building his Kingdom. We see it in every event in his ministry. He showed us how to do it. Love God and love people.

During Advent, we are called especially to make room for Jesus in our hearts and lives. This is a season for giving generously to organizations such as UTO and ERD, and other groups which help people in so many ways. It is also a time to take stock of our spiritual lives, to make or update wills, to set things in order.

But, most of all, it is a season to make even more room for Jesus. For each of us that may look different. For some of us, it means taking more quiet time. For others of us, it might mean more time with family and friends. For many of us, it is a both-and.

God did respond to Isaiah, and the rebuilding happened. How blessed and fortunate we are that God has come to be with us. We can walk with the risen Christ. How blessed that we can go and visit him in the manger. How blessed that we can be with him here and every day because he is among us. God has come to be with us, and God’s kingdom is growing even now. And God invites us every day and every moment to help to build that kingdom, that shalom. And he calls us to be ready to meet him again when he comes to complete the creation. Amen.

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