Sunday, November 27, 2011

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

Turn us again, O God of hosts; And cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.

Ok, so perhaps I watch too many of those reality competition shows. It is amazing how many real life lessons I’ve learned from the not so real experiences of the competitors. As much as we want to believe that they are truly competing for some grand prize and honor, the reality is that much of it is scripted and manipulated to create an experience the producers and directors want. Though the winner does actually win, I suspect that they have pre-chosen the finalists and controlled the outcome. I suspect they set people up for failure and for success.

Despite understanding the reality of reality television, I can’t help but get caught up in the personalities and possibilities the shows present. I hate the person they want me to hate and love the one they want me to love. There is always someone that makes me angry. They have an attitude; we might call it arrogance though they will often call it confidence. We hate them because we hear their confessions which are usually full of insults about the other contestants or self-righteous indignation because they are so hated. Those interviews are staged, and while the contestants might actually say the words, they are edited in a way to create an image the directors want to portray.

So, we hate a person based not on the reality, but only on what we see. After all, we see forty minutes out of hundreds film hours. A good editor can make Mother Theresa look horrible. We are all imperfect. We all say things we shouldn’t say and act ways we shouldn’t act. We all make mistakes; we say stupid things we don’t really mean. If my life were edited down to the time span of a television show, I’m sure I would be unrecognizable to my family and friends.

So, the image we see might not be true, but that doesn’t stop us from loving or hating those characters that have been created. Week after week we beg the judges to get rid of the contestant that is crazy or incompetent or arrogant. Week after week we scream at the television when our favorites are cut for one small infraction while others are passed through that do not deserve to win. They stay because they are interesting characters. The one we grow to hate almost always is the last to go before the finals. We get so frustrated by this obvious failure on the part of the judges, who do not see what we do. “They don’t deserve to be there,” we say week after week.

It gets to the point that we just want to see something terrible happen. I don’t mean that we want them to be hurt, but we do want something so unforgivable to happen so that the judges have no choice but to let them go. We want the bad guy to blow up the stove or burn the expensive mushrooms that have to be fed to a special guest. We want them to create something that is beyond redemption. We want them to fail and cheer over every mistake. Isn’t it odd that we would cheer for failure? We do because we think that we will enjoy the show more if they get rid of that character. We see their attitude, their words and their actions as darkness and we want to be rid of it so that those who really deserve to win have a chance without the unnecessary conflict.

We have talked about the Day of the Lord for the past few weeks, a time of judgment that is to be feared. Several weeks ago we asked, “Why would anyone want to rush that day?” Yet, there comes a time when we just can’t stand what is going on around us so we hope that something will happen to change everything. Like our hope for the contestant’s failure, we hope that something will be a catalyst that will make all things new.

Isaiah writes, “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence, as when fire kindleth the brushwood, and the fire causeth the waters to boil; to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!” Why would anyone want to call down such a cataclysmic event? Isaiah calls for God’s powerful hand to do something extraordinary to change the world in which he lived.

The people were in darkness. They were following false gods. They were unmerciful and unjust. They were acting shamefully and had forgotten everything the LORD had done for His people. They were lost; they forgot their God. They needed something to happen that would turn them back to Him. In today’s Old Testament text, Isaiah called for God to do something shocking so that everyone would see Him and repent. Sometimes it takes something drastic to change hearts and minds. We turn to God in times of distress. Isaiah was asking God to make that happen.

The psalmist sings from the point of view of one who is in distress; the psalm may have been created when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. It is a cry to God by people who are experiencing darkness. They need God to show His face to them once again. They knew that they were troubled because God had turned away. The only salvation would come from God, so they sought His face, His countenance, upon them. If God shined in their world and on their lives, everything would be right.

