The 1st Sunday of Advent at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
December 1, 2002
Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7 + 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 + Mark 13:33-37
We have a remarkable guide through most of this season of Advent. Editors of the sacred texts call him “Isaiah”, but the book of the Bible using that name covers more than a single lifetime. “Isaiah” then is a collection of texts not a person. This anonymous writer of chapter 63 will lead us for Advent’s first three Sundays, and then we shall turn to the work called Samuel to prepare ourselves for the coming feast and celebration of God’s Holy Incarnation. Not knowing his name does not mean that we shall not come to know a lot about him. As we walk together through these weeks, we shall come to know a great deal about him, and in him, we shall find ourselves. He is no stranger to grief or trust. He knows sin first hand and he knows grace. He makes the somewhat startling suggestion that both are found in God, and with that suggestion, he leads us deeper into the mystery of our relationship with God.
With his lament about the human condition in sin, he challenges the suggestion that God will have nothing to do with sinful people, or that in sin, a sinner is far from God. God is not being blamed for human sin, but in the context of this lament, the mystery of divine providence and God’s sovereignty over every area of human life is recognized and celebrated. For this prophet, the sinful condition is like the exile in Babylon.
Although that exile was a consequence of Israel’s infidelity to the law and the covenant, their trust in God never wavered, and even though they were broken and exiled from all they found holy, they never doubted that God would come to them. They continued to experience God’s presence even in their sin. We cannot help but hear the faith of Israel in this Psalm/like lament.
Rooted in the memory of what good things God has done in the past, the prophet sings of trust in a future just as blessed and just as good. We cannot help but share in that confident hope, and be instructed, encouraged, and sustained by the promise proposed. Nothing we have done changes God’s love for us.
In fact, there is a way of looking at sin, as the prophet shows us, that allows us to see in it, God’s providence and presence right in the midst of it. The God this prophet professes and proclaims is a God who parents, redeems, heals and shapes like a potter molds clay. This God will never disappoint. A society that touts the importance of independence and praises the ambition of the self-made-man or woman is going to have trouble with this prophet’s image.
Nonetheless, Isaiah’s image of the potter and the clay is worth serious consideration. There is in us all an inclination to approach the potter with an idea of what we ought to be. We like our designs and specifications. Yet this season, led by Isaiah, invites us to yield to the potter, to wait upon God, to call upon God’s name, and to remember all that God has done in the past. That is what Israel did while it waited in Babylon, in exile, in sin. Israel remembered. “God is faithful.” says Paul to the Corinthians. “He will come”, insists Mark in the Gospel. What Mark offers is not a threat, but reassurance. No more than a parent would abandon a child, no more than any child could do anything to destroy the love of a parent, and the relationship we have with God expressed and revealed by this prophet becomes our own song this season.
The prophet has the courage to express his distress, his sin, and his expectation of God’s anger because he knows, believes, and trusts that God’s love cannot be denied. To do so would be to put God out of existence.
There is no hiding from God. There is no Babylon from which God is absent. There is no Babylon from which God will not call us. A prophetic people pick up the prophet’s vision and share the prophet’s hope.
God will come for us, and we are about to celebrate the beginning of our return home.