Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Though we haven’t hung the greens in the church yet and we’re all still digesting our Thanksgiving feast, our church calendar has kept rolling along, a new year has begun and the season of Advent has arrived! We will have 25 days to prepare for the coming of Christ—25 days to remember past celebrations and 25 days to make new memories to share for years to come. 25 days to enjoy our favorite aspects of the Advent and Christmas seasons—things we will enjoy sharing with our family and our friends.
We all have favorite parts of Advent and Christmas—and but we also all have least favorite aspects. Maybe it’s the commercial nature Christmas seems to have taken in our culture or maybe it’s the fruitcake that gets passed around your friend circle and never gets eaten.
If you’re a kid – I can probably guess what your least favorite part of Advent and Christmas is: waiting. Waiting for school to get out, waiting for your family to arrive or for your plane to take off, and worst of all—waiting to open your presents. I can still remember lying in bed early Christmas morning wondering: Is it time yet? Has Santa come? Can I get up now and open presents or is it only 2am? When will Mom and Dad be awake?
There’s almost nothing worse... Except for one thing: waiting with all that anticipation and then being disappointed when what you’ve been waiting for doesn’t meet your expectations. Perhaps you were hoping for the new Wii game and got a tube of socks instead; or maybe you got what you wanted and then found out it wasn’t as great as you had been led to believe.
However, wherever, whyever – wishing, hoping, and then waiting and waiting and waiting for something... and then that something doesn’t happen like you expected or even at all—this is tough situation to swallow and is often followed by emotions like regret, anger, frustration.
This particular period of disappointment and frustration is where we find the Israelites the prophet speaks to in our Isaiah passage this morning. This passage is taken from what’s known as Third Isaiah. First Isaiah—where we get those lovely passages like a tree shall shoot up from the stump of Jessie—proclaims the future fall of the people and was written around the 8th century B.C.E. Second Isaiah—which begins with the beautiful passage of hope—comfort, comfort ye my people—was written during the fall—during the Babylonian exile. Within this time and in this section of the book of Isaiah, we have bright hopes for a new day, a new creation, a new exodus! Yes—the people messed up as and as the prophet of First Isaiah warned, their nation fell. But—have hope! For God will deliver those in bondage and all will be glorious!
A bright new dawn and new creation was what the people wished for, hoped for, waited for. And then it happened—Babylon fell and the people were brought back from exile. And this new day was all they had hoped for—right?
Well, no, it wasn’t. During the time of the passages of Third Isaiah, several decades after the fall of Babylon and the return from exile, things are actually dark in Jerusalem. The people aren’t as righteous or religious as the prophet would hope for such a recently delivered people. Worship and morale aren’t all that high. Everything should be great—they’re back in their land, the temple is being rebuilt, and they have the freedom to worship as they wish. Everything should be great, but it’s not and the prophet is experiencing some serious disappointment and frustration.
So the prophet raises his voice and shouts aloud:
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
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!”
Come on – God – show your awesome presence so the people will get it and all will be as it should be!
While we haven’t been a people in exile nor have we experienced the destruction of our temple and way of worship—we know something about waiting with anticipation too. Every Advent we spend weeks doing just that—waiting. Waiting for our favorite Christmas carols to finally be played at church, waiting for the candle-light Christmas Eve service to make us feel as though Christ’s light truly does shine, waiting for the day we celebrate that Christ who is Lord is born!
We observe waiting most profoundly and profusely during the season of Advent, but it’s not the only time we wait. Every single day we wait. We wait for our prayers to be answered, we wait for the kingdom to come, we wait for Christ to return. We wait and we wait and we wait. And nothing seems to happen. Christ hasn’t returned and when we look around the world, the kingdom doesn’t seem to be reigning.
Do you ever look around and wonder—is this what I’ve been wishing, hoping, and waiting for? It can’t be, can it? It isn’t what I thought my life, the church’s life, the community’s life would be. This isn’t the reflection of the kingdom.
It isn’t the kingdom—it’s disappointment. Things aren’t how we hoped they would be. We know that as a community just as we know it as individuals. And just as the prophet of Third Isaiah did, we turn to God. Christ come in glory! May you tear open the heavens and come down! May the corporations tremble at your presence; make your name known among the nations that think they are God and not you. Come on, God—show us all why you are God and we are not!
So we pray, we turn to God, and we wait.... and we keep waiting. But we don’t wait passively. Not the church, the body of Christ. Oh, it may be tempting to just sit and wait. It may seem easier to turn to God with the prayers of our hearts and voices and then just sit and wait for God to do something. Even the prophet of Third Isaiah does something like this. He notes that the people—this sinful people who don’t act as they should, who haven’t realized the beauty of God’s new creation—are really just reacting to God’s actions. God hid the divine face—and so the people sinned. God got angry—and so the people transgressed. All people are just the work of God’s hands—what power do they have over their own actions? The beautiful passage about us being the clay and God the potter is—in its original context—a bit manipulative. God, you’re the one who formed us, and everything we are comes from you, so if we sinned, then you do something about it. You reform us.
There certainly is some truth to that understanding. We are God’s creation and we do react to God’s action in our lives. God does form and reform us. But we aren’t passive in this at all. We do have responsibility for our actions. The prophet calls out for God’s help and lays everything on God’s shoulders. Another prophet and apostle years later wrote a letter to a community that was not living as this follower of God thought they should. In the letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul looks and says – we need God’s help and God HAS helped us out. God is faithful and has reformed you—in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, through the power of the Spirit of God, we have all we need to turn away from sin, all we need as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The prophet may have cried out to God for a show of power and then waited and waited, but not us, not the body of Christ. We wish, we hope, we wait, and we prepare. There’s a great magnet you can purchase at Celebrate (one that someone gave me for my fridge) that says: Jesus is coming – look busy. Jesus is coming—and we need to be busy, not just look busy. We need to be busy preparing for the kingdom, working with God to usher it in. We need to labor for the kingdom, seek it in our daily living.
When we look around and think, this isn’t how I hoped things would be, this isn’t what I thought my life, the church’s life, the community’s life would be, we raise our prayer to God and then we seek to be the vessels God uses to answer prayer. We collect canned goods for the food pantry, we take on a concern of social justice by writing letters or participating in peaceful demonstrations, we forgive that person who doesn’t seem to even want to be forgiven for the way he or she has treated us. We seek justice and right relationship with neighbor, self, and God.
We seek God’s kingdom in our lives – find ways to interact with one another, ways to learn to accept ourselves. We seek to change systems and situations that are not of God or for God. We know that with God’s help we may indeed proclaim the gospel, we may shelter and nurture the children of God, we may promote justice and righteousness. We can exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
We are all the work of God’s hands—and with the power of the Holy Spirit, the hope found in Jesus Christ—we can also be God’s hands, feet, and heart to the world. There’s much work to do and we have been gifted to do it. No time to wait. Amen.