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! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
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. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:1-9 – NRSV)
As much as we love the shepherds keeping watch, angels bringing Good News, and a cute baby (who never cried, if you believe the Christmas carol) – these don’t come until Christmas. In Advent, we talk about mountains quaking, nations trembling, feelings of abandonment, and being fed the bread of tears. This is the way Advent begins: rumors of wars, threats of nuclear war, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fires, famine, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, violence.
I feel like this Advent started long before today.
Maybe this really is the Advent of Christ’s return.
Since Charlottesville, I have grown weary of praying every week for the end of racism, violence, and hate in this country. Some weeks, I’ve dreaded writing the prayers of the people most weeks because I feel like it is the same prayer over and over again. What more can we say? Maybe we should just pray Psalm 80 each week or the Advent prayer of Come, Lord Jesus, come. Writing these prayers is made even more difficult because I know that we view the causes and needed response to these situations differently. I want this space to be safe for us to be honest. I want us all to be able to say Amen when I finish a prayer.
Advent also leads us to the darkest day of the year. For many, winter brings extra struggles with depression. Depression might not take hold, but it is always there on edge of life.
I feel like it’s been Advent for a long time.
This is what makes Advent an odd season. We spend much of our time rushing around to holiday gatherings and buying gifts. We put up festive decorations and play Christmas music all month. We put up bright Christmas lights – it’s almost as if we do everything we can to avoid the gloom and doom of the apocalypse in the first week of Advent. It does seem odd that this first week of Advent is the week of Hope. But that depends on what hope is to us.
Hope is great, but we don’t think much about hope when things are going well. We don’t have to. Where hope really matters is when things aren’t going well. It’s in times of suffering that we find out what hope really means to us and where we will ultimately find our hope. We don’t actually need hope until we become hopeless.
That doesn’t seem like good theology, I know. But until I’m hopeless, I always have something to cling to – my savings account, the help of family and friends, my health, my abilities. But these things aren’t real hope because they can all fail. So, what is hope that doesn’t fail?
In Romans, Paul writes: We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us… through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:24; 5:5,1 – NRSV)
Or Patricia E. De Jong writes:
Hope is what is left when your worst fears have been realized and you are no longer optimistic about the future. Hope is what comes with a broken heart willing to be mended. We pray for the hope of Advent: that God will break into the ordinary, bringing the promise of peace, hope, and restored life.
This is the hope of the Advent.
This is why we go back to the words of the prophet Isaiah during Advent. They are words for a hopeless people. Words for a people who both remember God’s mighty acts of redemption in the past. Words for a people as they live into the hope of God’s redemption in the future.
- They were looking to be redeemed out of exile.
- To be released from captivity.
- To know God’s presence.
- To welcome the Messiah.
- To have hope restored.
- To be restored.
For us to receive the Hope of Advent, we must become truly hopeless of everything else. It’s only then, that we can understand the hope that we cannot see; the hope that does not fail; the hope that saves us. It is in this hope that we lend our voices to the prayer of the psalmist: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:3 – NRSV)
Or in the words of the Advent prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Restore us, O God. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4 – NRSV) In this Advent season of waiting, please tend to us when quaking mountains, trembling nations, feelings of abandonment, and the bread of tears threaten to overwhelm us. Help us to let go of any false hope that we hold onto so that we may become hopeless to the things of this world. Fill us instead with the true hope of Advent. Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved in hope. Amen.