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Today's epistle, the first letter Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth, affirms the grace given to them in Jesus Christ. He told them, "In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind, just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Gospel from Mark tells us of the heavens shaking from the tremendous coming of the Prince of Peace, and says Mark, "The powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory."
"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down...." Such is the cry from Isaiah in the lesson from the Hebrew scriptures assigned for this day.
If only someone, something, would come from outside of our troubled world and focus our attention--focus our attention on something other than ourselves and our narrow parochial interests! If only the skies would open up, thunder would boom, lightning would flash, and all eyes would turn in the same direction. Friend or foe, opportunity or threat--it wouldn't matter. We just need something or someone from beyond ourselves to get our attention, move our gaze from our navels, challenge us to work together rather than against one another.
It seems that popular culture is expressing this wish repeatedly, artfully, profoundly. In particular, this is the dream of many works of science fiction-and of the popular "Lord of the Rings" books and movies. Against an aggressive and deceitful lord of darkness, the creatures of the world-hobbits, dwarves, humans, and so forth--find a unity in the face of the threat. Relationships are redeemed and some who seem foolish are rejuvenated. And one who seems so small compared to the others is charged with the task of saving the world. In the face of great odds, he forges forward.
In the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the aliens who came were benign and blessed earth with a vision of gentility and peace. In another movie those who were old rediscovered youth. The dream is that contact with that which is "other" than ourselves can bring unifying terror or a graced-filled future.
In our Gospel today, Jesus talks of "signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars." We look yearningly for these signs, those indicators that we can be saved, that our life can be redeemed.
Don't we wish that someone, something, somewhere, would come from outside of us and redeem us? Is that not the cry of the prophet in the first lesson? The prophet points to natural phenomena which are often associated with the end of the age--volcanoes, earthquakes, fire from the sky, boiling waters, the raging of creation unleashed in all its fury. The prophet knows that such natural disasters can, in fact, bring people together for a season of peace, cooperation, hope, and even love. We saw this, didn't we, in the wake of September 11, 2001?
People looked inward and decided that the material things of this world were not the most important factors in life. Family and friends, a job worth doing rather than simply to make money--these all took on an extra significance. We began to realize that we can't make it on our own. We need others, and we need something more sublime in our hearts to get us through the day. We needed God.
O that someone would come and redeem us!
We proclaim God's response to the prophet's cry. "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down...." The God we worship has torn open the curtain of heaven and come to us, become one of us. We preach Christ and him crucified. There is one who has come from outside of this broken and dying realm. There is one who is among us with the power to move our vision from our narrow preoccupations. There is one who was born, lived, died, and rose again so that creation might be made whole.
In this season of Advent, we declare that the prophet's cry has been answered. It is not answered through warfare or talking with the dead through televised gurus. It is not answered through a quick fling with a stranger or another double on the rocks. It is answered as God comes in the flesh to be among us full of grace and truth. It is answered as the Son of God dies and is raised for the whole of creation. It is answered as the Holy Spirit continues to live among us and to form us as the church.
Perhaps the world continues to long for an outside intervention because the church is not an active enough witness to the presence which already is here, yet that which has come from outside of us is that power which is now within us.
The church bears witness to this "alien" presence as we focus on the "other," the one who is not us-the one who comes from outside our midst and challenges us to be loving servants and faithful witnesses.
God comes to us in strange and wonderful ways, sometimes at the most unusual and unexpected times. For instance, there was a father who discovered his little daughter wrapping a Christmas present, and she was using lots and lots and lots of wrapping paper. So he scolded her and told her to be more realistic in her wrapping and not to waste paper like that. Feeling rather satisfied at this little lesson he taught her, he went on about his pre-Christmas preparations.
On Christmas Day the presents were being unwrapped and there for him was the very package he scolded his daughter for wrapping. Feeling a bit abashed, he opened the present, taking off layer after layer of paper and then he opened the box, which was empty! He turned in confusion to his little daughter and said, "You mean you used all of that wrapping paper just to give me nothing?"
But the little one, with great wisdom, said, "But, Daddy, what I gave you were all of my kisses. I blew them into the box and it took a really big box to hold them, and it took a lot of wrapping paper." And he hugged her, giving thanks for her wisdom. It's said that this father kept that box for years and whenever he was down and needed the blessing of heartfelt love, he opened the box.
When Christmas comes, it will be like God's kisses to us--God comes to us as a small child, filled with love for all people, and that wonderful package is wonderfully full. Jesus was a gift far beyond all imagining--a kind of visit from that which is beyond.
At the birth of Jesus, as our Gospel tells us, the powers in the heavens will be shaken, and then we will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And we are told to keep alert--to keep awake. We are to respond to this loving kiss from God.
Isaiah proclaims the truth that we are all God's people and that God is the potter and we are the clay.
How we yearn to know the truth of that!
Paul encouraged the Corinthians by reminding them that God's grace has been given to them in Jesus Christ, and in every way they have been enriched by him in speech and knowledge of every kind so that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
With real anticipation Christians live an ongoing life of faith, always open to what God promised to do, always trustful because God is faithful. Anticipation means staying awake, being alert and watchful. Thus Advent is a symbol of the Christian lifestyle, not just a mood we experience at a certain time of year. We know that while we despair at many happenings today, our world is not forsaken by God. Our Spirits are turned from despair to trust.
God's love has come to us and saved us.
On this basis, we know that we are not alone. We are enriched and sustained by a faithful God.
Here the circle is complete as God comes to us in the form of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We are visited by the One who makes contact with us and becomes one of us. As Christ came among us once and dwells among us now, so He will come again to complete the great work of redemption.
In this Advent season, keep in mind that great song from "West Side Story"-"Who knows? Could be?"
Something good is coming. Yes it is!
And as Jesus says in our Gospel today, "Be alert!"
Let us pray.
Lord God, we praise you that you have comforted your people with a promise of a redeemer. We praise you that in the fullness of time you sent your Son as the Redeemer. We praise you that you give promise that you will send Him to us again to judge the world in righteousness. Open our hearts to receive our Redeemer now as He comes to us as the most precious gift we shall ever receive. Make Advent a blessing to us as we welcome our King in faith and love. We lift up our heads to welcome Him anew. Fill us with gladness as He comes to us. Amen.
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