Therefore keep awake…Mark 13:35
The prophet Isaiah broke the silence between Israel and God. An entire generation had finally come back home to Jerusalem after being away from home in a foreign land – exiled to Babylon as casualties of war. But upon their return nothing was the same. The place was in ruins. The economy was a joke. The temple was destroyed. An entire generation had been waiting for their return home because God was at home, but now that they that were home it was questionable whether God was actually there. What seemed to be an end to the waiting was only a threshold because when their exile came to end they were, surprised. Insert Isaiah’s cry here: “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” They were in a time between the times: Devastation was in their past. Promise was in their future. The present was disorienting. They were standing at a threshold between what was to come but what was to come was in the future and they wanted it in the present. Hear Isaiah’s wisdom in this moment…
from ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived
no eye has seen any God besides you
who works for those who wait for him
I think that only a disciplined prophet could stand in all of that ruble, on the edge of that threshold and wait. Only a disciplined prophet could know, really know – not just speculate, but know that the Holy is in the waiting. Only the prophet could look back further than the devastation and recall God’s prior faithfulness. The prophet could recall there was once a time before when all that could be done was wait…So the prophet says once again, “Wait.”
Advent is the threshold. It is the time between the times. It is the space where we wait for the disorientation to give way to clarity. And it is a time when all of our urges to go sprinting across the threshold to grab ahold of things that don’t last, when all of those urges are tapped into the most. Black Friday begins on Thursday and if you look online the so-called Black Friday deals began on Monday. The Christmas lights and Candy Cane Lane in Bronson Park were all assembled weeks before Thanksgiving. The Christmas Tunes have been on air since the first of November. The Advent temptation is to fill the Holy Wait with different kinds of waiting: waiting in line at the Starbucks for the first taste of the Holiday Peppermint Mocha. Waiting at Best Buy for the best deal on a new flat screen. For the less privileged the waiting is at home in isolation from the rest of the world flipping channels for something to watch – to fill in the waiting spaces.
For some it is waiting in extra long lines at the food pantry and showing up extra early. Some didn’t even get into the pantries this week because the phone lines were too busy…
400 miles to the south and west of us the People of Ferguson stand on another threshold that looks an awful lot closer to the Prophet Isaiah’s in Jerusalem than it does to ours in Kalamazoo.
And so this year I am far less concerned with who bought what on Black Friday than I am with this image. Because when I see this image I cannot imagine a more accurate depiction of the tension which exists when we proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God in the midst of a broken and loveless world. The world that Jesus was born into looked a whole lot more like the fires of Ferguson than the dazzle of the Kalamazoo Mall. And I have come to wondering whether the church’s (because so many of the church’s do this) focus on repenting from Black Friday and on engaging the fictitious war on Christmas is really more about our fear of engaging the deeply painful issues that actually matter.
Injustice matters. Black lives matter. White lives matter. Rich and poor and middle class lives matter. The pain and depression of the holiday season that some are suppressing by going shopping – it matters. We – you and I and the people of Ferguson – we all matter and because we matter God chose to take the struggle of living in human flesh and came to us as the Christ Child and the Advent discipline is invest ourselves in the hope and the anticipation of his return and of his Kingdom come on earth as it already is in heaven. And if we are a people who confess that the Christ whose birth we anticipate is Lord of our lives, then we are also a people who’s Advent priority is to proclaim the peace he will bring in the midst of a violent and broken world.
The whole of creation matters to God. And when we join our voices with the prophet's crying out that God would tear open the heavens and come down I have good news for you – he already has. He already has in the child we anticipate.
May these next four weeks open your hearts to receive him once again.