We begin Advent in a time of darkness. It is dark because we have failed God. We have forgetten Him in our comfort. We have ignored the needs of our neighbors. We have followed our lusts. We have succumbed to temptation. We are sinners who live in darkness. Like Isaiah in the Old Testament lesson and the psalmist, we cry out to God to reveal Himself so that we might see Him again. We cry out for His presence in our world, even though we are frightened by His power and judgment. We know the only way we will be saved is if God comes to save. So we cry out for Him to come, to make His name known again to the world.

The psalmist knows that despite the suffering we might experience, God has made promises and He is faithful. The judgment may be harsh, but the deliverance is sure. We don’t do it alone. We need someone to help us turn to our God. The psalmist writes, “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.” His hand will be on those with whom He has chosen for Himself, but first His hand will be on the One He is sending to bring light into our darkness.

We are about to enter into the Christmas season. We’ll be busy with the preparation for our holiday festivities. We’ll be shopping, baking, wrapping and decorating. We will attend parties and gather with family. TV and radio will be filled with Christmas themed shows and music. Unfortunately, we have all seen the signs of Christmas already, but it will begin in earnest after Thanksgiving. What we, as Christians, must remember as we are going about the business of the holidays is that Christmas does not really begin until Christ is born. Until that day we are journeying through the season of Advent. This is a time for waiting. It is a time for watching. We can’t avoid Christmas in the world, but let us remember that during this time we are meant to be preparing our hearts for the coming of our King.

The Gospel text reminds us that we are waiting for the second coming, even while we are preparing to celebrate the first. Though Christ has already come, died, and been raised, we still live in darkness. The work of salvation is complete, but it still needs to be completed. We are already there and we still wait to be there. We live in the already and the not yet. Light is in the world, but darkness still plagues us. Our text today makes that clear. In Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” we see how to respond to the darkness and chaos of our world. We are called to wait for the One who will come, to watch for the Light which will bring life and hope. We wait, not only for the baby, but also for the King. Here in darkness we begin our journey to the manger. But while this is a time to wait and watch, it is also a time for us to live and shine the light of God. It isn’t a time to hide behind our safe walls, but to get out into the world to share the message that Jesus the King has come to save.

The world needs to know Him, and we are the ones to share Him. The world is in chaos. People are worried and afraid of what tomorrow might hold. Many are crying out to God to shine His face so that they might be saved. We are His face. We have the message they need. We have the gifts that will bring peace and hope to those who are lost. Each year there seems to be more reason to cry out to God. We can see suffering all around us. People are jobless, homeless and hungry. Our prisons and hospitals are filled to the brink. Last week Jesus called us to meet the simple and ordinary needs of our neighbors. This Christmas will not be wonderful for everyone. But we can make the world a little brighter by sharing Christ in word and in deed with those who are in need.

In today’s epistle lesson, Paul was speaking the Corinthians, a different people in a different time and place than us. They were people dealing with their own troubles. It doesn’t matter that we are different and face different types of crisis. Every generation faces some sort of suffering. Every generation has worries and doubts and fears about the future. Every generation has lived in darkness. Every person from the beginning of time has had a need to cry out to God.

We need not cry out to a God that has turned His face from us. We are often blind, not seeing that God is in our midst. We ignore the grace that is ours. We look forward to the coming of Christ as if He has not been with us all along. Our faith tells us that everything is different, but do we live in trust that God has already made everything new? God is faithful. We are not always faithful, and it is our faithlessness that is more visible to the world. God sees the reality even though the image the world sees is more like those characters on the reality television shows. In this case, however, the reality is not that we are perfect, but that we are His. He has claimed us to be His children. He gives us everything we need to live faithfully through Advent, Christmas and time eternal.

We will continue to experience darkness until the day Christ comes again. But we can live in the knowledge that the Light has come and is coming. We can be a source of that light for others. We might not always understand His plan, but as we dwell in Him daily we will be blessed by God’s presence even when it seems like He has turned His face from us. We are the evidence of God’s grace; we are God’s people living our faith in a chaotic world. We are called to be His people in the midst of uncertainty and disappointment. Even as we wait and watch for the coming of the Light, we are called to be light in the darkness.

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