Sunday, November 27, 2011

Heaven Can't Wait for Hope

Advent #1  - Hope Can’t Wait
Isaiah 64, Mark 1, 13

Advent is a time of waiting.  And if there is anything that is harder to do than wait, it is to wait in the dark. Nights are so long. the sun goes down at 4: 32 and doesn’t show it’s bright little face until 6:50 in the morning.   Add to that the fact that the short days we do have this time of year are often overcast with thick clouds. 

The darkness isn’t just meterological, is it?  Did you read the paper yesterday? On Black Friday (see - dark) there was incident after incident of bad behavior on the part of bargain hunters.  People trampled, robbed, pepper sprayed by PS3 video game seekers.  Yeah, take that! Christmas Spirit! 

And, the stories that weren’t about bad behavior were about people who had sacrificed Thanksgiving dinner with their families in order to stand on line to get into a temple of consumerism - like Walmart or Best Buy or the mall. 

It’s pretty gloom and doom out there in the big cold world.  Economic uncertainty.  Political unrest.  Social polarization.  Environmental disasters.  It’s a dark time on planet Earth.

If we pay any attention at all, it is easy for our hearts to resonate with the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who cried out this prayer:   “O Lord!  Would that you would tear open the heavens and COME DOWN!”

It’s easy to think of God sitting up, beyond the clouds, in majesty and glory upon His throne.  And what we need is for Him to rip a hole in the clouds, and descend with power and might to remake the world one more time.  If God would do that he would set things right!  He’d teach those nasty shoppers a lesson.  He’d shine a light on the rats and roaches that are ruining our country and our world.  He’d rescue the little guys, upside down in their mortgages, and put to work the restless, purposeless young people who see no future for themselves.  O!  Would that you would tear open the heavens and come down! 

That isn’t our Advent hope, though.  Not because it couldn’t happen.  But because it has already happened - God has already torn open the heavens and come down.  The very first section of the very first account of Jesus’ life - the Gospel of Mark - uses that very image to describe the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry:  He says that the heaven were torn open - literally ripped - like a cloth, and God’s Spirit descended on the Christ. 

The Gospel of Luke traces the rip in the heavens all the way back to the night of Jesus’ birth, when the skies over the shepherds opened and the good news of great joy was announced by a heavenly choir. 

God ripped open the heavens and came down in the person of Jesus Christ.  Since that happened, hope has changed.  What he did, how he lived, who he touched, what he said - all of that means that what we hope and wait for is qualitatively different now. 

Our hope is deeper and more profound because it is based on the knowledge that God was not content to sit in the heavens and tsk tsk over human suffering and sin.  God ripped open the world and entered our darkness whole heartedly, taking on all our limitations and pains and problems.  God couldn’t wait for conditions to be right, or the world to be a promising place.  He couldn’t wait until everyone and everything was ready.  He jumped right in, in a surprising place, and at a surprising time.

I think that is one of the reasons Jesus, when he is talking about the future of the world, says that God’s coming is when the sun is dark and the moon has lost it’s light and the stars have fallen from the sky.  Because God comes when things are dark.  When we have lost our ability to see the future, God comes to bring us a bigger and better future than anything we could have imagined. 

This is hard to see in the macro world of economics and politics.  I’m not at all comfortable naming this development or that one as a sure sign of God’s future working itself out among us.   It is too soon to say if our country will become a better one because of these difficult days.  I’m not sure what is going to come out of the European debt crisis or the popular uprisings in the Middle East.  Something better?  I hope so.   But I don’t know about that.

But I do know that it is sometimes, often, the darkest areas of a person’s life are precisely the place where God’s tears into our lives to re ignite hope and open a future.
It’s not just that we hope that God comes down from heaven or that at the end of this messy life we get to go up to heaven.  It is that somehow the best part of heaven - God - is making us new even here and now, as we wait in the world’s darkness and our own.

This has happened to me.  This has happened to many of you. But I want to tell you a story that comes from another community about how God works to bring people in darkness the light.  (Shane Claibourne - Irresistable Revolution, p. 183)

This story is about a couple who couldn’t have children.  (Kinda like some couples in the Bible.)  And about a teenage girl who was having a baby for which she wasn’t prepared. (Kinda like Jesus’ mother.)  The couple invited the homeless girl to come and live with them, and after the baby was born, she stayed.  The couple helped her raise the baby, while she pursued her dream of going back to school to become a nurse.  They have been living together for over a decade now.  They are a family.   And the baby is a teenager.  And there is a heart-wrenching twist to this story, because the older woman in this family is very ill now.  But she has a nurse in her home to help take care of her, just as she once took care of the nurse.  Out of darkness - there is a profound and beautiful hope. 

So - how do we hope given our faith that God has torn open the heavens and come down?  Jesus says we hope and wait expectantly.  And the best image I’ve come across for that kind of expectation is that it is like being a kid, waiting for a parent to come and pick you up.  (Lifted from commentary by a PCUSA prof. at Luther Seminary.  After school, a music lesson, soccer practice.  You remember that feeling?  And sometimes mom or dad was late.  Now I guess kids can text to find out where mom is.  But back in the day, that wasn’t a possibility.  The best we kids could do was to do whatever we could think of to shorten the time and the distance between us.  We’d walk to the corner we knew mom would drive around.  We’d stand there, leaning out into the street to look for the familiar car.  We’d listen for the sound, watch the place it would appear. We’d wait expectantly, not passively, but moving in the direction of the one we hoped to see. 

Advent Hope is like that. It is the kind of hope that looks alert for opportunities to move in the direction of Jesus Christ.  God couldn’t wait to bring us hope, and we can’t wait to do whatever we can to share that hope with others.  We know God is with us when we do.  One of the things we do as a congregation is provide opportunities to reflect the light of Christ.  This week you’ve already heard about two:  The Outreach team’s “Creches and Carols” event is a way for you to invite a friend or neighbor to get to know our community, and sense the love of God.  And the Deacons have provided a way for you to feed a hungry family at Christmas time by shopping for food baskets.   In our lives, I pray that we will be alert for chances we have to move in God’s direction as we hope this Advent season. 

The days may be short.  The darkness may be all around us.  But as people of God we never lose hope.  For, as we’ve been saying for centuries: 

Christ has come, Christ is coming, Christ will come again.

Right here, right now - heaven can’t wait for hope.

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