First Sunday in Advent
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!" (RCL Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37)
It could be a line from a contemporary protest song or a news item but it is the prophet Isaiah speaking to the people in exile inciting both fear and longing. Fear of judgement and the longing for a time in which God’s power is again almighty like in the time the mountains were formed. And how are we to read the signs of our times? The seasons of the age, of the coming of the kingdom? Indeed church history is littered with those who are not too good at reading the signs. In every age it seems there have been some who are convinced that end times are upon us and have gone and camped on the beach or gone up to the mountains or taken poison and died looking to the sky for someone coming in glory to rescue and install a new world order.
We tend to make several mistakes. One is we confuse the ending of an age with the ending of everything. Secondly we confuse the outer and inner worlds. And thirdly we confuse the kingdom of God with an after this life heaven. This is not to say that there may not come a time when all that we know passes away and only the eternal of God remains so that life in a new and perfect way can be fulfilled here on earth as we imagine it to be in heaven. But Jesus announced the kingdom among us, as breaking through in his time and in ours. The kingdom was always past, present and future.
Advent therefore is not simply about remembering some past time when God came and dwelt among us or some future strange time when all shall be made new again as though by magic. Advent is the season in which we wait, pray, prepare, long for the walls that hold up our current sky and reality to tremble and fall so that the kingdom might more fully be realised now. And we are called to discern the signs of the kingdom showing through now.
Every week we pray “your kingdom come” as though we know what that means, as though often, I suspect, that it means nothing much. Many of us probably think we know what “your kingdom come” means – and we sort of actually mean your kingdom/my way be done. We want God in our lives but in small, safe, bite size ways that will fix things but not change them too much. I heard a wonderful joke the other day that illustrates the smallness of our desires. “Do you know how to make God laugh? Tell God your plans!” No small safe plans in the readings this morning! “O that you would tear down the heavens and come down …that mountains would quake … as when fire kindles brushwood … that the nations might tremble …”
Advent invites the things of today to give way to the things of God. Advent invites the certainties of well known practices to give way to new worlds of possibility. And Advent invites us to allow our old rules and fantasies to hear anew the prophecies of old and to imagine new out-workings of the nearness of the kingdom.
Which is not to say that nothing old and tried and true is not valued but it is the season in which we allow for a moment the radical fearful truth that God might want more and better and different for us. That the future might look different to the past. That the kingdom might be quite different to the good-enough just-getting-by religious reality we have settled for.
Could we actually want the church walls to crumble and fall down so that the church might thrive, so that the kingdom might come in this place? Can you catch the excitement for even a moment?
Could we actually, for even a moment, want the present “whose who” and “whose got what” to be turned upside down so that the poor and hungry were full and joyful and that our richness would be to witness that joy? Could we actually, for a moment, prepare room in our hearts not only for a cute baby who requires little from us other than sentimental affection but for the Son of God, the Word that will not pass away, for the Kingdom that shakes one to set up residence in our lives? Your kingdom come into my life, our life here, your will be done in my life, in our life here.
So as we prepare for Christmas let us be courageous enough to dream for even a moment that life could be different. Let us have faith enough even for a moment to believe that the kingdom might come. Let us be hopeful enough to dare to imagine that whatever is next in store for us is good and of God.
Even so, Come Lord Jesus Christ.