The Rev. Kathi Johnson
B Advent 1 – 3 December 2017
Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Grand Prairie, Texas
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Happy New Year! And welcome to the First Sunday of Advent. While the world pushes us ever closer to a merry and bright Christmas – every year, earlier and earlier – the church season of Advent urges us to walk slower – to mark our steps toward Christmas, so we don’t forget God in the midst of it all.
This is why we’ve created this little stone walkway for our Nativity scene this year, and why I’ve done the same at home. Marking the time slowly, one stone per day, helps us notice more of what’s going on around us while we walk. For me, anyway, when I just plunk down Mary and Joseph and company into the crèche and check that off the list, I’m not really paying attention. I’m checking it off a list!
Not only does Advent ask us to walk slowly to Christmas, but this season begins with the soft glow of candlelight, and with powerful words of lament found in our Isaiah lesson today. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” cries out the ancient voice. This is the voice of one who is searching for hope in the midst of a hopeless situation.
Today’s lesson comes from one of the last few chapters of Isaiah – the part of Isaiah written after the Israelites have returned to Judah after their exile. Their temple lies in ruins; their lives are bleak; and where is God? “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” The author of these words cannot find God anywhere.
He tries to remind God of greatness in the past:
· The mountains used to quake with your greatness, God!
· You used to show yourself through fire and boiling water!
· And you did other things we couldn’t even imagine!
But somehow, waxing nostalgic about the way things used to be isn’t helping the writer feel any better. He struggles to find God in the present day.
But, typical of a biblical lament, the writer eventually finds a corner and turns it. The lament begins in the previous chapter and continues, and then we get to verse 8: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father…” So here, finally, the writer has found a way to trust in God again.
He builds on that image: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” [pull out clay]
This passage from Isaiah can show us some important things, if we only walk slowly enough to pay attention. First, it can show us that lament can be an important part of our walks with God, even during this holiday season – maybe even especially during the holidays. Lament helps us search for God in ways that are meaningful, even if they are painful.
But this passage also helps us turn the corner toward hope, along with the writer who says that God is the potter, and we are the clay and the works of God’s hands. And, even when we cannot see God at work, God is at work as a potter – shaping, molding, creating.
Throughout the centuries, potters have made what they or others need. Go to an ancient site, one that’s dug up for excavation, and you’ll often see pieces of clay pots, bowls, and other implements. In some ancient world, someone came to a potter and said, “I need a pot,” so the potter made them a pot.
That’s the thing about clay: it doesn’t shape itself. If I need a bowl, I have to shape a bowl. If I need a plate, I have to shape a plate. So, in using this image of a potter working with clay, this writer of Isaiah is asking us to consider what God is shaping in us, and why?
Put another way: What does God need, so what is God shaping?
Advent helps us answer these questions by urging us to remain alert with expectation and hope. In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus again talks about his second coming – a day and hour that no one knows, so we all must remain awake and watchful. Advent helps us see that we are often numbly awake – stumbling along - needing more coffee, needing more bright lights and shiny stuff to stimulate us.
Yet, Jesus says, the work of God is found in something as simply beautiful as new Spring growth on a fig tree.
We don’t have a lot of fig trees growing around here, and at this time of year, especially, new growth on plants might be hard to find. But his point is well taken: pay attention, Jesus says, to even the small acts of God. Be alert to all the ways in which God is working in your life, in the life of this faith community, and even in the world.
We may want God to tear open the heavens dramatically and come down that way, in big, dramatic fashion.
But our hope is found in a God who appears at the end of a stony path. We’ll get there – but in the meantime, allow your heart to be shaped by God who loves you. Slow down, look around you, pay attention, be alert to the work of God.
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