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Sunday, December 2, 2018
Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 1:1-5
Rev. Jill VanderWal
Our ideal image of the holidays, Thanksgiving through Christmas is to have the perfect clean and decorated house, the perfect family, well behaved children – you get the picture. But as we survey our lives we know the ideal is not the reality. Life is messy – but why do we feel we must hide the mess?
Advent is all about facing the mess – and realizing Jesus is already there.
The lie of religion is that we have to have a perfectly clean home and get organized before Jesus will come to live at our house or in our heart. Jesus, God in flesh, Immanuel, is the One who is sent to meet us in the mess, and lead the way through it.
What is the mess? In our own life, pain, regret, addiction, broken relationships, the unpalatable parts of “us.” Messiness in our own lives, our families, our friend groups, and then the nation and the world. Poverty, hunger, war, violence, pervasive racism – pain. This year is the second time in three years that life expectancy in the US has declined, due to drug overdoses and suicides.
Both of our passages this morning are words of prophets, Isaiah and John the Baptist.
Their words speak to people who are living in messiness.
The text was written around the time the first people came back to Jerusalem after years in exile. You can imagine that many of those returning were the children of those who left their homeland decades before. They probably grew up hearing stories of Judah and how wonderful it would be to restore the capital city to its former glory. The children traveled to this place, hoping that what their parents said would be true. When they finally arrived, their their hearts sank. Jerusalem was destroyed, and it would be a long time before it could be restored—if it happened at all. The writer of Isaiah longed for God to come crashing down, interrupting their world and making them pay attention. The writer wanted mountains to quake and nations to tremble because of the coming of the Lord. Come on God…show up and show off!
The plea of the people is for God show up. They wonder “where are you God, are you angry with us?” And then they move to confession – we have fallen away from you and stopped calling out you because you are silent.” Doesn’t this almost sound like the stages of the grief cycle, denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and then finally acceptance?
When I read this I hear frustration. I hear anger. I hear longing – a longing for things to be made right, for a way through the mess. How often in our lives do we experience this crazy mix of emotions? In the midst of all this, Isaiah comes back to the image of a potter and clay:
“Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
This is a very intimate image – the desire for God to hold us in his hand once more, to make something of us. We plea for God to shape us and mold us. The Isaiah passage is a bit difficult, but it speaks the reality of a messy life and a desire for God to be in this.
Isaiah says: God please come. John the Baptist says…get ready.
John the Baptist didn’t fool around. He lived in the wilderness around the Dead Sea. He subsisted on a starvation diet, and so did his disciples. He wore clothes that even the rummage-sale people wouldn’t have handled. When he preached, it was fire and brimstone every time. Mark’s gospel starts with John’s message to prepare the way – he even quotes Isaiah. So…what does it mean to prepare the way? What do we have to do?
Have you ever quickly cleaned the house and shoved everything into a junk room or your attic? We show and try to live out of the well-kept areas of our life. What if preparing the way means opening the door to the messiest places of our house, or the dark rooms, or the attic we just can’t face, and let Jesus in, let others in. Maybe it means you share your messy stories so others don’t feel so alone. Maybe we become people who love others who seem like a mess.
Part of this is self work, or discipleship. Listen, pray, read, learn, and listen to our souls.
There is also a communal element to it.
A time to get real…with God and others.
If we do not stop to make way, to make space, we will miss the main point of Jesus’ coming – to love you in your messiest places and to show you the way out, or beyond the mess.
The other option is what I call the escalator of life. To operate on auto-pilot and get on the escalator on Dec 2 and get off on Dec. 26th. We need to fight to clear the way.
When we feel miles away from God, like God is angry or has left us, we have this invitation to make a way, to make space for God in our messes. It is the potter, the creator God who sends Jesus to our mess…to show us how to live. There is no hiding or trying to look good, it is simply the unconditional, relentless love of God….lived out in Jesus.
During Advent, the cry of Isaiah is our prayer: God, come and shape us, shape our community. Like Jerusalem, our world is a mess. Things are not well. We wait for God to come and shake things up and change us for the better. We hope for the one who makes mountains quake and nations shake in fear—that this God will come and form us as disciples and bearers of good news.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,[c]
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[d]
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
In the 12th century, monastery leader and great preacher Bernard of Clairvaux helpfully stated the overall message of Advent as “the coming of Christ,” and further clarified that in this liturgical season we are: