Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church
The First Sunday in Advent
29 November 2020
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Rend the heavens wide!
I spent several years of my life living in Missouri. There were the six years at Saint Paul’s High School and College where I went to boarding school, and then there were four years at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis. During those years I often heard and began to understand the state’s nickname, “the Show Me State.” The culture there demands proof – show me the proof of what you are telling me. It has reached an unfortunate result in these days, as people distrusted the news about Covid19, demanding proof, and only getting it in a surge of sick people, and in record deaths. We pray for those who are ill, and the repose of the souls of those who have died.
This attitude, a very human attitude, we see in the scriptures. In the first reading from Isaiah, we have a human complaint that is all too common in the scriptures, especially in the history of Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah sees the following progress in his reception of Israel’s complaint. The process begins with a remembrance of God’s mercy.
“The loving deeds of the Lord I will recall,
The glorious acts of the Lord,
Because of all the Lord has done for us,
The immense goodness to the house of Israel,
Which (God) has granted according to (God’s) mercy
And (God’s) many loving deeds.” – Isaiah 63:7
It is a delightful recounting of all that God has done, and we hear passages like it often in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the psalms. The recollection, however, does not end there – There is more. What follows is confession, oddly one that reverses its intent and that blames God:
“Why do you make us wander, Lord, from your ways,
And harden our hearts so that we do not fear you?” – Isaiah 63:17a.
It is a strange confession, one that does not tie the sin to the sinner, but rather blames God for the confusion and difficulty of the time. Rather than looking to the consequences of their own faithlessness, these people look elsewhere. It is an attitude of selfishness that we might see in our own time as well. The final result in Isaiah’s progression of prayer is a heart-rending plea from the people. “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you,” You may be familiar with an Advent hymn sung often in Lutheran Churches, “O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide.” Here is the yearning for God to appear again, and to make things right. Here is an understanding of God, as not only the One who intervenes, but as the One who is Creator and Savior.
“Yet, Lord, you are our father;
We are the clay and you our potter:
We are all the work of your hand.” – Isaiah 64:7
The question then is, in this troublesome time, as we await Christ’s coming again, what shall we be molded by God to be? To add to the difficulty, as the Gospel for today so graciously tells us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It matches our own dilemma – when will Covid be over, when can we return to our normal lives, when can we be with those whom we love? And a similar wondering about how we shall be accompanies not only our actual lives in this time, but our liturgical lives as well.
Enriched in him
Paul is writing to the church in Corinth and gives thanks for them. In his address to them he recognizes in them the success of their political and cultural life – Corinth was wealthy and prosperous, just as we are. He also reminds them of the wealth of their spiritual gifts. These were gifts, just like ours, unrelated to physical things – something beyond money, buildings, and things. Paul recommends to us a style of waiting that knows that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
As the people of God, we begin a period of waiting in Advent. This year we are well prepared for it, for we have been called in these days to be alone, in our waiting. We are apart in our longing. We are isolated in our prayers. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, and yet God promises to be with us as we wait. Jesus gives us clues as well. It is a most appropriate example for you who live in what was a land of orchards.
“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. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” – Mark 13:28-29
Take the awareness with which you perceive daily life (when you watch TV, or your neighbors, or read the newspaper, or just observe things on a socially distanced walk) take that awareness and apply it to your spiritual life. Know when it is time to pray. Know when it is time to console a friend or neighbor. Know when it is time to meditate and keep silence. Know in your hunger for it, your love of the Eucharist. See and feel these things as you wait. It is Christ’s promise to gather us in, to redeem us, and to save us. And more than that, to gather in, redeem, and to save the outcast as well.
There is in the psalm for this morning, a passage that might make for a good prayer during this Advent – a prayer that you might say as you light the candles of your Advent Wreath.
“Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
Show the light of our countenance, and we shall be saved.”
Finally, there is a prayer that I have shared with you before. It is one that I love, and that I think is perfect for us and for you in this time of difficulty. I hope you will use it in your private prayer and in the prayers of the people of Saint Mark’s Church:
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.