Advent 1, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Since June 11, we have been living in what is called either Ordinary Time or the Season after Pentecost. During all those weeks, though we may not have always noticed, the scriptures have focused on the work of the Holy Spirit and on our roles, our tasks, our calling to be faithful disciples. But, as often revealed in both the readings as well as our lives, we discover that we can’t do it – we can’t save the world, much less ourselves.
And so, we begin (again!) that strange journey called Advent. It’s like a two-sided coin. On one side is that familiar path to Bethlehem, the star shining down on the manger. We need to hear and live that side again, remembering the promise that was kept.
But we also need to look at that other side, the one that is shiny because it hasn’t been used much. We need this season of Advent of waiting for the coming one, because it reminds us that ultimately God will come (when, where, how – we don’t know) to bring God’s hopes and plan for creation and us to fulfillment in justice as well as in power.
Advent’s prophet, Isaiah, takes us back to when this coin was first being forged. He writes to those who have returned from exile, only to discover that restoring a nation, a community, a faith is long, hard, and even depressing work. They have begun to look for one who will bring hope into their despair; they long for God’s presence in their emptiness, a way of doing right and being just in a world they don’t recognize.
Two times in this passage Isaiah longs for God saying: O that you would. O, God, that you would rend the heavens and come down. Why? So that the name of God would be known to even God’s enemies. That the nations would tremble before God.
Isaiah knows that God could do this if God wanted to. Because God has done it in the past. God has led the people through the wilderness, given them bread to eat and water to drink. God has established a nation of Israel that would often be prosperous and righteous. God has provided rain and crops in their due season, fruit of the vine, and wheat of the fields.
Isaiah knows that God has done all of this and more. God has been present. Even though right now it doesn’t feel as if God is paying any attention to the people of Israel.
And why should God be paying attention; the nation is in the midst of rebellion and sin and mayhem.
When I was a child in Sunday school and Awana clubs the words in these verses were some of the scripture we had to learn to get rewards. Imagine a little child of 8 or 9 learning Isaiah 64: 6 in the King James But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Not just because the vocabulary is way beyond a child’s comprehension, but because of the message. You are all dirty rotten scoundrels and you should all just be blown away like a leaf in the wind.
Talk about bullying. Using God as a negative source of power.
Isaiah’s intent wasn’t to shame little children into being so scared of God that they prayed a Jesus prayer at the end of the lesson. Isaiah’s words were intended for the people to remember all that they had seen of God and all that they were trying to do that simply wasn’t enough to make their lives better. Isaiah wanted the people to be as Jesus asks us: to be woke, awake. Aware. That it is only when God is seen working among us can there be change that is available to everyone. Even the adversaries of God.
When we look only to our own resources we are not able to do as much as when we look to God for the ways of right living.
The second time Isaiah longs for God’s presence he writes: Oh, that you would find us doing right, that we would be mindful of you in our ways.
We are using a new translation of Scripture in our Sunday readings and I am really liking the way the translators take scripture and make it more impactful than it already is.
And this passage is one of those examples:
Oh, that you would find us doing right, that we would be mindful of you in our ways.
What would it be like to be found of God going right? What would it be like to be mindful of God in our ways?
Mindfulness is a concept that permeates Buddhism and other Eastern religious practices. And Christians are not always sure what to do with this. But I think it is at the root of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. How often does Jesus and the prophets call us to be awake! To pay attention! This is what mindfulness is. . Being mindful means to deeply pay attention. To deeply open your inner being up to awareness. And I believe if we are mindful of even the little things, we will be mindful of the big things as well.
This is the wakefulness; the mindfulness, Jesus is asking us to be in the Gospel text. Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! It isn’t a look out. Look out for the bad things happening in the world.
It is a call to see deeply the ordinary things life reveals to us.
Using a simple example of a fig tree and what it shows us about the seasons, Jesus teaches us to be mindful: He says: “You know that summer is near when the leaves begin to come out on a fig tree.” That’s it. It isn’t difficult or rocket science. It isn’t being cautionary or cynical. It isn’t being suspicious or distrusting.
It is just staying aware. If you pay attention, you don’t really need a calendar to tell you when summer is coming. You know that summer is near when the crops begin to emerge from the ground. In the same way: You know that autumn is near when the flowers begin to bloom in the ditches.
You know that harvest season is coming when the corn turns brown.
You know spring is near when the hills begin to get that green haze.
You know that Christmas is coming when you hear the music in the malls. No, that isn’t mindfulness that is simply annoying.
Mindfulness isn’t some deep psychological mystical experience.
But it is deep awareness.
Mindfulness is being deeply aware and able to see beyond the ordinary into the patterns of life that are around us constantly. To see the hand of the creator who is ordering our days. Who is present even when we feel the divine is absent.
And in our lives, it is easy to be distracted instead of mindful.
And so we need to pray with Isaiah: “O Lord, that you would find us doing right, that we would be mindful of you in our ways.”
I think this would be a wonderful mantra for the Advent season. You know the catchy phrase: Put Christ back into Christmas.
How about this instead: Make me mindful of you, O God?
For after all, didn’t Jesus keep pointing us back to God? Not himself. But God. I and the Father are one, Jesus said. What you see me doing is just exactly what God would do if God were here.
The best way to put Christ back into Christmas is to be mindful of God in our ways.
Make me mindful of you O God.
In the trees as they are silhouetted against the winter sky.
In the laughter of the children in the store.
In the crying of the children in the stores.
In the desire to fulfill the expectations of the season.
Make me mindful of you O God.
In the headlines that remind us that there is chaos in our midst
In the chaos of the parking lots at the malls.
In the complicated relationships’ we all must negotiate.
In the sweet words of love from our loved ones.
Make me mindful of you O God.
I have some craft tables in the back for you to create your own mindfulness ornament.
Or you can just take one that isn’t embellished. Or you can invite a child to help you fancy up one for your home. Whatever, just be sure to take one home with you to help you in your journey into Advent.
For this is always what Jesus calls toward, in everything we do, including
In the eating of this bread and the sharing of this cup
Make us mindful of you O God.