What a world we live in! Terrorists take over a famous luxury hotel in Mumbai, India and specifically target British, American, and Jewish citizens. The result is the death of 172 individuals (at least as of the writing of this article). Pirates roam the seas in the Middle East stealing ships. Muslims specifically target Anglican congregations in Nigeria, burning churches and houses and killing entire families. Earthquakes, floods, tornados, droughts, and other natural disasters seem to occur almost daily. We are fighting two wars each and every day, a fact of which many in our congregation are very much aware as their loved ones are involved in the fighting. Our economy may be headed for the worst crisis seen since the Great Depression. People are losing jobs; people are losing homes. And human life has become so devalued that we now go to toy stores armed with concealed weapons. Human life is so devalued that we think nothing of trampling a WalMart greeter on Black Friday (now, truly aptly named) in a mad dash to get that "great deal" on that item that will likely be even cheaper come December 26. Churches and other non-profits are feeling the pinch of a receeding economy. As the need has become greater, our resources have seemingly become fewer. And we, as members of Christ's one holy and catholic Church have the audacity to claim that there is meaning, that there is hope? What in the world are we thinking?
Three of our readings this weekend reminded of the hope we should have when Christ is our Lord and Savior. Isaiah wrote of the Lord, "you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity." The Psalmist wrote of God, "how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have given them bowls of tears to drink." Certainly, both of those authors understood what it was like to feel abandoned by God, to know how ridiculous it may seem to proclaim a redeeming God when the entire world testifies against such a faith. Bot were writing to a people who felt anything but that the Lord was in control, that their Redeemer was reaching forth His sovereign hand to lift them from life's morass.
And Jesus, in our Gospel from Mark this weekend, reminds us that these bad things will occur. "In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken." Yet, what scares the world ought to spur us to greater vigilance and greater urgency in our mission. “When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates . . . Therefore, keep awake!” What in the world is He talking about? Who can sleep well in the midst of such pain and suffering? Who can’t help but wonder what all is going on? And who cannot help but feel a bit embarrassed proclaiming a saving Lord in the midst of such hurt and pain? If He is who He say He is, if He truly is a God of love, how can there be such senseless suffering?
Part of the purpose of our lessons this week was to remind each of us that hope requires great faith. Specifically, our readings remind us that we must place our faith in God. Both Isaiah and the psalmist were writing to a people that had been disposed of their inheritance. For the people of Israel, the outward sign of the covenant with God was possession of the Land which He had promised to their patriarchs and matriarchs. Yet, Isaiah was reminding them that God had kept the covenant. They chose not to keep the torah, so God have given them the curses. And the Psalmist eloquently expresses that feeling of abandonment and isolation that came from that exile.
Yet both writers from the Old Testament remind us that God is a redeeming God, that He is a saving God. Isaiah reminds us “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” And the Psalmist reminds us that if God would “show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” Both express that attitude that God can accomplish all the He purposes, no matter how out of control events seem to us to be. And Jesus reminds us of this hope explicitly in His statement to His disciples. “When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” Jesus reminds us that each day places us closer to His eventual return in glory and the restoration of this world.
Advent is a season in the Church that is both backwards and forward looking. We look back at that wonderful night, when love came down and was incarnated not as a king or emperor, but as a babe in swaddling clothes. And we look back on that beautiful, Silent Night conscious of the cost of our redemption. That beautiful, innocent babe will walk the long, arduous road of Calvary. But, when the story should have ended, at least in worldly terms, God stepped in again. God conquered even death on a cross! Still, His job is not yet complete. There will be a time in the future when He comes again to fulfill all that He proclaimed since the foundation of the world. And so, Advent calls the Church to look forward in expectation of that event. Just as we look back on our Savior's birth with awe and humility, we look forward to His return, confident that He will restore all things as they were meant to be before human sin marred His wonderful creation.
Fittingly, then, the first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of Hope. We remind ourselves that our hope is, as it always has been, in the redeeming Lord, Jesus Christ. We remind ourselves that our patriarchs and matriarchs had faith in God and His purposes, and He credited it to them as righteousness. We remind ourselves that even in the Exile, He was being faithful and would not be thwarted. We remind ourselves that when He was Incarnate in the world, He told us to expect the world to testify against His reign. Yet, the same God who has always redeemed His people promised each one of us that He would one day restore us and the world. Only a God who can conquer even death can make such a claim. Only such a loving God who would give up everything to save His people is worthy of such faith. Only such a redeeming God can give us each hope in the face of the tragedies confronting the world. Keep Awake! He is at the Gate!