Advent Sunday

Advent Sunday B 1-12-2017 A & C: Isa 64 1-9 Ps 80 1-7, 17-19 1 Cor 1 1-9 Mk 13 24-37

Today it’s Advent Sunday, the first day of the Church’s year. It’s similar to our normal New Year’s Day; full of new hopes and resolutions. And at first sight, Advent Sunday seems as if it’s only about our hope for the coming Christ-child. The Advent we celebrate by lighting candles on the wreath and opening the doors of our Advent calendars seems to be just a countdown to Christmas; the birth of the baby; the joy of the angels; the hope for a better world.

But the Scriptures we’ve just heard weren’t written for people peacefully getting ready to celebrate Christmas. They speak of a desperate need for God to come to us. Isaiah calls on God to come and be with us – O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.

Advent reminds us that for many in this world, life is dreadful. We know much of their suffering has a human cause, but we can’t seem to fix it. Advent tells of our grief at that; but it also speaks of our hope that God will do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. That’s what the refrain from our Psalm is about. Restore us again, O Lord of hosts: show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

We heard Isaiah today writing to people who’d come home from long years of exile as captive slaves in a strange land. During their decades of slavery, they’d sung the songs that slaves always do – songs of hope for a better world; songs of God’s rescue; songs of freedom; songs of their home-land – prayers in song. And God hears these song-prayers.

But now, safely back in their homeland, instead of being conscious every day of God’s goodness to them, even though they’re enjoying the life of freedom they’d longed for, something has gone seriously wrong.

Isaiah asks, Where is God in their lives?! What’s wrong with these people? Why isn’t God with them?

Isaiah sees that they’re lost and far from God. Will God come to them? Will God even remember them? Isaiah wonders if there’s anyone among them who knows they belong to God. He prays, 64.7

[God] There’s no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you’ve hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Isaiah is crying out on behalf of his people – people who’ve experienced exile, but have returned, free, to their homeland. They’ve seen their prayers answered! But now, when they’ve got a new chance to rebuild their lives; rediscover their relationship with God – they don’t do get on with it. What can it mean that a people who’ve known suffering, but then experienced God’s grace, have somehow lost their connection with God? There’s no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you. Have they all gone to sleep?

The terrible sufferings of Isaiah’s returned exiles probably made it very hard for them to keep their faith. But now, when peace and freedom have been restored, Isaiah anxiously looks on as his people seem to drift into a spiritual sleep. He prays, God please come and rescue your people from this sleep? Please God! Come – we are your people! It’s hard to keep spiritually connected when things are chaotic, but as we know, it’s often no easier when things are going well.
So today, we’re confronted with the first set of Advent scriptures. And they are intended to remind us that our peace and stability are God’s gift, and they are not to be taken for granted. We need this perspective – a bigger horizon than just that tiny bit of the road ahead where our foot will fall next.

New Year’s day – the community of Christians who gave us Mark’s Gospel had no idea that they might have a whole year to live. Mark’s community had their share of tragedies too – just like the people of Isaiah’s time. Persecuted and vulnerable, they had to make every minute count. We join the Church around the world as we travel with this urgent, dedicated community over the coming year.

Mark’s community fled from Jerusalem as it was being destroyed by the Romans; fled across the Jordan, living as if there might be no tomorrow. They remembered that Jesus said, ‘What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ They took this as an order. So wherever they went, they passed on their Gospel message to all they met.
A tiny band of refugees – Mark’s community had a lot in common with the people around them; people under the same colonial rule; people who also knew personal joys, personal tragedies; people who also needed meaning; perspective; people who also needed to hear Good News.

And that’s what Mark’s people shared. Their Gospel starts, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. He was their good news! They introduced people to Jesus; Jesus who lived within our horizons of family and friends, life and death, being under the thumb being bullied and laughed at; broken and killed.

They introduced people to Jesus who took all that oppression on himself, took the fear, took the littleness, took all that malign power, and took it in our place. Mark’s community who didn’t know if there’d be a tomorrow – these little people bravely did what Jesus did. These people handed on to us their particular account of the life and teaching of Jesus. They kept on travelling; kept on telling people the good news. Kept on setting people free – waking us all up so we’d be ready for when he returns. And now it’s our turn. Are we ready? Are we getting ready? Are we awake, and handing on what has been given to us?

Having a time of Advent – expecting God to come; getting ready; staying awake; staying connected – it’s an annual gift to us. It’s God’s gift of intentional time. We have time where we’re reminded to pray for a difference. We have time for God to help us become the answer to our own prayers – to become people who make God’s difference in a world which is crying out for the peace, the good will and the joyful hope that we know will come with the Advent of our Lord.

So let’s stay awake; let’s get ready for his coming.