Year B — The First Sunday of Advent

Commentary for November 27, 2011
Click here for today’s readings

Isaiah 64:1-9
Upon reading through Isaiah’s text, one can’t help but notice how terribly ACTIVE the language is! The heavens are torn, the mountains are quaking, there is fire all around, adversaries are trembling. God is coming down, by God!

Or, at least, that is what we think we hope for at this opening of the season of Advent. We’ve heard that God has come down in the past, and that the results were generally positive. 

But wait — if God is coming to judge sinners, and we’re all sinners — doesn’t that mean we might be in for a bit of judgment ourselves? Is that what we really want “for the holidays?”

Good thing that in our waiting, we remember that God is our Father, that we are God’s people — and that God will not remember our iniquity forever. 

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Ever thought about what it means to be “clay in the hands of the potter?” Here’s a quick video clip (click here) that demonstrates what happens first in order for clay to be usable and moldable. Might not be an entirely comfortable process! Love the commentary, as well, though a bit difficult to hear at times…

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Three times in this psalm, the request is made of God, “let your face shine, that we may be saved.” 

What is salvific about the the light of God’s face? In a season of darkness, what does it feel like to see a light shining in the distance? How is light an image of hope?

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
In Advent, we become a “waiting people” — something that is not always that easy to do. What do we wait for?

For some reason I get a flashback image to my elementary school days, when Prinicpal Neilsen would call us all to gather in the gymnasium for a special program. There was a huge purple curtain that covered the stage, and we knew that whatever we were about to see was behind that curtain. There wasn’t a lot of excitement in my little hometown growing up, so it was mysterious and intriguing to wait for that curtain to be pulled back. It was almost as exciting to wait as it was to have the feature of the day revealed to us.

We are waiting on God to “reveal” something — or rather, someone — very important. It is the Lord Jesus Christ that God reveals to the world.  

Mark 13:24-37
Again, we are reminded that Advent has a bit of an edge to it — I would almost call it “weird” or “funky.” A darkening sun, the lack of moonlight, stars falling and the powers of heaven shaken — all of these things give an almost queasy feeling to the coming of the Son of Man.

Certainly, none of us wants to get caught short in our responsibility to serve God. If you snooze, you lose. Perhaps that is why we also remember that it takes all of us to be the church; none of us is alone, because it’s just flat out impossible for one person to stay awake all the time.

Help a brother out, would you? Let’s work and watch together through this, okay?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Have you seen those billboards out on the interstates that purport to be messages from God?

I ride the roads a lot and I see a lot of those signs and they always make me laugh and sometimes
they make me think.

I saw one up in East Tennessee that went like this:

                                                  — GOD.

The writer of our text from Isaiah would like that, I think. Though it is likely that he would be thinking, WHY DON’T YOU COME ON DOWN ALREADY, WHAT’S KEEPING YOU?

This text is part of a lament, an argumentative prayer, in which the prophet struggles with God over the fact that God has not been heard from in a while and things aren’t going so well for God’s people in the midst of God’s absence.

The NRSV ( and the RSV and the KJV) translates Isaiah 64:1 as something of a sighing request,

Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”

The Revised English Bible frames it as a question and makes the prophet’s complaint much clearer:

Why do you not tear asunder the heavens and come down?”

The first part of our text has a tone of wondering and smoldering anger that God has left and abandoned the people.

This accusatory theme barely lets up in verses 5 through 7 where, although the prophet admits that the people have sinned and turned from God and are in trouble because of it; he also lays the blame for this sinfulness squarely in God’s lap for having gone away and left them to their own devices.

It’s like the old Mark Twain joke about the man who killed his parents and then pleaded for mercy from the court because he was an orphan.

Then, at the beginning of verse 8, one word changes the tone and the meaning of the entire text.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter, we are all the work of your hand.”

The Hebrew here is variously translated yet, but, however, nevertheless.

After making a serious and passionate case that things are really, really, bad and that God is, honestly, just as much to blame as the folk; the prophet speaks a word of hope and promise; yet, you are our Father.

This word of hope and promise is rooted in an awareness of the mighty acts of God that have come before and in trust that God will act again.

Advent is the season of YET, of BUT, of HOWEVER, of NEVERTHELESS.

Advent is a time when we stare into the face of the present data of the world’s sorry state and dare to believe that God still cares and God still plans to do something about it.

Advent is a time when we wrestle with and confess the reality that we in the church all too often
live out of a practical atheism, in which we say with our lips that we believe in God, but we say with our lives that we really believe, really put our trust, in armies and governments and savings accounts.

Advent is a time when we wait for the Lord to come, and while we wait, we seek to become people who gladly do right, who remember God and God’s ways.

Advent is a time when we do, indeed, wait for God to come down here; but it is not a fearful waiting, for it is promised that when God comes, our iniquity, our sin, our sorrow, will be remembered no more.

Amen, come Lord Jesus.

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