Saturday, November 28, 2020

Advent 1B

Advent 1B 2020 Isaiah 64:1

Advent 2020

"We are people of hope! Why do we party on Friday evenings? Why do we go to church on Sundays?" Cornel West

Faith, Love, and Hope, these three make us faith-filled lovers and hopers.

Prayer from Psalm 80

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
You have fed us with the bread of tears, and given us tears to drink in full measure.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Advent Hope

With the first Sunday of Advent, the church begins a new year of grace as it waits for Jesus' birth. Maybe you know esperar in Spanish means wait, hope, and expect? Blue is the color for Advent; blue is the color of hope, although churches that only have purple/violet paraments may use those, of course. Advent is a harbinger of Easter when we celebrate the fulfillment of hope. Advent always begins on the Sunday closest to the November 30th Feast of Saint Andrew, Andrew the son of Zebedee who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. According to the infinitely reliable wikipedia, "Andrew [is]… patron saint of Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia in addition to Scotland."

Pictorial advent calendars are fun for all ages. Opening each window tab reveals a mini-surprise that brings us closer to the gift of Jesus' birth, brings us nearer the day we'll give gifts to each other and unwrap gifts we've received. At church and in homes, Advent wreaths are another familiar sign of the season, so popular since in the northern hemisphere we celebrate the birth of Jesus-light-of-the-world at the darkest time of year.

But calendars and candles are homespun and tame. They have become too familiar. Advent calls us to get to the root, literally to be radical.

Advent Apocalyptic

Every year's scripture readings open up Advent with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it—the end of death, destruction, empire, violence, exploitation. The end of despair and discouragement. The dawn of hope and possibility. Apocalyptic/ apocalypse means revealing or uncovering something that's hidden. Very broadly, apocalyptic is a type of writing that uses one concept to illustrate another and that needs to be interpreted.

The word Advent means toward (ad) the coming (venire). With calls to repentance and hope, Advent is a season of waiting and watching.

Although we're looking at a snippet of the first reading from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, we're now in Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year B with Mark as the featured gospel. Here are some notes about Mark.

Isaiah 64

1O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—

3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

4From 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.

7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Memory / COVID-19

Today's first reading from Third Isaiah comes from back home in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile as they tried to rebuild community and physical structures. Along the way from Egypt through the promised land, into exile and back, the Israelites had lived some solid theology. Like us, in their heads they knew God could not be controlled by humans or confined to a small space. They already had experienced God as an extraordinary deity who heard the people, traveled alongside and entered into unbreakable covenant them them. In their heads they knew God never would leave them. However, similar to this year 2020, events had gone down in ways that made them wonder if God had disappeared.

At least since March 2020 it sometimes feels as if God may have abandoned this planet. Even people who routinely trust God, frequently sense God's presence, and pray a lot have had serious doubts. This week's second reading in 1 Corinthians 1:7 says "we wait for the revealing [literally apocalypse] of our Lord Jesus Christ." In today's first reading the people beg for God's self-revelation and intervention because they have a history with this God. They remember. And they remind God.

Calendars and candles have become too familiar. Advent calls us to the root – to ground zero – of our lives together as people of God. Just as God's people Israel did, when we worship and celebrate the sacraments we recreate our history with God where we are and with God's people in every place, every time. Worship and sacraments make those past events present to us right here and right now. As we re-member and re-enact the past, we can anticipate God's future redemption and astonishing actions yet to come because we have a history with this God. We remember and we remind God. Getting to the taproot of our lives together with God, we actually remember the future, as we wait and watch and actively look for signs of God's tomorrows breaking into our midst.

Maybe especially during this advent when we still can't physically gather in a church building or fellowship hall, we need to keep telling our God stories with scripture and with our own testimonies of God's faithfulness. We remind each other and we remind God. Did anyone mention how providential that this global pandemic has happened at a time most people have an internet connection? I believe some people have!

From Advent into Christmas, we probably sing about God's promises and God's faithfulness more than any other time. What are your favorite advent songs and Christmas Carols? Do you have any favorite winter songs that don't mention Jesus or Bethlehem but capture the Nativity mood?

Here's my short list. What's on yours? I'd love to know!

• People Look East, the Time is Near for the Crowning of the Year
• Prepare the Way, O Zion
• From Handel's Messiah, Comfort, Ye – Every Valley is probably my favorite, but then there's
• For Unto us a Child is Born, and His Name Shall be Call├Ęd
• Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates
• Lo, He Comes, with Clouds Descending
• Canticle of the Turning based on Mary's Magnificat in Luke
• Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying
• Do You Hear What I hear? –a Christian-popular crossover hit
• Where Are You, Christmas?
• Valley Winter Song by Fountains of Wayne (RIP, Adam Schlesinger who died of COVID-19)
Christmas Cantata by Daniel Pinkham

• What do you imagine your Advent 2020 will look like?
• Christmas Eve and Day?

During Advent we wait for Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, who obliterates divisions between earth and heaven, who comes to earth in a body like ours that's made out of stuff of the earth. This Jesus heals creation's brokenness and prepares our future. The Hebrew for "tear open" in our Isaiah passage implies a rip or rupture that cannot be mended, and is similar to the word used when the temple curtain tore at Jesus' death.

"We are people of hope! Why do we party on Friday evenings? Why do we go to church on Sundays?" Cornel West

Faith, Love, and Hope, these three make us faith-filled lovers and hopers. Let's sing it!

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