“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!” Isaiah 64.
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in heaven will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” Mark 13.
Like the latest Hollywood special effects blockbuster movie, the passages for the first Sunday of Advent have some remarkable images: the heavens tearing open, mountains quaking, water boiling, the sun darkened, stars falling from the sky, the Son of man coming on clouds. What a scene. We start off the advent season with a bang. In the Isaiah passage, we are struck by the despair of a people who felt abandoned by God. God got angry and left them. In Mark we hear of the promise that God will make a dramatic re-entrance into history, giving new hope. Despair and hope are paired together to lead us into the advent season.
I just can’t help but imagine an inquisitive student from our KUC Confirmation class that I am teaching hearing those passages and asking does it really say those things in the Bible? It does. So what are we to make of it? What does this tell us about God?
The confirmands are in the process of writing the first drafts of their faith statements. It’s not an easy task, discovering and articulating what you believe about God. During class one day, I talked with one of the small groups and found that they were feeling really stumped about God. They weren’t sure if they have ever experienced God. They wanted to know, how do we know for certain that God is real? Where is God? they asked, because we don’t see him. In some ways, they remind me of the Israelites who thought God had abandoned them, or they might say, as in Isaiah God “you have hidden your face from us.” They want to see God and they don’t feel like they can. As most teenagers do, they have serious doubts. It might take something as intense as God tearing open the heavens and coming down to make them believe in God’s presence in their lives. It is written in Mark,”the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. “If God made that kind of a remarkable return it would be hard for any of us to keep doubting. That’s what the original writers of this passage were hoping. They faced a tough crowd of doubters who they were trying to impress and convince to be faithful.
At the time of the writing of the Gospel of Mark, Christians were experiencing persecution. While the imagery is frightening, it is intended to encourage Christians who are living in frightening circumstances. It acknowledges their suffering, and promises a brighter future ahead. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a faith that was getting ready for such a cool special effects god to come? The imagery shows great imagination and their ability to find a source of hope demonstrates what good coping skills they developed when confronting such great challenges.
I know many people today whose coping skills have been put to the test. Companies are collapsing. People are losing their jobs. More people struggling to pay their bills or put food on the table. We are filled with worry that what we have will be taken away from us. It is a consoling thought to imagine God coming to deal with this whole mess of a situation we’ve found ourselves in and turning it all around. That is what the persecuted Christians and the exiled Jews wanted. To keep themselves going, they imagined a scenario where God came and fixed everything. In the midst of difficult times and doubt they continued to hope and found ways to cope and believe in God’s promise. They thought that God would come soon, but here we find ourselves today, still living with the same unfilled promise. Jesus has not returned and we are still waiting.
Advent is all about waiting. We are waiting to celebrate again what God has done in the Christmas story and hoping for what God will do. Thinking of Advent and what it is leading up to, my thoughts turn to Mary, waiting and hoping. I can understand more of what Mary might have gone through now that one of my friends just had a baby. In the final weeks and days there was a great sense of anticipation and uncertainty. Each day was filled with wondering if “today is the day.” And finally it came. Life in its unfolding surprises us. I think a large number of you are parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles, so you have gone through this experience of hoping and waiting and finally being relieved and scared and thrilled when the time actually came for a new life to enter the world. Imagine, poor Mary didn’t get an epidural or a hospital room. She had a stable, the cold night air and a nervous first time dad who wasn’t even the real father. But there in the dirtiness and complexity of that situation, God chose to come close to us. God chose young, inexperienced, imperfect Mary to vessel God’s presence into the world. It is mystery, miracle and the mundane all rolled into one.
Mary was the original Godbearer. An unsuspecting youth the age of one of our confirmands chosen by God to bring God closer and make God’s presence known in the world. I believe that God did not only choose Mary. God has chosen each of us to be a Godbearer too. As it says in Isaiah “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God made each of us and breathed life into us. We bear god’s imprint and are enlivened by God’s light and presence in us. Sadly our eyes are clouded from seeing this by our fears and doubts. We hold ourselves back from claiming our place as Godbearers.
It is so easy to be caught in fear. The early Christians knew a thing or two about fear. To claim they were Christians meant risking their lives. They suffered more than many of us could stand to endure. They consoled themselves with the idea that they could wait it out and Jesus would come back and make things better. They thought that when Jesus returned the world would end, and God’s kingdom, God’s realm, would be made real on earth. All that was before would pass away, no more suffering, and the world would be the way God intended it to be with love, joy, peace and caring for others. Needless to say, Jesus has not shown up yet and the world continues on in its imperfection.
After waiting all this time for God’s realm to appear on its own, Christians today are embracing the idea that God’s realm is not something to simply wait for. We can be part of making God’s realm reality. The way we live can truly make more of God’s love present in the world now. We have to be willing to do something, not just believe something. We have to be wiling to be Godbearers. God is not just far away. God moves through us and with us. It is in one another that we discover God is real, see the face of God, feel the hand of God in the touch of another and know God is here. We are part of a people who have been waiting for God for over 2000 years and haven’t given up and we are also part of a people who keep discovering God in our midst. If we can have the courage to keep believing, then let this courage lead us to action. The kingdom we have been waiting and praying for will not come on its own.
If we are all Godbearers, carrying the seeds of God inside us, then we have an important role in bringing Jesus into the world, allowing Jesus to come forth in our actions and words, in the way we live our lives. The world truly would be completely different than the way we know it if each of us were Godbearers and shine God’s light into the darkness. If we lived as Jesus called us to live, the world would be so much more of a reflection of God’s realm. Not in the same way as expected from the prophesy of old with earthquakes and falling stars. Jesus would not appear on clouds or trembling mountains, but in you and me.
I think of my doubting confirmands and wonder if maybe that is why it is so hard for them to see God. They keep looking somewhere else, away from themselves. Isn’t it hard for any of us to believe that God would choose us? It’s too simple, too subtle. We’re not worthy. What about all the earth shaking and heaven tearing? Could God with all that power and glory really come into the world through me, you might ask. Yes. The answer is yes. God chooses you.
To those confused confirmands, and the inner teenage doubter in all of us who asks, where is God? God is here. We carry the seeds of God with us, Emmanuel. We wait for their fullness when we will awake to God’s presence within us. Embrace your curiosity about Christmas and the role you have to play in making this not just another holiday, but a truly transformative Advent season when you discover that God is with you and there is reason to hope and believe after all. In this season of Advent we remember those who have waited for God before us and how we have waited in our own lives. We wait for what has already come and for what is to be. We wait in the messiness of life, with patience and impatience, with hope and dread. We wait with God and for God, not lazy in our waiting, but ripe; after 2000 years the time has come for us to be Godbearers.