This devotion is based on Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37, two of the lectionary texts for November 30, 2014–the first Sunday of Advent.
Pleadingly, the prophet writes, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down . . .” (Isaiah 64:1). If writing today, he might put it this way: “We desperately need you to show up, O God! Where are you in the midst of bloody Ferguson? Do you care about the countless drones launched by our government?”
This reading from the Hebrew Scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent begins with lament over the sin of the people and the seeming absence of God. Written during the time after the destruction of Jerusalem and prior to any rebuilding of the temple, this text offers frank acknowledgment that the covenant relationship between God and the returning exilic people is gravely threatened. If only God would perform mighty acts as in the past at Sinai, then the people would be able to believe anew and turn from iniquity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a similar struggle as he reflected on God’s lack of intervention during the Holocaust. God had delivered Israel from Egypt; why would God not come to the aid of six million Jews? He concluded that God desires that Christians mature and offer themselves in God’s place, for in Christ God has been “pushed out of the world and onto the cross.” And yet, when he faced death himself, he did so with radical trust in the faithfulness of God. Like the prophet, he believed that God “works for those who wait” (Isaiah 64:4b).
Waiting in hope is an active spiritual practice. It requires a fundamental trust in God’s faithfulness and the humility to allow the mystery of God’s work to unfold over time. Trying to force the Holy One to function now, as in prior days, displays a desire to control God; it also demonstrates an unwillingness to perceive God in the surprising ways God may choose to reveal divine intention in the present. So we act in God’s stead, trusting the guidance of the Spirit.
The Gospel lesson offers a bracing warning: keep awake! Be on the watch! Mark’s apocalyptic text suggests that humans do not have unlimited time to do the work of God. Like in the earlier text, the destruction of Jerusalem figures prominently. Over and over in Scripture, God’s people must reconsider the grounding of their identity; it cannot be in place or possession, rather it must be in God. And our diligent actions as mature Christians illustrate God’s faithfulness in contexts that might otherwise be deemed hopeless.
St. Augustine offers a perceptive insight to guide our action:
Hope has two beautiful daughters
–anger to see things the way they are
–courage to change them to the way they should be.
Attentiveness is the only faculty that gives us access to God, according to Simone Weil. During this Advent, let’s be on the watch to balance anger and courage as we wait in hope, for God will show up.
Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Shawnee, Kansas.