First Sunday of Advent November 30, 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

First Sunday of Advent Textweek

Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Before we explore the vivid image that Mark gives us of the end of time, let’s just go back to the Old Testament reading. When you have done Advent a number of times, there’s something that I always look forward to and that is the readings from Isaiah, and we will hear, in the Old Testament readings, from Isaiah now as we go through Advent to Christmas. So as we turn to Advent, it’s quite helpful today to hear the voice of Isaiah turning again toward God. Today we begin a new church year, a new liturgical year; everything begins again on Advent 1, and as we begin again, as we start a new year, we might consider ourselves re-turning, rather than repeating the journey that the new year opens up for us. It’s so easy, especially these days with electronic calendars, diaries and whatever, to get to this point and to then click into repeating rather than re-turning. I’ve already got a 2009 calendar with every Sunday, every feast day marked in it, with the parish camp, with the Epiphany dinner, with weddings, a couple of baptisms already, with Lent, with Easter – they’re all in there already. So easy to think, ‘Right, we’ve done 2008; let’s do 2009,which is 2008 plus one’. That’s the mistake Isaiah tries to encourage us to awake to – we are to re-turn, not repeat. And if we listen, there’s also a lamentation, a cry of despair in there: ‘There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you….. yet, we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.’ We know ourselves as the work of the Divine and yet there is no one who calls on the divine name or attempts even to take hold of the divine. It’s a sobering thought that we have not called on or taken hold of that which is of God. What if, as a Christian church we found iniquity rather than integrity? What if we grasped the wrong thing? Easily done. And if each Advent we are into repeat rather than return, we might never discover that we grasped the wrong thing.

Advent gives us an opportunity to intentionally re-turn, to look again, to seek a divine direction that calls us to restoration. We can see the cracks in the wall and we know that we are slowly moving toward restoring it. Council will debate it this week, and will either say, ‘yes go ahead and do it’ or they’ll raise a couple of questions, and we know we’ve got to then put our hands in our pockets to come up with a few more dollars to restore it. Visible, easily seen.

How many of us take the time to look at the cracks within ourselves? Not the wrinkles on your face that you see in the shaving mirror – for those who don’t shave, whatever else you look at when you look in the mirror. How often do we look at finding within ourselves that which could be restored to fullness of life? Three times it’s echoed in the psalm: ‘Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.’ That path to restoration – we’re looking at saving the church; the psalmist is saying, ‘this is the work that we need to do here’. And it’s not to be saved from the fiery pits of hell and all that stuff, it’s a much more, much more real salvation. To be saved is to find life, life in abundance for all. It’s not about me and it’s not about you, it’s about ‘us’: a world in which we are all restored and give light to the divine, so that the divine is seen in us all.

The Isaiah readings are really good in that regard because somehow they seem to always talk about today. I never have a sense reading Isaiah, there’s never an image of Cecil B. De Milne’s sets with old ancient settings; it always seems to be today. The prophetic power of Isaiah is when it can be realised, when we can find the place where these readings come from in us, when we can actually stand within our own soul and look toward the future with the eyes of Isaiah. This is not a past lamentation, this is not a story for us to look back as spectators of history. Rather Isaiah captures our struggle, our quest to be fully alive in the present. We, not they, we are the clay. The Divine is our potter; we are all the work of divine hands.

Paul then in the second reading affirms the very clay that we are and the shape that we already have. He also affirms the faithfulness of the divine. This not a do-it-yourself job – as we seek the Divine so the Divine is there seeking us. It says in verse 9, ‘God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Already the shape of the clay is the shape of fellowship with Christ. Divine grace is a given for Paul. In verse 4: ‘the grace of God that has been given you’. Let’s not waste time in endless prayers asking for God’s grace to fall upon us; it’s there, given; it’s there. Paul affirms that we’re strengthened and enriched in Christ’ in other words, we’re strengthened and enriched - our health, our source of power and our enrichment is to be found in our Christ-likeness, in our Christ-likeness.

During Advent Paul raises a lovely question for us: I wonder will we find for ourselves as Paul found in verse 7 that we are ‘not lacking in any spiritual gift’, as we in this community, wait for the revealing – our revealing - of Christ. Paul is really good at seeing the Divine: ‘you are not lacking in any spiritual gift’. Within ourselves there is the power to raise the dead, to give sight to the blind, to give freedom to the oppressed, to make well the sick - those gifts are within, they’re held in the common. In Advent we turn toward the birth of Christ in the world; we turn toward making manifest the Divine – no longer a star in heaven, no longer an off-world promise, we turn toward the light that shines in the darkness, we turn toward the star of hope, the star of peace, the star of joy, the star of love. We turn toward all that here, within ourselves. Paul affirms the capacity that we have to do all of that.

And then we come to the Gospel reading in Mark. “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling, the heavens will be shaken. Then the Son of Man will come in the clouds”. Mark uses a very ancient form of illustration known as apocalyptic writing. It’s a device to open our minds, it’s a device to enable us contemplate; not to contemplate the end times, a backwards Big Bang. It’s not about the end times; talking about the end times enables us to contemplate the present moment. By looking toward the end times, by creating a vivid picture of the end times, Mark invites us into now: a moment of change, a moment of dying and rising, a moment of Advent, a moment of hope. By looking at the end times what we find is that yesterday - all that we have know, every single thing that we have achieved and done and aspired toward is gone. Yesterday has come to an end; it is the end of time and a new day dawns. Is this a moment that we can see is to give birth to the Divine into our world, into our life?

The world that worships the dollar continues to search for ways in which to stimulate the economy; the news is filled with meetings globally happening. And the focus of those meetings is to recover something from the past, to restart the heart of greed that drives consumerism. Tremendous amount of effort is going in, and it’s going in because there is no sense that yesterday is gone. The essence that is being looked for in that world is, ‘I want that to go back, to re-create, to hang onto, what I have. No looking forward, no glimpse of a star, no looking for a new tomorrow, only a desperation to recreate the economy of yesterday.

In this moment, at the end of time, we’re encouraged to follow a different star; we’re encouraged to look towards birth. Is this the moment we will seize to give birth to the Divine in the our world and into our lives? The good news is we’ve got four weeks to give it some thought. We need four weeks because it’s quite a stunning question. Mark asks us to keep awake to the divine possibility. Keep awake to the coming of Christmas, to the divine incarnation, God taking on flesh: birthed, revealed brought to life in and through us.

The signs that Mark gives us - the stars falling, the sun darkened and the moon not giving its light –these are illustrations, they are not definitions. Please don’t wait for the stars to fall before we do anything; rather look for the signs that we read, that you read; and if I don’t read signs, let me do that during Advent. Something new to do, look at the signs. What illustrates life for us, what points us towards divine possibility?

Today we look at hope. Be careful, because the hope that we look at is not what we hope for, rather we focus on hope so that we might come to the realization that we are the hope. Rather than looking for a hope, realize ourselves, question what if we are the hope? God is given; that we will celebrate at Christmas. And we know we’re going to celebrate it; God is gifted into the world, the Divine is no longer separate, the Divine is not one of the stars in heaven, rather the divine has taken on our flesh. We are the hope.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris