Dec. 3, 2017: Advent 1B
Advent 1B: Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37
Zion Lutheran Church, December 3, 2017
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The season of Advent begins today. It is the season of the church year when we look back to the birth of Jesus Christ so long ago in Bethlehem, and at the same time we look to the future towards Christ’s second coming.
Usually, we have no trouble with the first part: looking back to that first Christmas is easy. After all, songs, decorations, a deluge of catalogues in the mailbox, and every store in town remind us that Christmas is just around the corner. Looking back to the concrete, wonderful event comes easy.
Looking to the future, however, is much harder. The future is much more nebulous and unpredictable, and lately, scary.
The political divisions in our nation, autocratic dictators with nuclear capabilities, terrorism of many kinds, accusations of sexual harassment, a growing chasm between rich and poor, a changing world climate: We are afraid to truly contemplate what the future might hold.
Even in our personal lives, we know the twinge of fear when we think about what lies ahead. The first date: What will it be like? The first job: What if I fail? The birth of the first child: Will I have what it takes to be a good parent? Losing a job: How will I maintain a sense of self-worth and feed my family? Getting sick: Will I recover or will I have to adjust my way of life to new conditions? Growing older: What will my health and hearing be like next year? Being close to dying: What will it be like to face death?
Again and again in the course of our lives, we face times when we look into the future with wonder, fear, and worry. We search for something that would sustain us into and through that future, something to give us a hold, a rock to stand on no matter what lies ahead.
We find such hope and support in relationships. The people who love us and stand by us are our safety net. When our first date turns out disastrous, we come home to Mom or Dad or our best friend and pour our heart out and find comfort. When we start a new job, our parents and friends cheer us on and give us confidence with their faith in us. When a child is born, the network of family and friends will surround us with advice and gifts and share our joy, guiding us into this adventure called parenting.
Relationships carry us into the future. People who love us will be there to help us struggle with our fears and insecurities. Relationships make the future manageable.
This is especially important when it comes to our relationship with God. God is a God of relationships. From the beginning of humanity, God was in constant contact with the people. God talked to them, and guided them and fed them and challenged them and gave them leaders and taught them his will and showed them mercy. God rejoiced with the people when they did well and was saddened when they forgot about him. God cherished the relationship with God’s people.
So much did God cherish it, that he let his son become one of us. Through Christ, God entered into relationship with us like never before. In Jesus, we had a chance to see and hear and touch God. God is a God of relationships and is hard at work to keep that relationship between him and us strong.
That relationship is a marvelous one, indeed. Our first reading from the Book of Isaiah gives us a great example. The people of Israel pray this long, lamenting prayer. And in that prayer, they are all over the place. First, they ask God to come down and intervene and help them. Then they remember things God has done in the past. Then they sound somewhat angry at God for hiding and blame God for their sins (but at least they are confession their sins). After they expressed their anger, they remember that God is their father who molds and shapes them. They close by pleading for mercy, reminding God that they are God’s people.
Do you ever pray like that? I know I do. Sometimes I am just not very focused, and my prayer is all over the place, just like Israel’s. From praising God to asking God why he did such-and-such to requesting help for so-and-so, to saying sorry for things I did or didn’t do, to anger over something that happened to me, to wondering where God is in my life, to asking for guidance in my work, and on and on it goes. Sounds familiar?
Sometimes, I wonder how God is able to take all that. How can God sort through all my vacillating thoughts? How can God take my anger and disappointments? How can God take Israel blaming him for their sins? How can God?
God can because he is our God and is in relationship with us. God is in relationship with us because he wants to. When we were baptized, God came and claimed us as his children and made is very clear that he loves us and wants to be in relationship with us for the rest of our lives; actually, for the rest of eternity. God wants to be our friend and savior and healer and partner and guide and teacher and comforter all at once. God wants to have a relationship with us so much that he takes our vacillating conversations with him, our anger and impatience, our plea for forgiveness and help.
That relationship with God, more than any other, will carry us into the future. Jesus says in the gospel today: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. God’s word remains forever. Christ’s word remains forever. And with the trinity, God’s word is God’s presence. God is in God’s word. You read the Bible, and Christ is right there. A friend prays with you, and God is in your midst. Words carry the presence of God. This presence of God in his word will never, ever pass away. God’s word will always be there, no matter what happens in this world.
We have no idea what the coming year will bring. New diseases might evolve, new wars might break out, computers might control our lives in ever more ways, new cults or hate groups might arise, the stock market might collapse, and more. However, none of that can affect our relationship with God. God will always be there, will always be our God, will always love and forgive us. He promised so on the day of our baptism. He reiterates that promise every time we celebrate communion. God will always be our God. Period.
This changes the way we Christians wait for the future, especially at times like this when the future seems ominous.
Around us, people are afraid of what is to come, and they prepare in drastic ways. Some build bunkers in their backyard, some have survival kits stored in their closets, some have huge amounts of cash stashed under the mattress. Even some Christians are acting in fear. They read texts like the gospel today and start beating themselves up over past sins or are scared of Christ’s second coming.
Our Bible texts today assure us that we do not need to be scared. God is in a deep, loving, everlasting relationship with us. This relationship has survived Israel’s anger and self-pity and vacillating prayers and pleas for mercy. It has survived years of exile and wanderings in the desert. It survived the disciples thick-headedness and their betrayal and their fear on Easter morning. And it is still there. God’s relationship with us is still there, and will still be there when heaven and earth pass away. The one thing that is sure in these uncertain, quickly changing, challenging, scary times is that our relationship with God will always be there.
Among us are brothers and sisters who can witness to this truth, for they have experienced it personally. I hear many life stories that tell of God being the only one giving support.
We have members here who survived the Second World War. They lost so much: beloved people that never returned from war or died in bombing attacks, house and farm left behind and never seen again. With nothing but a backpack, they walked into a very uncertain future. They slept on straw in deserted schools. They were housed as refuges with people who often did not want them there. Food was scarce. Clothes were scarce. The land lay in ruins.
Some of them came to the United States. They didn’t know the country. They didn’t speak English. Sometimes their German education was not recognized. They had to accept whatever work they could find.
Where did they find support? Where did their hope come from that gave them strength to start over and build a new life? This strength came from their relationship with God. When the old life was burnt to ashes and disappeared over the horizon, they felt God still present with them. When it seemed as if heaven and earth were passing away, God’s word remained with them and reminded them of God’s love and his promise to accompany them into eternity. This relationship with God made a huge difference in their lives.
Others among us have experienced this presence of God when we lost a loved one, or when we were diagnosed with cancer, or when our child fell into drug addiction. God was always there for us.
And God will always be there for us. God will always listen to our vacillating payers. He will always endure our anger. He will always offer his comfort. He will always keep his promise: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away. Thanks be to God. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.