“Waiting on God” Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020
Where is God right now? That’s a question many people are asking these days in our world of need, especially as, according to a recent report, 50 people in our nation are dying from COVID-19 every hour right now. Think about it: as we meeting during this hour of Worship, 50 more people will die. God, where are you? That’s a good question for Advent, as it fits right in with what this season is about as we look for God’s arrival in our world.
The text from Isaiah for this morning strongly expresses what it’s like to look for God. In it, we hear the pain, despair, and longing of the people of Israel for help from their God. As they grow weary of their decades in exile from their homeland and as they wonder if they will ever return to what was once normal, Isaiah captures their emotions in his words, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down . . .” To ask for God to come down from the heavens indicated their belief that God wasn’t to be found in their world; that God was absent from them and had been for a while. And yet God was still listening, able to hear their cry for help as God had done in their past. They knew that if God would show up, then God would take decisive action to intervene with their enemies, save them, and lead them back home. Until then, they would be waiting, just like they had since arriving in Babylon.
Waiting is something we know well. Waiting for things to change, a time to see a loved one, a new phase to enter, a COVID Test and its result, a surgery, a vacation, a job, a business to recover, a face without a mask, a vaccine, a school without Zoom, a reunion with friends, a good night’s sleep, a party, a wedding, and a new normal. These are just a few things we are waiting for right now. Up until March 2020, we knew about waiting but it was never this long and so difficult. Hours turn into days, days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and months turn into years. We now hear that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel late next year, but can we wait that long? There are other ways people wait, with a longing for an end to racism, a job with a livable wage, a family who accepts you for who God has made you to be, a safe place to live, and a life without pain. In our times of waiting, we can easily wonder about God’s absence. We pray and we wait and we pray and we wait, soon finding the words of Isaiah in our mouth, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down . . .”
What if God has already come down, though? Could it be that we have missed God during this time? Is it possible that we might just be looking for God in the wrong places? What if we are looking for God in a vaccine or a political candidate or something else rather than seeing God in our neighbors, first responders, teachers, mask-wearers, food sharers, or in our shared human experience with others in our world? Or what about how we tend to think God is only to be found in a church building and not in science? Surely God is in it all, but we may not be alert to where and how.
What we’ve heard in our gospel text helps us with our waiting and looking. If we fast forward hundreds of years later, we find Israel in a similar situation—waiting for God to show up and do something for them. Even though the people of Israel are not in exile, they are in captivity once again. This time to Rome. And the cry for God to show up is still strong. The religious leaders and prophets like John the Baptist have been telling the people to prepare for God’s arrival; that God will send them a messiah to deliver them from Rome. But, like the people in Isaiah’s time, they continue to question where God is and when God will arrive. As we have heard in our Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is providing the answer to their question; pointing to himself as the one who is bringing God and God’s salvation for them. He tells them to be alert for what was happening around them and to God’s arrival in a way that they wouldn’t expect.
Staying alert isn’t so easy, is it? We’ve learned that with the need for vigilance during this pandemic, constantly hearing reminders to not let our guard down and get lazy with efforts to wash our hands, wear our masks, and distance physically. Keeping alert requires our focused attention as if our very lives depended on it. Isn’t that the kind of focus Jesus calls us to have in our world; that we would keep our eyes peeled on God’s in-breaking presence in our world; the coming of God’s kingdom in our midst. In this season of Advent, that’s our work to do, to keep waiting and watching with hope in what God is bringing to be in our world through Jesus. It is represented well with the lighting of one candle, the first one, not only for hope but as an expression of it while we are still in the darkness. As we will hear in weeks to come, that’s what people were doing when Jesus arrived, longing for hope with their actions of expectancy. And that’s what we are invited to do as well as we look for God to show up. May we wait and watch together this season.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel.