Year B, First Sunday in Advent
Happy New Year! And what a way to start the year with our scriptures of confession, longing and hope! A cleansing for new beginnings! The Isaiah text leads us into the year with its shout of yearning for God’s presence, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” There is no other God but you and we are awestruck with your mighty deeds. Yet we have messed up time and again in our lives. You have hidden your face from us. Remember, O God, that “we are all your people!” Formidable words in the midst of news headlines.
Psalm 80 leads us further into soul reflection and contrition with its plea, “How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” Reveal your presence, “let your face shine that we may be saved.” (The Hebrew word in the Isaiah text for presence, “paneh”, is also translated here and in Isaiah 64 as face.) I believe that God is continually revealing God’s self to the world. God’s longing for us is stronger than any longing we can imagine for God. Yet isn’t it a poignant irony that we so often feel abandoned as we look at the way the world is working. We wonder about God’s presence in the midst of violence and hatred. For those who are actively seeking God’s face in the midst of conflict how do we proclaim with integrity that God’s face IS shining on all of God’s people on both sides of the divide? How do we lead people into a new beginning and a new experience of God’s presence in the world?
Our texts in I Corinthians 1 and Mark 13 offer hope in the person and words of Jesus the Christ who revealed God’s presence as a human being among us. Paul invites the church at Corinth to remember with gratitude that they are strengthened through the testimony they share with one another of God’s transforming work through Jesus. In the midst of our conflicts how will we share the testimony of Christ in specific words and tangible deeds to offer the hope that God is with us no matter what? Will we trust God’s presence ourselves?
In the reading from Mark, Jesus exhorts us to “Keep awake!” for God’s presence is real and being revealed at any moment. Be as expectant of new life as you are when you see the new leaves on the fig tree and know that summer with all its fruitfulness is near. While his words are given to us by the gospel writer framed by end times prophecy, they speak of living with hope in the midst of the conflict of our times. Perhaps hope in the face of no hope is how we proclaim God’s face, God’s presence, when it seems division has taken over the societal conversation of our times. hen our question becomes, what is hope?
Synonyms for hope are faith, concern, ambition (how are we ambitious for God?), confidence, expectation, desire (like longing?), dream, assumption (do we assume that God will come through as we work in the midst of conflict for justice and love?), belief, aspiration….and the list goes on at Thesaurus.com. It seems daunting at times to speak of Hope in the midst of all we see coming at us in the news, in our communities, in our lives. Yet our scriptures call us to that task this week and not just because it is the first candle on the Advent wreath! I invite you to search your own lives, soul journeys and those of your congregation for the revealing of God’s presence, face, of Hope this week. How will you tell the story of Hope?
The story that came to my mind when I pondered our longing for God and God’s longing for us is really a poem from the Sufi poet, Jelaluddin Rumi. It is one of his more familiar poems, “Love Dogs.” [i] Consider how you might turn it into a story for children (or adults) if you think your congregation will not resonate with the poem. You can find it on-line at
Jesuit priest, Anthony de Mello, gives us a wealth of stories that enrich our soul journeys. Here is one, titled, “Look Into His Eyes,”[ii] that speaks of finding the hope of God’s presence in “unusual” places.
The Commander of the Occupation troops said to the Mayor of the mountain village: “We know you are hiding a traitor. Unless you give him up to us, we shall harass your people by every means in our power.”
The village was, indeed, hiding a man who was evidently innocent. But what could the Mayor do now that the welfare of the village was at stake? Days of discussions in the Village Council led to no conclusion. So the Mayor took the matter up with the priest. Priest and Mayor spent a whole night searching the Scriptures and finally came up with a text that said, “It is better than one man die to save the nation.”
So the Mayor handed over the fugitive whose screams echoed through the village as he was tortured till he died.
Twenty years later a prophet came to that village, went right up to that Mayor and said “How could you have done this? That man was sent by God to be the savior of this country. And you handed him over to be tortured and killed.”
“But where did I go wrong?” the Mayor pleaded. “The priest and I looked at the Scriptures and did what they commanded.”
“That’s where you went wrong,” said the prophet. “You looked at the Scriptures. You should have looked into his eyes.”
Finally there is a beautiful children’s picture book entitled, December by Eve Bunting and David Diaz. I have used it in conjunction with the Isaiah 64:1, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down….” The synopsis is below.
A young boy and his mother who are homeless are spending Christmas Eve in a their cardboard box shelter. They have made it as cozy as possible with the picture of an angel with a rose in her hair from an old calendar hanging on one wall. He decided she is named December because that is the word under the picture. They have a little scrap of an evergreen branch as a tree with a paper star and an old tin soldier as ornaments. There is also a paper plate with two Christmas cookies, one red and one green. The boy has recycled bottles and cans for weeks to earn money for the cookies. They go to sleep warm and snug under the great coat of the boy’s deceased father.
At midnight they are awakened by a knock on their cardboard door. An old woman, cold and frightened, is asking for help. They invite her in and warm her up. She is so grateful that she takes a faded fabric rose off her hat to add to the Christmas ornaments on the little tree. After a bit of wrestling with his conscience the boy offers her the red Christmas cookie because he thinks she is hungry. They cover her with the father’s coat and all three go back to sleep. Early Christmas morning just before dawn the boy awakens to discover the woman is gone. He is drawn outside of their box and there in the morning fog he sees his Christmas angel, December,….the one on the calendar sheet hanging in the box. She is singing softly and she smiles at him. As she fades into the fog he notices that the rose in her hair is just like the rose that is now hanging on the tree.
A year later the boy and his mom celebrate Christmas in their new warm apartment. The mom now has work and the boy is in school. They put out the angel picture and they have a bit bigger tree with the star and the soldier and the rose. There are two cookies under the tree. And even two small presents. They are blessed. Life is very good and the boy gives thanks as he remembers the angel named December.
Blessings on your Advent story journey,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Photos and commentary may be reprinted by permission only. Please find and tell the stories!