Isaiah 64.1-9; Psalm 80.1-7,17-19; 1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.24-37
We know what desperation and deep pain feel like. When laughter seems to be a foreign language. When our breath is taken away by a hurtful statement uttered from someone we love. When our guts feel sick because we know we have hurt someone we deeply care for. When our hearts plummet to our stomachs when we get bad news from a doctor. When we want to shrink into a corner because of the tension in a community. When we hold our breath because it seems like hate is on the rise and we don’t know how to talk to people we disagree with anymore. The hurt in our lives and our communities is palpable and real.
What we learn from the Israelites and the general witness of scripture is the power of naming our hurt. This hurt that gnaws at us, that casts a cloud over our lives, it will eat us alive if we don’t do something with it. The world would have us gloss over it, and especially in this season, cover it up with lights and ornaments and anything shiny. And yet the Israelites, they know where to speak their grief and sorrow and pain. They know that their prayers and supplications, their dialogue with their creator is exactly the place to bring their hurt, their confusion, their question - a question that humans have asked and will ask until the kingdom is complete. When the world feels like it is falling apart, what are we going to do?
Our scripture readings today answer that question in two ways.
First, in Isaiah, we are reminded that as real as our hurt is, hope is just as real. After a passionate plea from desperate people who feel like God is far away, one word signals that this is not all there is. Yet, they say. Yet, O Lord, you are our parent - we are the clay, you are the potter, we are all your people. When their, when our, hurt is expressed to the one whose rule is not in doubt, our community of hurt is also a community of profound hope. Because even in hurt, we know whose we are.
This question of “when the world feels like it is falling apart, what are we going to do?” is a question that frames the entire gospel of Mark, which is written to a community living out that question. And so in our gospel text we find another answer to that question: Keep awake and alert. We will never know when the Son of Man is coming, but like a fig tree blooming, we’ll know it when we see it. We also will never truly completely know or understand God (also an important theme in Mark), but like the coming, we sure know the work of God when we see it!
And so our alertness is not about passive waiting, but active engagement. When the world seems like it falling apart, but we know that God has the end of the story in hand, how are we going to live? This is a call to action. A reminder that waiting is not always patient or quiet. Our eager anticipation of and longing for a world free from hurt means that it is our job to do what we can to remove hurt from the world now. We practice living out the end of the story every day because we don’t know for sure when it will arrive.
The coming kingdom is what we wait for in Advent, which means that while Advent is a beautiful, hopeful, and wonderful liturgical season, it is also a way of life that we live out every day as Christian people. Advent is a reminder that God keeps promises, but loves surprises, so make sure you’re paying attention. God is about to tear open the heavens and come down, but it will very likely be in ways we would never expect.
What we prepare for in Advent is the sneaking suspicion, the growing awareness, the building restlessness that this weary world is not the one God has in mind.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!