This week, our Director for Evangelical Mission, Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville starts us off with “AWAKE“.

The Northeastern Iowa Synod is provided recorded sermons each week in Advent based on the ELCA Hunger Study Guide – God with Us. Each week we will publish the sermon on our blog.

Advent is usually a difficult season to hold on to.   Before the leaves even begin to turn their bright fall colors, the stores begin hauling out the Christmas decorations.  Before thanksgiving, the radio stations and malls begin blasting Christmas songs and everywhere, we are told to have a “Merry Christmas!”

And the church, as it often is, is just a little out of step with the rest of the world.  “Wait a minute, we say.  Not so fast” 

Advent asks us to wait.  And as our study, “God with Us” from ELCA Hunger points out, many of us feel like we have been waiting. A long time.  I remember driving home that day in March prepared to wait out the pandemic.  I thought it would be a few weeks.  Then a few months.  Now I wonder when will the wait be over?

And some people are like “I’m not waiting for Christmas; I’m dragging out the Christmas tree and putting on the Christmas music right now” And that’s okay.  The waiting of Advent isn’t really about music or decorations.

Our lesson for Isaiah is not merry.  It is a lament.  It is a lament from a community that sees that everything has gone wrong for them.  This part of Isaiah was written after Israel had been defeated and taken into captivity.   They had lost their nation, their homeland, and their status. 

And they wondered, where is God?  What is God doing?  If you only God would do something dramatic to show not only their enemies that he is still here, but to reassure his own people that he still cares

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!

Oh God, if only you would come down and do something dramatic to and put things right again.   

I find this text from Isaiah to be very relevant this Advent especially.  Oh God that you would rend the heavens and come down and put things right!

We desperately need Christmas so desperately and it has nothing to do with presents, cookies or chestnuts roasting on an open fire. 

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” Oh that you would come and be with us again, God’s people in exile lamented.   They began to remember what they had lost and as we tend to do, they romanticized the past …

“When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.”  They remembered the dramatic events of the Exodus, when God led them out of the red sea and Moses climbed up the mountain which quaked and burned as God gave Moses the law.  They remembered the good times.  But they also remembered how little they appreciated the good times.

But even with all the dramatic revelations, the people rebelled and lost faith.

 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

“We all fade like a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” …. what kind of a holiday saying is that?  What kind of saying is that?  It is a true one.  And at some level, we all know that truth.  We know that without God it is all a sham, a waste, meaningless. It like a ball with cheap gold paint that begins to chip off as soon as we get it home.  Advent reminds us that what we long for is for the world to be put right – to be reconciled to God. 

In our Gospel Jesus says to “Keep awake.”  And again, it maybe that some us feel like we have been kept awake too late too many nights as sleep evades us.

But Jesus isn’t telling us to stay awake with worry. 

He’s calling on us keep awake in Hope.  Because Advent is about hope.  This is a great quote from the study:

To “keep awake” is to grasp the kind of hope that inspires and to renounce the kind of hope that incapacitates. It is to feed on the hope that propels and to starve the hope that paralyzes. It is the gospel hope that tells us not to “wait and see” but to “come and see.”

God is with us.  God has always been with us. 

  “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down” God has done that.  God has torn open the heavens and come down.  Later next year when we celebrate the baptism of Jesus we will read in Mark:

And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

It’s the same word!

Because it’s not a dramatic or militaristic coming that the people Isaiah spoke to were hoping for and maybe we too are tempted to wish , if not a militaristic coming, something very very dramatic and obvious that will show everyone once and for all that God is in charge.

But the coming was to us was a coming in Jesus, a coming to be with us, to be with us where we are, to show us that where Christ is there is love and compassion and justice and mercy.

And when we see acts of love and compassion and we see lives that are changed by justice and mercy like the stories we read in the ELCA World Hunger Guide and just as the stories we see and are part of and we live out everyday in our lives—that is where we find hope.  That is the hope that we are awake in.

People of faith are never promised that we will be exempt from troubles and hardship but that we will be sustained by God in times of troubles and hardships.  God is with us, sustaining us with hope.  That hope is that God is with us and God is working to redeem the world.

  The world will be put right.  And is being put right.

We can believe and trust that.  We have a hope that reassures us so that we don’t need to stay awake at night with anxiety but can sleep in the confidence of a God who is going to make the world right.  We can keep awake in hope and rest in hope and work in hope and love in hope.  Because God is with us.  Amen

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.