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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Advent 11/30/2014

Everybody’s got something; that’s the title of a book by Robin Roberts, the co-host of Good Morning America; apparently it’s something her mother used to say to her if she had a complaint. I haven’t read the book, but I do find the title quite compelling because, particularly in what I do, I find that it’s true. When you talk to other people or you start to talk about whatever it is that you’re going through, you find that you’re not the only one; we get consumed by our own something, but the reality is, everybody’s got something.

When people talk to me about whatever their something is, they tend to put on a brave front, thanking God for the strength to get through. Now it might be that they don’t really feel that way, they just think that’s the “faithful” response the pastor wants to hear, but for a lot of people I think it is how they really feel, it is an honest response; they do draw strength from God’s presence with them. But occasionally someone will come to me, pretty much at the end of their rope, not sure they can do it anymore, not sure at all of God’s presence with them, and because of that, they’re grasping at straws, desperate for some sign of hope. I think they know I can’t fix it, but it helps to say out loud what they’re feeling.

Everybody’s got something and sometimes that something does get to us and can make us wonder. As a Christian community we talk about being people of hope but sometimes it’s pretty elusive, pretty hard to feel hopeful. Because of that, at those everybody’s got something times, you’d like a sign, something to help you keep going.

After 70 years in exile, finally back in Jerusalem, that’s about where the people of Israel were, wondering about God’s presence and where they might find hope. After all those years in Babylon they were finally back, but the reality of their homecoming didn’t live up to the promise and anticipation of it. That’s the context for today’s reading from Isaiah and especially during Advent I think it’s good to pay attention to what the prophets have to say.

The people had heard other earlier prophecies of comfort and return and “I will be with you” but the reality of what actually happened didn’t seem to fulfill those prophecies. It was a return, yes, but not much comfort and little sign of I’ll be with you. Most of them had never been in the homeland before, they had grown up in exile, but they’d heard about the great city of Jerusalem and especially about the temple as the dwelling place of the Lord. It created expectations but finding most of it in ruins caused them to wonder, “Where is our hope now?” and “Where are you God?” This was their experience of everybody’s got something.

Often though, the Hebrew people weren’t as timid as we are about addressing God with these questions; they weren’t worried about what the pastor or God might think. Instead, they led with imperatives addressed to God; “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— so that your adversaries might tremble at your presence“ and of course by “your” adversaries they meant “our” adversaries. For them though, that was a faithful response. They’d heard about the ways the Lord had appeared to their ancestors in the faith and had acted on behalf of those ancestors and this was an appeal for the Lord to do the same thing for them; “Don’t stay up there, aloof and distant; tear open the heavens and come down; give us hope.”

It was an appeal for God to act, an appeal for a visible sign of hope in the face of massive disappointment. At that point though, after the imperatives, the speaker backs off a little bit and acknowledges that the disobedience of the people might have something to do with God’s apparent absence. There is acknowledgment of sin; but having made that acknowledgement, in verse 8 the prayer moves on with a small but powerful word, that word being “Yet” or more accurately in the Hebrew, “But now.” It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a word or words that have the effect of making hope possible when logic and circumstance can see no way out. “But now O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

That turn in verse 8 is typical of Hebrew prayer. It creates hope because it leaves everything that has come before it behind, especially the recognition of guilt, and moves the prayer into the present, pointing toward the future. With that, there is a shift from “us” and preoccupation with themselves and the something that they’re going through, to “you” and focus on the Lord and that’s significant. Moving into the present and ultimately the future, the only subject is the Lord, “You are our Father; you are our potter; we are the work of your hand.”

In Isaiah, “You,” “the Lord” was the ground and substance of hope for those returned exiles. If it was only about them it’s true, hope would be hard to find but their hope, their future was in the Lord so in confidence they could offer this prayer. In the Isaiah text though, it seems so easy, from one verse to the next you get that “Yet” or “but now,” the word that shifts things and moves them toward hope. In our experience though, in our reality of “everybody’s got something” it’s not so easy; the pause before the “yet” is longer, we have to wait, but the ground and substance of our faith is that the “yet” will come just as it does in Isaiah. We know that’s the case because we’ve seen the “yet,” the “but now,” in the coming of Jesus that we look toward in this Advent season. His coming did create a shift, leaving all that came before it behind with a move into God’s hope filled future, a future that includes us.

Living out our personal “everybody’s got somethings” does often require the patience of waiting and watching. It’s good that we have the gospel lesson from Mark with its call to keep awake and watch paired with Isaiah today because that’s often the situation we find ourselves in. What’s interesting though, is that context and the message of both of these lessons is surprisingly similar. Following the exile, the destroyed temple the people mourned was rebuilt, but at the time Mark was written around the year 65, that rebuilt temple had also been destroyed. So, like the exiles disappointed in their return to Jerusalem, the people of Mark’s time experienced disappointment too. They wondered why, in light of Jesus and the promise of the resurrection, things weren’t different. Why were believers still being persecuted? Where was the kingdom Jesus had talked about? That was the substance of the something they had.

From that we get this scary sounding passage from Mark telling of a time when the sun will be darkened, the moon won’t shine and the stars will fall from heaven. Strangely enough, the intention of apocalyptic writing like this was not to create fear but to offer hope and encouragement. These images weren’t literal predictions of what was going to happen. Instead they represented an invitation to believe that while even those things that seem utterly dependable like the sun, the moon and the stars are not forever, the promises of God are forever. So, like the “yet” or “but now” of Isaiah, what we have in this apocalyptic vision is an invitation to leave the disappointment of the past and the present behind, and to trust in God’s future. Out of that trust, hope emerges, again, even when logic and circumstance can see no way out.

In both of these lessons though, whether it’s the “yet” of Isaiah or the apocalyptic imagery of Mark, both make a move away from depending on ourselves and toward trusting in God. There’s renewed faith in God as an active agent who can and will make things new, an active agent who does provide hope, but it still may require waiting and watching.

Another thing I’ve found in the world of “everybody’s got something” is how often at the end of it, however things are resolved, there’s no sense of having done anything heroic to get through the something; people will just say that they did what they had to do. After waiting and watching, maybe it’s only at the end that you realize that even when you felt empty and drained of all your resources, even when God seemed absent, those resources were still being provided. The “yet” or “but now,” the move into the future had happened by the grace of God, but you weren’t aware of it. It might be the ultimate example of grace.

So, we do watch, and we do wait; we wait for the Lord and as the choir sings on these Advent Sundays, we wait in hope.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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