Advent, Hope, and Time Travel

Each Thursday, we look at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week we start the season of Advent as we look forward to Christmas. This week's passage is Isaiah 64:1-9.

Advent is a weird time because of time. Let me explain. These next few weeks occupy multiple spots along the space-time continuum. We will be experiencing Advent here in 2014. We will be looking back to a several hundred year period prior to the birth of Jesus when Israel begged God again and again for salvation from a myriad of foes. We'll reflect on the the weeks and months leading up to the birth of Jesus. We will also look forward to some unknown time in our future as we wait for Christ to come again and for God to make all things right.

Advent is about Christmas, but only as it is this paradigm-shifting event in this sprawling millennia-spanning epic about saving the universe. During this time, we will talk about Jesus as a promise, a fetus, a baby, a grown man, a risen Savior, and, again, a promise. It's all very Back to the Future or, nod to my BBC-viewing siblings, Doctor Who

Because our feet are kind of in a wonky place, there is uncertainty to the waiting of Advent. The Isaiah passage this week expresses that. In these verses, there is fear and trepidation. The speaker in Isaiah is in this wrestling match with God in which he hopes for deliverance but also knows that any potential wrath would be well warranted. It admits that God has a right to be angry.

The passage ends in hope, but it is a fragile hope: "Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people." (Isaiah 64:9 NRSV). As a last ditch, the speaker throws himself at the mercy of the court. He can conceive of a timeline in which God could lay waste to this screwed up world. He hopes God will not do that, but there is this lingering fear.

Isaiah's fear is something that we should probably own to an extent. Not necessarily this creeping dread that God is going to annihilate us all, but the admission that we have messed things up royally. Even though Christians are on this side of the eon-changing Jesus event, we who follow this Way have chosen sin, selfishness, and destruction far too may times.

Our past transgressions litter our present and future with heartache: for ourselves and for others. I know that we have spent the last week analyzing the situation in Ferguson and you are probably sick of hearing about it (though much listening still needs to be done), but the events of this past week have spoken loudly about the evil legacy of dehumanizing a group of people. It is like a monster that eats through time consuming generation after generation. The wounds are passed on. The sin mutates and rears its head in vicious ways. The past has a way of living on if we allow it.

That is not the typical message that one expects to hear in the run-up to Christmas. Yet the reality is the Christmas story shines so brightly because of the starless midnight that surrounds it: poverty and oppression, homicidal kings, rumors of scandal, brutal empires. It is hope--our hope in God and, in a way, God's hope in us--that drives the heroes of the story forward. It is living in this hope that keeps Mary faithful despite facing long odds by human standards for that hope to come to fruition. 

But when that hope is born? It is radiant. It is beautiful in a way that completely transforms the trajectory of time itself.

So as we are in this fluctuating time of already but not yet, as we bounce from Babylonian exile to First Century Palestine to the present day to some unknown time in the future, let us find our footing in hope. Let us live in the hope of a God who loves redemption and transformation. May that hope breathe life into us and help us to choose those redemptive paths that God is blazing for us. In all of this uncertainty, let us not arrogantly proclaim certainty. Instead, let us with humility hold tightly to hope.

Saint Nicholas by Way of Johnny Cash

My Imagination Can Only Go So Far