O that we would notice when you tear open the heavens and come down!
Is there any better way to begin the season of Advent than to hear these words from the prophet Isaiah: O that you would tear open the heavens and come down! Come down here right now to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! Because we remember when you did came down before and did awesome deeds that we did not expect, and the world noticed, even the mountains.
Aren’t these great words? Because don’t we all want God to say, OK, enough of all this, I’m going in? I’m going down there and save my people who have struggled long enough. Because don’t we feel that we have indeed struggled long enough? Come on down, God. Any time would be good, any time like right now.
And of course God did come down, has come down, does come down. This time of year we fix our gaze on God coming down at Christmas, like the song says, but God came down in other times too, always with the aim to save God’s people. And we do need saving, don’t we? We cannot save ourselves.
I don’t know who the modern day Isaiahs are these days lifting their voices to heaven to beseech God to come on down right now, but I hope they are being persistent.
But I’m also mindful of what Jesus tells us in Mark’s Gospel today, that we need to keep awake. We don’t know when the coming down will take place - it could be morning, noon, or night - so keep awake. Be ready.
Of course, we’ve been hearing this for weeks. When the master comes back at last - when God comes down - we need to be doing what we want God to find us doing - doing works of love, loving our neighbor, caring for our neighbor’s needs, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, befriending the stranger. We’ve gotten a steady diet of this message, and no doubt we need to keep hearing it because it’s so easy to let it all slide while we wait for our own salvation.
And we also regularly hear that we have work to do as well. We are to participate with God in God’s mission on earth. When God swoops down, it’s when we are struggling, when we call out “save me because the water is rising up to my neck!” It’s not when we are just cruising along. Or just being carried along. Or sleeping.
So, about that sleeping, that not being awake: the disciples, especially the ones we encounter in Mark, are often oblivious to the divine action happening all around them. They do not recognize Jesus, they do not realize who he is or what he is doing. They are not being attentive but just being carried along. And in fact when a crisis comes, when they are all in the Garden together one night and Jesus admonishes them to keep awake, their eyes get heavy and they fall asleep, and while they are sleeping the mob led by Judas comes with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus and send him to his death.
So Jesus says, keep awake, keep watch, because when the crisis comes, we need to be ready to act in concert with the Divine. Pay attention to what God is doing and be ready when the crisis comes.
And you know what? We’re in a crisis now.
The novel coronavirus is exponentially worse and has come into our own community. The national political climate is heated. The stock market may be soaring but so is the Earth’s temperature, so that there were so many hurricanes this year they ran out of names for them even while fires have raged and snowfalls showed up months ahead of the usual time. We are in crisis on the global, national, and local levels.
And what might be at stake when we are dulled to these crises? What might be happening while we are asleep or inattentive? Will we be ready to join God in acts of divine mercy when God needs our hands and feet on this Earth? Or will we miss the chance because we have stopped watching, stopped listening, stopped feeling the urgency and given over to just being carried along?
But I’m so tired. And aren’t you? Tired of the amped up rhetoric, tired of the non-stop talking, tired of the virus, tired of the restrictions, tired of worrying about what’s going to come next. I’m so tired.
So thank goodness it’s Advent, a time to rest, a time to take stock, a time to look inward and clear out the clutter so we can look back out. It isn’t a time to hide but it is a time to be still and get our priorities straight and filter out all the noise - not to block it all out but to jettison the unhelpful stuff and pare it down to the essentials, to breathe and to reconnect with the Divine so that we can recognize what is a real crisis and discern our part in meeting it.
This is not the same as sleeping, as being inattentive. It’s almost the opposite. It’s reconnecting authentically with true life, being tuned in, not tuned out, but tuned in, fine-tuned in, with the eyes to see and ears to hear not the bombast or the sensational but the quieter urgings toward justice and mercy and love.
So welcome to Advent 2020. God will come again, in love, this we know, this we focus on again this Advent as we always do. And God is also coming all the time, tearing open those heavens, as God always does, to save the struggling.
So let us not let our weariness dull us to that struggling that is going on all around us. Let us heed Jesus’s words so that we will be ready: be attentive. Keep awake.