2014 – Cycle B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
Autumn’s winds have stripped away the lush green and rich coloured garments of the trees. They stand embarrassingly naked before us. Visible is every blemish, every knot, every fungus and diseased part. The trees are us. And Isaiah gives voice to that nakedness.
“You [God] are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” [Isaiah 64: 4-5]
How strange and uncomfortable to begin Advent with such a passionate outcry. Does this lament and all too frank soul-searching not feel out of place days after Thanksgiving and the feeding frenzy of Black Friday into Cyber Monday, all the traveling and the onslaught toward Christmas?
Like trees, we do not like being laid bare and the tinsel and pretense of our lives stripped away. This is the holiday season(!) and we shouldn’t be made to feel bad or to squirm. It has been commented though that our country has changed from one that wanted to be good to one that wants to feel good. Is that what you want? …to feel good?
Like Israel returning from the Babylonian exile to a burnt out Temple and city, are we not disoriented, frustrated and angry in our nation and church?
Consider the violence and burning of Ferguson, the dissatisfaction with government, the despair of many unemployed who have stopped looking for jobs, polarization from the Synod of Bishops to Congress, the anonymous cyber-attacks and slandering of people through the internet, the rise of international terrorism, the deafening loud music in public spaces so that you cannot think, converse or reflect, the polluting and ravaging of the earth, the exorbitant budget of the military industrial complex while people go hungry and are homeless and the mentally ill walk our streets without aid in what is touted as the greatest nation on earth, the sexual violence on our college campuses, and the overweight and poor physical health of many people.
Do not think that these aspects of contemporary life are not associated and reflective of our spiritual lives. They are. “…we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags” [Isaiah 64: 4-5]
There is presently nothing to feel good about and so we bury those unpleasant feelings. We over indulge in everything from shopping and overeating, pornography and casual sex, to media and drugs seeking fulfillment and happiness. Loneliness haunts and stalks us so much that we cannot be separated from our smartphones responding whenever we hear e-mail or direct message tings regardless of what we are doing or with whom we are talking.
What an uncomfortable place to begin Advent. But this is where we need to begin; with an honest appraisal of ourselves. This God, whom Isaiah portrays as angry and silent, as hidden from us is far from hidden. This God does not care about our pretense. Like the autumn winds, the Word of God, strips away our self-deceptions: “we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” [Isaiah 64: 4-5] Like winter’s trees we stand naked.
Recall there was a time “in the beginning” when our nakedness did not shame humanity. [Genesis 1:1]
We are living in a time of broken heartedness, of feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Many of us have become apathetic; others have simply opted out of participation in the communities we belong; a listless spirit pervades society and we have regretfully witnessed how people respond with violence to helplessness and hopelessness.
Broken heartedness may be what we are experiencing but it is also the remedy. For when our worst fears have been realized, when our pretense is unmasked, when our shadows are laid bare like the trees for all to see, all that remains is hope. Hope is what arises from within broken hearts when we surrender and are willing to be mended. The broken heartedness of Advent opens us up to the need to be held and molded. Like clay in the hands of the potter, to what do you surrender your life? What is the strongest influence on you?
Is it our American culture with all of its glitz, empty promises and distractions? Or a God, a God who is father, mother, potter and lover; a God who is far from silent for those who dare to make the time to listen.