so that the mountains would quake at your presence
The people of Israel, for whom Isaiah speaks, are longing for God.
They feel that God has hidden God’s face.
They long for the mighty deeds they have heard in the old stories –
when God divided the red sea and led the people by a column of fire,
when the face of Moses shone with the light of God’s revelation.
But now, God seems silent and far away.
The position of Israel is particularly poignant.
They have experienced exile in Babylon.
They have returned home to Israel,
filled with excitement about all it would mean to come home.
They hoped that here, in the land of their ancestors,
they would know God intimately.
Instead, home is an unknown place.
The temple has been destroyed and not yet rebuilt.
And God seems farther away than ever.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, O God,
and make yourself known to us as you did to our ancestors!
I would guess that many of us here can relate to this poignant position.
We have gotten just what we wanted –
the perfect job, a partner or family, a home of our own –
but then find that it does not meet our hopes and expectations.
We have not been filled as we had expected to be.
Our happy ending lacks the fulfillment we’d hoped for.
What’s more, I think our American practice of Christmas sets us up
for just this sort of disappointment.
We shop and bake and plan for the perfect family Christmas,
but somehow reality never quite stacks up to our sugarplum dreams.
We grieve the loss of a loved one.
Loneliness which dogs us through the year is especially difficult
in a season focused on togetherness.
The Spirit of Christmas is demanding and, ultimately, elusive.
That’s where Advent comes in.
With a reminder that the peace which passes understanding –
the fulfillment of our lives and hopes –
cannot be found in anything we plan or control.
It reminds us that God has chosen to come to us,
to give us the peace and hope we long for.
Advent reminds us to keep awake –
to pay attention to the many ways God comes to us.
It invites us to keep a practice of prayer and service and quiet attention,
amidst the Christmas lights and carols playing in every store and elevator.
In my reading this week, I came across a reflection by Pastor Patricia De Jong:
“Peace, the peace of shalom, is at the heart of the promise born at Advent,
but it is difficult to arrive there safely and without becoming vulnerable along the way.”
We won’t find peace in buying or receiving the perfect gift,
planning the perfect party, creating a perfect family Christmas –
or even attending the perfect worship experience.
We won’t get there by our own effort or control.
Advent points us to the way God has chosen to come to us – quietly, almost invisibly, with an ordinary couple sent to sleep in a stable and a bunch of shepherds who find them there.
We can expect to see God, not in the heavens torn open, but in the vulnerable, messy places in our lives and the lives of others:
whether a homeless vet asking for money at a street corner,
or a harried store clerk wishing for just one word of kindness and patience;
a friend going through a divorce
or that family member who just can’t get along with anyone.
These are the people in whom we may find Christ in this Advent season.
Advent does not ask us not to celebrate the Christmas season.
It does not ask us to feel guilty about shopping and parties, concerts and programs.
It invites us to experience these things differently – to look beneath the dazzle of lights to see human needs and vulnerability in front of us.
De Jong says, “At Advent, God’s people summon the courage and the spiritual strength to remember that the holy breaks into the daily. In tiny ways, we can open our broken hearts to the healing grace of God, who opens the way of peace.”
Right now we are going to do a little preparation for Advent.
There is paper in the prayer books and pencils in the pews.
I invite you to take a piece of paper, and make a short list of some of the things that will occupy you in this next month.
If your season is not filled with extra activity, consider one or two things you might do - participate in an extra Friday worship service or Las Posadas here at St Michael’s; prepare stuffed stockings for people experiencing homelessness;
help out at the food pantry as many of the regular volunteers take vacation.
Now, as you consider these things you have written down –
Think about how, in each of these activities, you might be attentive to the need of people around you – and also more open about your own needs.
. . . .
The prophet Isaiah longs for the past, and calls on God to come in power and might.
Then he reminds himself and his people that there is another way to see God.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Theology Professor Scott Bader-Saye writes,
“the images of God as father and potter evoke a God whose mode of action looks more like that of the artist or the parent than that of the superhero. God forms and shapes the people as a potter lovingly molds her clay. Isaiah calls on Israel to be malleable in the hands of God, and he reminds God to fulfill the task of forming Israel into a people of blessing.”
May your hearts be open in this season of Advent
to see where God appears
and to allow Christ the Potter to mold the clay and mud of your life
into something beautiful and blessed.