Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014

Suppose you have a friend that you are very close to. You played together as children, and you grew up together. As soon as you were old enough for your parents to let you on the computer, you got on Facebook and made your friend your very first Facebook friend. It was a big deal. Now you could communicate with your friend on-line. It was another way to share your joys, your hard times, your mutual love of current music idols, your budding emotions about boys or girls you knew from school. You and your friend were happily communicating away, and then one day your friend unfriended you. For those of you who don’t know much about Facebook, this is worst thing you can do. Unfriending someone means you don’t want to read their messages or send them messages. You don’t want to share their lives.

You are bereft. You text and you email, but to no avail. Your friend does not respond. First you are very sad and then you get angry. You get so angry you do the unforgiveable. You steal your former best friend’s boyfriend or girlfriend. You know that is not going to help the situation, but you are so mad, you can’t help it. Your friend has abandoned you and you don’t know what else to do but hurt him or her. After a while, you feel really bad about what you have done. So you give up the boyfriend or girlfriend. You ask mutual friends to give your friend messages. Finally you write a letter, apologizing for the serious mistake you have made. You slide it under your friend’s door and pray that she or he will read it, not because you necessarily deserve it but because you have been friends for so long.

That is the situation the Israelites find themselves in today. They are feeling alienated from God because God has not acted powerfully in their situation. The Israelites have returned from exile in Babylon to a destroyed country. There are arguments between the returnees, the people who have stayed and those people who have moved in from other parts of the area after Jerusalem was destroyed. There is economic oppression and there is pagan worship in the land. The Israelites are desperate to have their country restored to its former glory. They want to rebuild Jerusalem, where they experience God. They want to have an abundance of resources like they had before they were taken to Babylon. They know they cannot do this themselves and so they ask God for help. But God is absent. God hides Godself for whatever reason, just like your friend unfriended you on Facebook.

The Israelites forget that God had used King Cyrus of Persia as an instrument to free God’s people from exile after they have been punished for unfaithfulness. They forget, as they have so many times before, that God has been good to them after they have faced the consequences of their sin. So they do what they always do. They revert to worshipping the gods of the land. If their God will not help them, they will find another god that will. So there! Yet, no surprise, they are unable to find a god to help them. Then they begin to feel bad about what they are doing and they begin to lament their situation. They remember the past, they regret the present and they longed for the future. Israel has realized once again that it was vulnerable to God’s unknown ways.

They are vulnerable because they cannot control God. God created them and made them a people to love and serve God. God walked with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, blessing them and multiplying them to be a blessing to others. God liberated God’s people from the crushing rule of Pharoah, guided them through the wilderness and led them to the Promised Land. God protected them from their enemies and helped them flourish. This was God’s plan, not their plan. Sometimes God did what they hoped for and sometimes God surprised them with action on their behalf. They want this God to come back again, to act powerfully, to make their adversaries tremble so that the Israelites will have what they want.

As the Israelites can’t control God’s actions, neither can they control God’s absence. Sometimes God did not do what they hoped for. Sometimes they suffered almost unbearably and they wondered where God was in their lives. They felt separated from their Father. And then the Israelites became vulnerable to sin. They could not help themselves. Over and over again, they committed idolatry, forgetting that the inevitable consequence of sin was punishment from an angry God. When they come to their senses, they are forced once again to beg God to come to their aid, to deliver them, and they cycle went on – partnership to (perhaps) absence to sin to consequences to pleading to forgiveness.

Right now they are in a moment of awareness about their own iniquity. They know that no one even calls on God’s name. They are pathetic in their sorrow. Anything they do that happens to be righteous is unclean because they have turned to other gods. They are so much less than they could be, faded like a leaf and ready to blow away. They want God back again.

Now, though they fear God and long for redemption, they also have confidence that God will again be with them. Why? Because God has a responsibility for them. He is their God and they are God’s people. God has made a covenant with them and is supposed to care for them. He is their Father and they are his children. He is the potter, and they are the clay. God is responsible for shaping and molding them into the people God wants them to be, sinners or not. Even though your long-time best Facebook friend may not take you back because of your past history, God has to take them back because of their past history.

This story is one of the ones we often do not like to pay attention to in the Bible. God is angry again, we say and we do not like that image of God. But Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament, anger is part of God’s character. God is love, and anger is part of love. What if God did not care if someone hurt us? We wonder why God was not angry enough to save six million Jews or stop the terrorist beheadings. Why doesn’t God get angry enough to save the Middle East from its destructive paths? We wonder why God does not get angry with others and yet we do not like it when God is angry with us. Yet anger is not a withdrawal of love. That would be apathy. God’s anger is a way to show people God loves how badly they are behaving to God or to someone God loves. Facing the consequences – physical, emotional or spiritual – reinforces that message. Yet when the Israelites wake up and ask for forgiveness God is there. When Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness, he says you should forgive endlessly. When we repent God reconciles Godself to us through Jesus Christ.

Jimmy is a person who has a very unhappy life. He is disabled, and his family is abusive. Even though Adult Protective Services knows of the situation, they really cannot get Jimmy out of the house because he cannot live on his own. Sometimes Jimmy wonders why God isn’t doing something to help him. He is sure he must have been really bad (as far as I know, he has not). Yet Jimmy is grateful to God for many things and some days he is confident that God will act powerfully to save him. He is a good example of the Advent life.

Advent is a time of longing. As the Israelites long for redemption, we too long for the wholeness that comes from reconciliation and forgiveness. As Jimmy longs for some brief measure of happiness, we long for God to come close to us, to act positively on our behalf, to be our Father. We pray for God to enter our hearts and share our lives. And yet even as we long for a God we cannot control to act, we have a bold confidence that God will come again in power and glory, because we are God’s people and God has an unbreakable connection with us. Advent is a time we anticipate God acting powerfully in the incarnation and in our lives. The powerful act of the Incarnation is God’s way to tear open the sky and come down and at the same time God’s way of being intimate with us in the birth of a tiny baby. We are God’s people and God is our God. For that we can rejoice.

AMEN.

    - Rev. Ann Barker