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Advent 1B Sermon
Isaiah 64: 1-9; Mark 13 24-37
29, 2020


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Isaiah 64: 1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2 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!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 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.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.

Mark 13:24-37

24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27Then 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.
28 ‘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. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It 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. 35Therefore, 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, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

In 2010 the group Rascal Flatts had a single called, “Why Wait,” sung by a guy so crazy in love with a girl that he doesn’t see any reason for them to wait another minute to get married – they can, in his words, “save her mamma some trouble and her pappa a bundle, and he knows a little church with a preacher who can hook them up right away.” It soared in popularity on the country pop charts because it tugged at the heart strings of young people who yearned to find someone who felt the kind of love for them that the singer expressed in those lyrics.

Why wait? A good question for us as we enter the season of Advent … a religious season of waiting. As our society tries to rush to Christmas, many of us churches and preachers are straining not to “hook you up right away.” It is not because the love that we experience in Jesus is not worth it – on the contrary, it is beyond any feelings of affection that you will ever experience because it is given completely without any merit on our part. And it is also an enduring love that comes to us over and over again, when God breaks into our lives in new and joyful ways.
Our readings from Isaiah and Mark set the tone for us as we begin this season of watching and waiting with hope. Isaiah writes to people who have returned home from a 50 year exile and instead of finding the feast of rich foods and wines as promised in Isaiah 25, they are facing poverty, hunger, infighting, and the inability to rebuild the Temple and the walls to protect Jerusalem and other cities. It is no wonder why they cry out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” They are tired of waiting!

The same goes for the disciples to whom Jesus speaks in our gospel reading. They are tired of waiting for a messiah and are asking him when it will be. Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple earlier in Mark 12, and the disciples are asking when this will be. Basically, Jesus tells them that all sorts of things are going to happen … some of which are really frightening and foreboding … but we are to wait. All the while, we are called to be aware, keep alert – to keep awake. It seems to me that these two passages help to answer the question posed by the lyrics of the Rascal Flatts song. Let me share a few things about it – as we wonder once again this Advent, “Why wait?”

First of all, we wait because we trust. God has promised the presence of Jesus Christ, a feast on the mountain, to wipe all tears from our eyes and so much more. Isaiah recounts the basis for this trust when he says, “From ages past no one has heard, no ear perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you.” This may have been an angry God, but that anger was rightly directed at an unfaithful people – they had become unclean and yet, they are still like clay in the potter’s hands. When Isaiah calls on God to remember that they are all God’s people, it is as much a reminder to the people as it is to God. They can trust, even in the middle of hardship and struggle, that the God who has created them, saved them, and loved them over and over, will act to save them and love them again.

Secondly, we wait because it is worth it. No matter how long it takes, no matter what one must endure, when we get to that place that God has purposed, planned and provided, or when you receive what God has promised, prepared and produced – you will gladly testify that it was worth the wait. Maybe we must wait sometimes because we are not ready for what God wants to give us? Maybe we are too immature in faith or understanding enough to appreciate the gifts. Maybe that for which we wait is not so much for our gain, but for God’s glory.

Finally, we wait because in our waiting, God is preparing us for a greater glory than we have experienced or expect. The key basis for this point is that we do not wait alone. We wait in community with each other, and Jesus accompanies us during this time of watching and waiting. Mark gets this point across to us through the words of Jesus that mention four important “time stamps” in his passion account, which follows very quickly after this conversation between Jesus and his disciples. He says, “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.” Think about what happened to Jesus at these times – in the evening, he was with the disciples for the final time over a last supper; at midnight he was arrested in the garden – while the disciples slept, by the way; at cockcrow he was denied by Peter; at dawn he was sentenced to death. We do not normally bring these details up as highlights of Jesus’ earthly life, but here they are mentioned as times when God breaks into the scene to accompany Jesus and the disciples – whether they are awake and alert, or asleep, as in Gethsemane. God breaks in to accompany them as they watch and wait for the greater glory of the resurrection and glorious new life.

Because of the terrible disruptions in our lives this year, many people are stampeding toward Christmas even quicker and more intently than in the past. I have seen more pictures on social media of Christmas trees up and homes decorated going back to early/mid-November. Folks wanted to start listening to Christmas music immediately after Halloween. I get it – in the words of the song from the Broadway Musical, “Mame,” - we need a little Christmas, right this very minute! Many of us can identify with the verse, “For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older; And I need a little angel, sitting on my shoulder – I need a little Christmas now!” But we also must realize that this sentiment comes in part from a belief that God is only present in the joyful celebrations of life. Jesus’ encouragement to keep awake and alert for God’s present at evening, midnight, cockcrow and dawn reminds us that God is present whenever we have a final meal with family or friends, knowing that there are tough times to come. God is present whenever we are accused or confronted by those who disagree with or oppose us. God is present whenever we are denied, betrayed or abandoned in our grief. God is with us when we come to the realization that death or loss is inevitable, and we must come to grips with that.
By hurrying Christmas, it seems that we are prodding God to show up and erase this virus so that we can resume life as we knew it. To be sure, the time will come when treatments get better, vaccines are approved and administered, families and friends can be together safely. But we also pray for God’s presence whenever we are disappointed by the effects sinfulness and illness on our lives; we wait, trusting that God’s presence will be with all of those medical personnel who are treating patients and with those who have contracted the virus. We wait, trusting God will be present with all of us as we respond to the mental and financial burdens that people have faced these last 9 months.

We wait because God has promised to wait with us – because we trust the one upon whom we wait, and because it is worth it because it is preparing us for something even greater. Life is sure to be very different on the other side of this pandemic, and we are being prepared for that life. We are also being prepared for eternal life when all physical, emotional and spiritual ailments are healed perfectly and permanently. This Advent season, let us watch and wait in hope, always praying, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen.