‘Twas foggy this morning when I got to church!
Here is this morning’s sermon – enjoy!
Molding Clay Of Hope
I read a news story on Friday night that said a woman in California pepper-sprayed a crowd at Walmart during Black Friday sales in an attempt to purchase a discounted Xbox video game player.
My first thought was, “Well, this is what is wrong with our country.”
But then I reeled those thoughts back in and started to lecture myself. “Sarah, you are coming from a point of privilege,” I said. “What if this woman was a single mother, living below the poverty line? Maybe she was just trying to give her children some hope (there’s our first Advent candle!) on Christmas morning.”
Then I felt bad.
But I couldn’t get over it. I am sorry I just could not. It is wrong on so many levels – but the part that really irritated me, the part that resonated with me as I prepared this sermon and for worship this week, was the fact that we are entering a season of waiting. That is what Advent is all about; the word “Advent” comes from the Latin word “Adventus”, which means “coming”. We are waiting for the coming of Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. We are waiting for Christ to come, to be redeemed as a people of God, to be cleansed and to be brought back to a sense of balance that we all crave so much. And I am having a hard time getting over the fact that this woman could not even wait for an Xbox.
In a way, I think that this Black Friday pepper-spraying incident completely contradicts everything that we are supposed to be doing during this season of waiting. But I also wonder if it is a bold reminder to all of us of just why we need Emmanuel to come.
“O Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” What holds you in captive this year? What are you looking to be freed from? What are you waiting for during this season of Advent? What hope do you bring to the flame of our first Advent candle today?
This morning’s scripture lesson from the Old Testament comes to us from the prophetic book of Isaiah. It is a cry, a “communal lament” , to God from the people of Israel. They were angry, they were in distress and this prayer was their way of crying out to God, their Father, to change what they were going through.
The book of Isaiah is really interesting. It is a prophetic book, chronicling the ministry of one, possible even two or three, prophets in the eight century BCE. If you look at the book of Isaiah through the lens of Judaism, this book offers a hope not only for Israel’s past restoration after the Exile, but also hope for the world today that “this too shall pass” and that we will all enter a place and a life of peace. But if you look at the book of Isaiah through the lens of Christianity, you see glimmers of a prophecy that Jesus Christ fulfilled through his birth, life, death and resurrection.
In the Old Testament, a “lament” was a specific literary device used to convey a cry or desperate plea. My Old Testament professor used to tell us to “put on our literary critical hats” when we were looking at a passage like this in order to dig deeper and really understand what was going on.
So if we put on that hat, we’ll see that most laments follow a typical form – you will hear a complaint, a confession of sin, an expression of confidence, a petition, and an inducement for God to intervene. And laments generally follow something of a linear path when it comes to these different elements. You generally start with a complaint and move to a place where you ask God to intervene – but not here.
In this passage, the elements all occur, but they are found in a very irregular and repetitive fashion. The first seven verses of this passage are kind of a jumbled mess. It talks about God, what God has done for the people, what God can do, what God’s people do right, what God’s people do wrong, how people have sinned and how God has responded to them. But there is no pattern. It is almost as if the person speaking, prophesying and pleading is so desperate at this point that they just continue to recycle elements of their lament in order to either get their point across or to make sure that they do not miss anything.
But isn’t that what Advent is all about? Isn’t it about that desperate cry for Emmanuel – God with us – to finally descend upon us? Aren’t we all looking for God to become an ever-present hand in lives to balance and heal our hurting world? This lament was kind of a jumbled mess – but I would be willing to wage a bet that the scene that went down at that California Walmart was also something of a jumbled mess. And I think one of the best responses that we can give to that story, to the violence that we experience in our communities, our country and our world, to the devastation we see and know exists, to the fighting that does not seem to cease and to the balance that we cannot seem to find is to do what we did this morning. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” – sing for Emmanuel, God with us, to come and bring peace to all of us. Wait for God.
I also think that part of the waiting of Advent is waiting to see what God is doing in our lives. The scripture ends by saying, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity for ever. Now consider, we are all your people.”
“We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
One of the hardest parts about experiencing the Advent season in a church is that the Christmas season is happening all around us. Like every major retail store and radio station, we want to jump to singing, “Joy To The World” and “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and yet for now we are singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord.” We want to celebrate the birth of Jesus and yet we are called to wait. And this is not something that is easy to do, but I truly believe that it is through this waiting that God is then able to come in and mold us like clay. If we just jumped right into the Christmas celebration, then God would not have enough time to carefully mold us into the image of who we are, who we are called to be and what we have the potential to do this Advent season.
The liturgical color for the season of Advent is blue. I have changed into my blue stole for the next four weeks and three of the four candles on the Advent wreath are blue (we’ll get to the pink one in week three, so stay tuned!). And doing this isn’t just about coordinating colors; it is about allowing everyone to focus on what the season is all about. This color blue is supposed to remind you of that morning twilight blue when the sky is starting to light up, but the sun hasn’t quite popped over the horizon. Because when we sit and look at the morning sky, we cannot make the sun come any faster – we can only wait.
And that is what we are doing right now. We are waiting. We are waiting for the Christ child to be born; we are waiting for balance to be found; we are waiting for peace to prevail on earth and we are waiting to see how God will mold us to do good works.
We are waiting to see how God will mold us to be a reality of the hope that we all have for this world.
As you think about your own hope for this Advent season today, I invite you also to think about the ways in which you can allow God to mold you. Feel your form loosen up – and be prepared for something truly spectacular to happen while you wait.
Blessings to all of you as we enter this Advent season.